09 November 2020, 10:57 AM
  • Speciality food retailers haven’t been put off by the challenges of the pandemic this year
Farm shops buck Covid gloom with new store openings

Ever since the coronavirus crisis hit, there has been no shortage of negative news: business are struggling to make ends meet, SMEs are seeing “gaps” in government support, and the British Retail Consortium has estimated that the closure of non-essential retail in the second lockdown could cost the sector £2 billion a week.

However, farm shops are ploughing ahead with new openings, proving that local, specialist food shops will be a bright spot in the gloomy retail sector going forwards.

Ponton Farm Shop is one such business. Having opened its doors on the Stock Rochford estate in Great Ponton in September, the family-run shop provides beef and lamb sourced from their own small holding and neighbouring farms, alongside local honey, chutneys, jams and oils, fresh milk sourced from a local dairy, fresh bread and cheese bought direct from Long Clawson.

“Due to covid-19 we couldn’t quite open the way we would have liked to, but I feel we still managed to create a nice opening weekend for our customers,” explains owner Natascha Dobrovits.

“We had spent some considerable time planning to open our own farm shop, and having spoken to many friends and contacts we saw there was considerable interest for us to turn thoughts into action,” she tells Speciality Food.

Asked whether she was put off by the challenges of Covid, Natascha said that it was a concern, but that she and her partner believed that they could offer customers a “genuine and viable shopping alternative”.

Despite the lockdown, fine food retailers appear well-placed to make a success of festive shopping this year. Recent data from Springboard showed that shoppers are planning to support local businesses and spend more on food and drink this year.

Feedback from the community has been “very encouraging” she says. “A large number of our customers have commented that they enjoy visiting our shop with its relaxed atmosphere and easy parking. We have had amazing feedback on our products, especially the beef and lamb, and our customer base appears to be growing by the week with many repeat shoppers.”

Natascha said she is also keen to help other local businesses who rely on in-person events such as craft and country fairs. The shop includes a craft area with items made by small businesses and local crafters.

Elsewhere, the challenges of the pandemic have created opportunities for new growth. Ben Goodrum, who was made redundant in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, has opened an organic farm shop in Claydon, near Ipswich, called Broomvale Organic Farm Shop. “The aim is to provide quality, fresh, local produce for people. I’ve had to find the local contacts to supply a full range of vegetables, fruits, preserves, honey – all the things you need from a farm shop,” he told the Ipswich Star.

A family farm in Sussex has also made plans to open a farm shop in order to generate more income through the pandemic. Carola Godman Irvine, who runs Ote Hall Farm, told the Mid Sussex Times: “Ote Hall would not survive as a purely traditionally run farm without having already diversified into various enterprises. We see the farm shop and tea room as a natural way forward.”

Other businesses are moving ahead with building works to provide a better service for their customers. For instance, Betty’s Farm in Willington will soon open a fully automated vending shop. In a statement on Facebook, the farm said it would be “the biggest of its kind in Europe”.

These businesses show that despite the pandemic and the economic recession, demand for high-quality, local British food and drink is alive and well.

Have you opened or expanded your farm shop since the pandemic hit? We’d love to hear about it. Get in touch with courtney.goldsmith@aceville.co.uk

Image: Ponton Farm Shop

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