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Sustain Coronavirus Food Alert Defending our food supply

Keeping food markets open

Last updated July 2020

Food markets are part of our nation's essential food infrastructure, providing food for diverse communities and outlets for many farmers and food producers. 

During the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, we need to keep our retail and wholesale food markets open. They need to operate safely and help customers and stall holders to follow social distancing rules.

Please take our action to Keep Food Markets Open in your areas and across the UK.

We are helping markets, traders and local authorities to share good practice, follow official guidance and to champion food markets with policy-makers at local and national level. 

Markets declared essential food businesses

The Government clarified (23 March 2020) that food markets can stay open during the crisis throughout the UK. (See here section 2, first b​ullet point). During the official briefing on the 30 April, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, stated that open air is better: "it is absolutely categorically clear that outdoor spaces with higher degrees of ventilation are less problematic environments for transmission than indoor spaces" (see here, 33:56)

Sustain have welcomed this due to the important role of food markets as:

  • A source of fresh, healthy, and often organically produced food for the local community, as well as offering more affordable and culturally appropriate food. 
  • A crucial alternative route to market for small local food businesses and farmers, many of them operating to high environmental and animal welfare standards.
  • A safe place to shop during the Coronavirus, if effective social distancing policies and the right support is in place.

Local responses

Markets have shown varying responses with some closing due to local decision making, perception of risk, lack of capacity or reduced customer numbers.

Sustain want to ensure markets can stay open or reopen, where appropriate and safe to do so, and that they are given support to diversify their businesses model to delivery or online ordering. Read this blog which looks at some of the issues. We are helping markets to share good practice, follow official guidance and to champion market traders with policy-makers at local and national level.

We also working alongside our Sustainable Food Cities partners to ensure food partnerships have a key part to play within local food strategy to deal with the food crisis through Covid-19.


Guidance for traders has been produced by several industry bodies including: 

  • NMTF (the national body for market street traders) have produced guidance for all market operators and traders 
  • NAMBA (National Association of British Markets) have launched an information page for traders updates on the latest guidance and announcements and have published their position here
  • Growing Communities have published guidance for running markets safely
  • Farm Retail Association can support markets who may be considering online orders/delivery services. Please connect with them on Facebook for a helpful support pack

Online ordering

Online ordering

Many markets are exploring the use of online platforms, to ease social distancing and so customers can be guaranteed their produce.  The Open Food Network provides a software platform which allows farmers to sell produce online and for groups of producers to set up online food hubs.  The OFN team are running weekly webinars to help market traders to diversify.

Other online ordering systems are available. Visit the Real Bread Campaign’s list of platforms for more information.

If you have information to share on this theme, please write to:

Coronavirus Food Alert: Sustain's work on food resilience in the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.We are helping secure food for vulnerable people and supporting local emergency responses.

The Green House
244-254 Cambridge Heath Road
London E2 9DA

020 3559 6777

Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

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