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Making your business more sustainable can sound like a daunting task. However, speciality food retailers are proving that it’s possible through simple swaps, concept rethinks and investments into carbon-reducing projects. Below we’ve outlined how four farm shops are tackling sustainability.
Derbyshire-based Croots Farm Shop has been working for years to reduce its impact on the environment, with initiatives cutting out plastic water bottles and straws, banning plastic carrier bags, reducing the use of cling film, installing LED lights and increasing its plant-based vegan and vegetarian ranges.
The shop’s latest move to boost its eco credibility was through the installation of new energy-efficient fridges. Six open display fridges, some of which were more than 10 years old, were swapped out for one open display cabinet fridge and three doored fridges that will save an estimated 6.8 tonnes of carbon emissions per year. Plus, they have the benefit of reducing Croots’ energy bills, too.
The installation was made possible by a £12,000 grant from the DE-Carbonise project, which covered 40% of the cost of the new fridges. The scheme aims to help SMEs across Derby and Derbyshire to increase their sustainability. Kay Croot, who runs the farm shop at Farnah House Farm with husband Steve, said: “We pledged to make 2020 our most environmentally friendly year ever, and as we start 2021, we’re firmly committed to continuing this journey to do what we can to reduce our impact on the environment.
“These new fridges use less energy and will help us to reduce our carbon emissions. They are also quieter, creating a more pleasant environment in the shop. We’re grateful to the DE-Carbonise project for supporting us as we look at all areas of the business to see how best we can become more sustainable.”
When it comes to encouraging customers to do more to support sustainability, the team at Macknade is banging the drum. The Kent-based food hall, which has ticked a number of sustainability-minded moves off its own list, such as reducing plastic packaging, repurposing excess fruit and veg and switching to renewable energy, is now urging customers to make five small changes to their shopping habits to benefit the planet.
The steps include: buying seasonal, loose produce; choosing pasture-fed British meat and sustainably caught fish, using dried goods dispensers; trying out the food hall’s new yoghurt dispenser; and bringing your own containers to the store for meats, cheese, olives and other snacks, which can be purchased at the deli counter.
“There is no doubt that more of us are reflecting on our food choices, considering not only taste and quality, but also provenance, value and the environmental impact of our purchases,” says commercial director Shane Godwin. “We are keen to demonstrate that it is possible to enjoy local and convenient shopping whilst also being conscious of the environment. We’ve put in place numerous systems and refill stations so that customers can still enjoy their favourite products whilst doing their bit to reduce unnecessary plastic and waste.”
Julia Kirby-Smith, founder of north London’s Fridge of Plenty, set up her food shop with a hyper-local concept in mind. The shop’s carefully curated range includes produce grown and made as close to its premises as possible – most of which comes from within the M25.
But Julia is not stopping there. “We are working towards being zero-waste, but there’s always more to be done. For example, we re-use all cardboard that comes through the shop for veg boxes and deliveries, we make soup in-house with any wonky or wilting veg, and we turn our stale baguettes into sourdough crostini,” she explains. “We donate other unsold food to our local food-bank and Olio users via a local Olio volunteer, and we’re looking at the viability of a hot-bin to compost vegetable peels on-site.”
Julia says the shop also aims to support and encourage locals to make more sustainable choices by looking at the systemic problems in the way that food is produced, and by making the hard decisions for them. “We sell only organic, seasonal British produce (with two exceptions – garlic and lemons – but nothing else) and we avoid products with plastic packaging wherever possible.
“We also select all of our products specifically for their low food miles, so we have milk from Sussex, fish from Brighton, cheese and charcuterie made in London, and fresh meat and wine from Forty Hall Farm, an amazing agricultural college and farm in Enfield just six miles from where we are in an inner suburb of North London,” she explains.
There are innumerable changes that retailers can be making in order to create a more eco-friendly shop. And thankfully, in the fine food sector, there are plenty of inspiring stories to use as a jumping off point for your own ventures.
Non-traditional retailers like Eversfield Organic, which started off as an organic meat delivery service, are also looking for ways to improve their eco-friendliness. “Currently we are continuing to work on our Closed Loop Sustainability system, in which we rely only on materials from the farm for the continued productivity of the farm,” explains sales and marketing director Anna Elliot. Examples of this include the rotational grazing methods of our livestock. We move the cattle to different parts of the field so that all areas of the ground can recover for healthy soils.”
“This also ensures the cattle can naturally fertilise the soil with their manure – we never use external artificial fertilisers or pesticides on our soils,” she continues. “We also grow cover crops that are purely to cover the earth rather than for harvesting. Keeping soils healthy is vital for benefiting the environment, as healthy soils can draw CO2 out of the atmosphere (carbon sequestration).”
Eversfield also uses composting methods to boost the produce in its market garden. “By fertilising our soils in an organic matter, we are ensuring the best tasting meats (all our cattle are grass-fed only) and fruit and vegetables – the nutrients from the soil can then be found in our produce! These methods of regenerative agriculture are things we have been implementing for years,” Anna explains.
Now, the business is looking to go further by working to increase the amount of products that are in home compostable packaging. Already, some produce packaging, like the shop’s mushroom trays, can be composted by consumers. “Hopefully soon we will have soups, ready meals and salad bags (and more) that are all compostable from home.”
For those that can’t swap out all of their packaging materials, Anna suggests running a packaging return scheme for certain products. “At the moment, we are ensuring returned packaging is quarantined before being used in other deliveries, just to be safe! We think selected eco-friendly packaging is a great way for farm shops to increase their mindfulness towards the environment, as well as encouraging customers to do the same.”
Looking to learn more about sustainable changes that you could be making? Download a free copy of A Sustainable Future here.