John Shepherd, Partridges: “That little extra something”

23 September 2022, 14:00 PM
  • John Shepherd, managing director at Partridges discusses why the UK needs its speciality food shops to succeed
John Shepherd, Partridges: “That little extra something”

It was very good to see the Speciality & Fine Food Fair back at Olympia again in rude good health. I thought it was extremely busy when I visited on the Monday, with many interesting newcomers and still many of the usual suspects we have all depended on for so long.

As that fine actress Dame Edith Evans once told an overbearing director, she needed to give the audience what she was famous for – “That little extra something”. And the event at Olympia I thought delivered it.

That little extra something was on show again at the Golden Fork Awards at Southwark Cathedral later on in the evening. This event seems to go from strength to strength and I thought the cathedral lent itself very well to the occasion.

Surrounded by the tombs of many eminent people like Sam Wanamaker and Edmund Shakespeare (William’s younger brother) we celebrated the winners in the various categories of the Great Taste Awards including the Supreme Champion – Fermented Fresh Green Kampot Peppercorns.

I am pleased to say that the Partridges Startisans Award for the outstanding Start Up Artisan went to Soyze for their inspirational sauce initiatives. It was also very good to present the Lifetime Achievement Award to Stuart Gates, another columnist of this magazine, who has contributed so much over the course of nearly 40 years to the development of speciality food in the UK.

I think he may have got the biggest cheer of the evening. Stuart, like the other winners, has certainly provided that little extra something to the trade over so many years.

All these upbeat experiences contrast starkly of course with the current front pages of the national press. It is becoming even more difficult to get out of bed in the mornings with so many dire predictions awaiting us at the first glimpse of the mobile phone. Energy price increases, staff recruitment struggles, product supply problems, inflation hikes, business rate warnings, war prospects, transport strikes and yes even rent and service charge rises are bedevilling our attempts to move on from the Covid-19 era.

It is true to say I cannot recall a time when such a coalition of enemies ranged against small food businesses. It looks like the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have each brought along a mate.

I have often read that in order to avoid despondency it is helpful to write out a list of all the things that one is grateful for. With regard to running a speciality food store I think our list would look something like this:

Good sales in the summer - despite unpleasantly hot weather at times and a frightening lack of precipitation, sales held up well. Good weather generally helps smaller speciality food shops unless everyone leaves for a holiday.

A long-lasting product – speciality food is here to stay. We might not maximise opportunities all of the time but the opportunities are there.

We have learned a lot from Covid-19 - having faced a firing squad once and survived by trading through Covid (somehow), one tends to look at new threats in a slightly more dispassionate way, with innovative thinking and traditional manoeuvres.

We have been here before – economic shocks, crises and downturns happen every so often. I do not wish to belittle the current scary crisis but in 1974 lights were turned off. I hope it doesn’t come to that this time.

Long standing staff – we have been very lucky to have key members of staff over the years who have kept the show on the road. When fridges break down, deliveries don’t turn up and customers wander we have always got through with a collective effort.

As we now enter the run up to Christmas and with the going getting tougher it is important not to forget why customers shop with us. I would also like to quote Lawrence Olivier on determination. He once said words to the effect of, “If you want to succeed, forget it. If you NEED to succeed, go for it”. And the UK needs its speciality food shops to succeed and provide “that little extra something”.

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