The selection of three finalists for 14 categories in the 2008 Farmers Weekly Awards have been unveiled. The judges had the difficult task of teasing out just three farmer finalists, in each category, from an overwhelming number of high quality entries.
Farmshop.uk.com are proud to be sponsoring Local Food Farmer of the Year award at the Farmers Weekly Awards - a category that captures the very essence of what we believe in. The judging panel recently visited this years 3 finalists for the Local Food Farmer of the Year category. Read on and find out why this years finalists have been selected. Farmshop.uk.com wishes each of the 3 finalists the best of luck at the awards; see you there.
When good people and strong relationships come together, you are usually on to a winning ticket. That's exactly what has happened at The Manydown Company, Manor Farm, Wootton St Lawrence, Basingstoke in Hampshire.
The three key personalities at the heart of this farming and shop enterprise are Richard Stirling, the farm manager, Roy Hibbin, the retail consultant, and Terry Tarrant, the shop manager.They share an enthusiasm for local food and a commitment to each other founded out of years of building the business together.
The Manydown Company is a family-owned 2020ha (5000 acre) mixed estate, which was brought by Plymouth MP Sir Edward Bates in 1871 and has been held by his descendants ever since. The estate includes combinable crops, livestock and a farm shop.
Manor Farm, the main operation, is an impressive example of a fully integrated farm and retail unit complementing and supporting each other. The shop sells home-produced beef, lamb, free-range chicken and pork, and specialty foods from other local suppliers.
The business was originally set up in 1994 to market the beef from a 150-suckler herd using traditional rearing systems. Today, there are 230 cows including Aberdeen Angus, 1000 ewes crossed to Hampshire Down rams, 1500 free-range chickens and four Large Black breeding sows.
Critical to its success has been the determination of shop manager Terry Tarrant, who started his butchery career in London as a Saturday boy and trained at Smithfield College.
Terry now lives with his young family in a detached house next door to the shop. "He is a craft-trained butcher and understands retailing. He's taken the shop from humble beginnings to where it is now," said Richard Stirling. "Terry is constantly in touch with the herdsman as to quality and carcass finish so he gets exactly what he needs for the shop."
Local planners are notoriously sticky about new buildings and road signs, but the Manor Farm team have not been put off. Their constant evolution of the shop has lifted turnover and they have resolved challenges as they arise.
For example, home made pies were introduced as a way of using whole carcass and reducing waste. Sales grew from 20 pies a week to over 1000, adding value to the by-products of a hugh trim business.
Terry Tarrant keeps an eye on prices, particularly meat, every week. Manydown's homegrown meat commands top prices such as £21.99/kg for rib eye steak, £45.99 for fillet and £24.99 for sirloin.
The staff work hard at communication with the customer and in the Summer they provide farm tours, barbecues and butchery demonstrations. Over 500 people visited on Open Farm Sunday.
Richard Stirling has been involved in the business for 20 years and is rightly proud of it's local food, low food miles credentials. When asked why they had not gone organic, he was quick to reply: "We think we are better than organic. What Prince Charles is doing is great, but it's not the real world," he said. " We are already at the top end of the premium market."
Terry Tarrant added: "All the customers really want is to be reassured of animal welfare and where their food comes from. If we went organic, I don't think customers would necessarily pay extra."
Imagine a Fortnum and Mason food hall teeming with aisles of mouth watering, quality food. There's limitless space for merchandising well, a roomy restaurant with stunning views and it's all beautifully lit - a foodies' paradise and a unique shopping experience.
Jane and Brian Down's Udder Farm Shop at Manor Farm, East Stour, Dorset, is exactly like that and in a league of it's own. It is a haven for local food and a wonderful alternative to supermarkets. The judges concluded that farm shops do not come much better than this.
The secret of their success was to design the shop themselves and build from scratch three years ago using their own investment and a DEFRA grant. On a prime site off the A30, the shop boasts over 4000 sq ft of floor space and benefits from a car park for 44 vehicles. It includes a catering kitchen, coffee shop/restaurant and butchery. Planning permission was fairly easy to acquire because the site was a ryegrass pasture with little biodiversity.
The Down family were dairy farmers looking for a less volatile business for the future when they invested in this large scale shop development. They wanted to sell their own produce and food from other Dorset farmers, as well as serve the local community with a positive meeting place.
Their 200-acre dairy business was contracted out two years ago to Guy and Julie Chandler in a slick move which kept the Down family in farming but freed them up to focus on shop expansion. The dairy has 220 Friesians supplying milk, which comes back into the shop, to the Blackmore Vale Dairy.
They also own aha (110 acre) beef enterprise at Hartgill Farm next door, but all the finishing is done elsewhere. They sell beef part-raised on their own farm, plus products sourced locally from over regional business' and producers. The pork comes from Roy Collis' family farm only one mile away, the lamb is from Graham Taylor at Buckhorn Weston and the beef from Francis Burfitt at Mere.
Manor Farm is on the edge of the Blackmore Vale with Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire on it's borders. The Down family have been farming here since 1938. They have realised their dream to create a retail business which would outperform the farm.
In January 2008, they opened a £125,000 extension to accommodate a coffee shop and leave a larger retail space. The first year's turnover of the whole unit was £756,000, rising to £910,000 and a predicted £1.3m by this Christmas. The shop represents 47% of the turnover, with the restaurant accounting for 33% and the butchery 20%. More than 36,000 cars pass their door each week, with an average spend per customer of £12.50 to £13.
"The biggest hurdle has been staffing, but at the moment we have a wonderful team," said Jane. "We have learned the lesson that one of us needs to be here - we are hands on."
"Customer focus is vital," said Brian. "A good team of staff will generate repeat custom We do research and hold regular team meetings to discuss where improvements can be made".
Their courage in thinking big early on has already reaped rewards. The couple have had two serous offers for the business in the past two years, bit they are "really on a role right now" and are not ready to retire just yet.
Douglas Wanstall is a big bloke with big ambitions for himself and other local producers. At Bank Farm, Ashford, Kent, he is pioneering a local food distribution hub and has had remarkable success in supplying hospitals, schools, hotels, food stores and restaurants. In just six years, his formidable energies have developed a business with a £5m turnover. He predicts revenue will quadruple to £20m by 2011.
"My vision for our business is to build the largest and most successful food business in the country," Douglas explained to the judges. "We intend to build the market for locally produced goods and develop as many routes to market as possible."
The sheer scale of the enterprise is awesome. Bank Farm buys products from local farmers and sells them on to a wide range of customers interested in localised food. While clever logistics are vital to this business, farming is still at it's heart.
The Wanstall family, including his wife Stephanie and parents, run their own mixed farm with arable and vegetable crops, free-range poultry and diversifications, including a restaurant and shop. Overall they have 1040ha (2500 acres) for arable, 40 livestock and Douglas is still hands-on.
"The business started in a basic way in 2002," said Douglas. "We had been producing free-range eggs and I started selling to local shops and pubs. We then moved into marketing in London and aimed for the top end."
Bank farm now supplies over 1400 lines with its motto: "One supplier, one invoice, hundreds of local products." It's customers include seven schools, big city hospitals like the Royal Brompton, prestigious London hotels like the Lanesborough and the Wolseley as well as Fortnum & Mason, Wholefoods Market, Clarence House and five Asda stores in Kent.
Supplying Asda has it's own challenges with product positioning, pricing, packaging, and merchandising all having to be absolutely right if local lines are to fly off the shelves. Bank Farm works with up to 100 local producers and douglas admits he is picky about who to take on. He is equally choosy about customers, refusing business with celebrity chefs Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsey because "their attitude was all wrong and they were shocking payers, so why should I subsidise them?"
In the beginning, Douglas identified that barriers to market were technical accreditation and credibility. So he set about acquiring it though the membership of the Lion code, Freedom Foods and LEAF.
While specialists can be expensive, Douglas quickly realised they could add value and help him grow quicker. He has since recruited finance, IT, sales, fresh produce and business development specialists. A meat expert to oversee a new Truly Tender Meat brand is also on the cards, along with a web shopping portal to compete against Abel & Cole and Riverford.
Douglas Wanstall is not a man prone to bragging. When he says he has aspirations to grow you have a feeling he'll achieve it. He wants to bring together local food hubs across the country. They would operate as individual businesses but with a single deck administering nationwide contracts with the NHS, restaurant chains and major food caterers. His first step is to set up a similar local hub in Hampshire this September.
Douglas describes himself as "someone with itchy feet all the time", which is why me manages to juggle all this with the demands of two young children plus farm visits. If there's a spare hour, he's even thinking about renovating an ancient 16th century barn into a wedding venue. This farmer is simply inspirational.