29 January 2007, 15:51 PM
  • In an article in The Sunday Times yesterday, Jenny Davey suggested that consumers are flocking to farm shops, at the expense of supermarkets, delis and convenience stores, but is this really the case?

Interest in local, traceable ingredients is clearly encouraging consumers to shop closer to home, something that is benefitting independent retailers across the country. However, research from FARMA, the National Farmers’ Retail and Market Association, in 2006, confirmed that shoppers are increasingly turning to farm outlets, and the UK now boasts over 4000 farm shops, an increase of 15% over the last five years.

Rita Exner, secretary at FARMA explains, “Farm shops as a group have been growing in number for some years, with various levels of sophistication. It is investment in recent years by many owners, that has enabled them to thrive, with many offering attractive premises, a strong range, traceable products from the farm and clear provenance.”

She adds, “These days people want to know where the meat they are eating has been reared, and butcheries at farm shops do particularly well.

“Our research in June 2006 showed that 11% of people now buy from farm shops and around 30% had visited a farm shop in the last year or been to a farmers’ market. We don’t anticipate any slowing up of consumer interest.”

Alongside farmers’ markets, Farma claims farm shops now achieve annual sales of more than £2 billion. Indeed, as Ms Davey reported, Blagdon Farm Shop, set up five years ago by Jo Celerier and situated only five miles from a Tesco Extra store, is commanding annual sales of £1m. Offering everything from fresh pies to cheese, milk and vegetables; the farm outlet can give customers the traceability they now demand, allowing it to compete effectively with the supermarket. Comments Ms Exner, “Sales at farm shops are very small compared to the supermarkets, but people are choosing to buy from them because they offer something the multiples can’t.”

Of course, value for money is also coming into people’s purchasing decisions, and Ms Exner admits that farm shops have to stay competitive. “If something is overpriced, people won’t buy it,” she says. However, farm shops can offer better bargains, as a glut of goods on the farm can ensure lower prices in store.

But, should delicatessens be worried? With farm shops able to offer farm produce, with low food miles, full traceability and competitive pricing, are delis going to have to work harder to compete? “The idea of buying local is growing,” admits Ms Exner. “Buying food that is less travelled will increasingly be important and with a farm shop it literally comes from the field to the shop floor, it hasn’t travelled at all. Even meat that has to go to the abatoir, hasn’t travelled far in comparison to that of the supermarkets.”

Ms Exner concludes, “The direct link to the farm is a great strength and something that delis can’t compete with. They need to offer something different, that way each will continue to have their place.”