'Our economic recovery will be led by villages and towns around the country'
THERE has been a lot of debate in the media in recent months about the economic effect of buying Irish and shopping local.
Supporters argue that by buying local, not only do we get quality Irish food, but we are also giving a boost to the economy. They point to studies by groups like Love Irish Food, whose research shows that if consumers spent €4 more per week on Irish products up to 6,000 jobs would be created.
The challenge back, however, is that it's a chicken and egg situation. While shoppers would like to buy more Irish goods, they feel they're too expensive to buy and there is a perception that retailers need to be doing more for consumers in these hard times.
As I own my own store, I can see both sides of the argument and my point of view is that Irish food is affordable and it also benefits the local economy.
Let's start with the price argument. SuperValu, the retail group I'm part of, invested €270 million last year in delivering value to consumers. That translates into everyday low prices that shoppers expect and see in the aisles of SuperValu. Simply put, as an independent retailer who owns his own store, if I wasn't part of SuperValu I wouldn't be able to compete on price. The fact that we recently ran an Eat Irish Challenge to highlight how affordable Irish food is by creating a week long menu of Irish food for a family of four for €100, highlights how we have tackled the price issue.
Where this gets interesting, however, is how the same shopping basket helps the local economy. Shopping with Gallagher's SuperValu, allows me to be a significant employer in the local community, something I am very proud of. My store employs 28 full time and 22 part time staff from the local community, with a total payroll amounting to €1 million which is a considerable injection of cash into the town.
If people didn't shop with me, I wouldn't be able to employ my staff and that would be a big hole in the local economy. The economic contribution stretches further than the wage bill.
Indeed our investment in the community reaches further than price, with one of our core values to support the local community through sponsorship of key activities, such as our sponsorship of St. Pat's GAA Junior Team and our annual bag packs which have raised €25,000 for local clubs and associations. Together with these, we continue to contribute, in no small scale, to numerous other community activities that require sponsorship to survive. Our comprehensive commitment to local sponsorship is made possible by the loyalty of our customers who choose to shop with us.
As I own and operate my own business, I am also free to source from local suppliers and I stock goods from 20 local businesses, including meat, dairy and baked products. This represents purchases of in excess of €400,000, all of which again goes back into the community and those within it. In November 2012 we completed a substantial store revamp, spending €300,000 with local Irish suppliers such as builders, shop fitters and electricians in order to complete the project.
In effect, when people spend their money with local independent businesses like mine, this money is reinvested in the community as the money paid to staff is spent in local businesses like hairdressers, coffee shops and hardware stores, as well as other services. This local investment also helps to preserve our town centre as a shopping destination and shared space for the local community.
If you look across the community, all businesses recognise the hard times people find themselves in and are offering better value than ever given that shoppers have less money to spend. It's important that we shop local and buy Irish whenever possible. We are already sending money to Germany to pay off our bank debts - it's important we spend money locally which is circulated within the Wicklow community, rather than funding foreign economies.
Ireland's economic recovery will be led by villages and towns around the country. Every cent spent locally makes a difference for family owned businesses. If we all row in, our collective effort will make a strong contribution to the economy as our hard earned money protects Irish jobs and ensures that we are putting quality food on our tables, rather than seeing profits being shipped overseas for the benefit of other countries.