Tomato crop at Haven Nurseries, Worcestershire
Tomato crop at Haven Nurseries, Worcestershire

The key questions that guided the food feasibility project were:

“What are the drivers of redistributed manufacturing in the food industry?

What would be the necessary organisational, logistical and technical changes needed to facilitate a shift to redistributed manufacturing? and,

What would the consequences (intended and unintended) of such a shift be?”


The assessment used two example products – bread and tomato paste.

The final report covers the definition of the product, its historical development, how it is made (manufacturing process steps) and how much we buy and eat in the UK. A comparison has been made for both products between the current global situation and a more localised ‘what if’ situation. The localised situation is applied to two case studies in Oxford (a medium-sized, established city where space is at a premium) and Northstowe, Cambridgeshire (a new town currently under development and construction). Finally the opportunities for redistributed manufacturing (RDM) for the product are discussed.


The final report for the food feasibility project is available.

An extract from the Executive Summary and key research questions are provided:

Today at least 80% of the food that we purchase is manufactured or processed in some way, and ultra-processed foods have an increasing market share. Food manufacturing is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, employing 400,000 people at 9,600 sites across the country. The sector grew massively over the course of the 20th century, increasing in scale and complexity and moving from a system of relatively localised small manufacturers to a globalised industry controlled by multinational corporations. Nonetheless, there are checks on the centralisation of food manufacturing, not least the desire from consumers for freshness and cultural specificity, which help keep the food industry more widely distributed than some other manufacturing sectors.

The redistributed manufacturing (RDM) concept suggests that the future might hold at least a partial reversal of this historical trend towards centralisation, and that this could bring associated environmental and social benefits. Innovative developments in a variety of sectors around new technologies such as additive manufacturing (3D printing) are at the forefront of such claims. Little work has focused on what this would mean for the food sector, however. This paper therefore attempts to provide an initial scoping of RDM for food, the extent of concentration within food manufacturing, the potential drivers of RDM, and the outcomes that it might bring.


Key questions include:

  • How has the distribution of food manufacturing changed over time in the UK, both in terms of ownership and geography?
  • How will different future scenarios affect the distribution of food manufacturing – for example in a world with much higher transport fuel prices, or different international trade rules?
  • How well do the four preliminary categories of RDM proposed in this paper fulfil analytical needs? Can they be strengthened or improved upon?
  • What indicators are best used to measure the outcomes of different scales and locations in food manufacturing, and how can they be effectively measured?
  • How do drivers and outcomes of change differ across the four RDM types?