The visitors’ book at John Geldard’s farm reads like a who’s who in the world of British agriculture: Senior office holders of the NFU officials from DEFRA members of the regional development agency and senior buyers from grocery retailer Asda. It’s an impressive list and one that makes you realise in an instant that many organisations value this farmer’s opinions.
In 2001, after the ravages of foot-and-mouth had wreaked havoc across Cumbria, John Geldard established Plumgarths Hub as a facility for local farmers and associated cottage industries to pool local produce. With such a diverse offering of local food, the group soon attracted the attention of supermarket chain Asda.
Today the hub concept is well understood and the retailer has replicated the model in other areas of the country with growing success.
Plumgarths Hub now employs 21 staff, supports more than 12 local producers and supplies more then 80 branded products direct to 12 Asda stores across the north-west. In many cases, food products supplied by Plumgarths outsell either the Asda premium brand or a nationally recognised brand: Plumgarths Cumberland Sausage, which has outsold all competition since its introduction four years ago, and English Lakes Ice-Cream, which outsells Ben & Jerry’s three to one, despite being more expensive, are just two examples.
Following the recruitment of two managers, each with more than 15 years’ experience of food processing and preparation, Plumgarths has expanded into the foodservice sector. It has become a major supplier of branded beef and lamb, all produced by the region’s farmers, to more than 100 local hotels and restaurants. It also supplies local schools and a university.
Mr Geldard’s “can do” attitude is evident from the outset. Following an approach by a London restaurant to supply it with prime cuts of beef, enquiries were made as to the logistical possibilities.
Plumgarths now sends a chilled hamper of beef overnight by courier once a week to the heart of London from its butcher’s shop in Kendal – a journey of more than 250 miles.
Most recently the group was approached by CenterParcs, the leisure operator, to supply its resort at Penrith. The arrangement uses a supply chain employing the same principles that support the arrangement with Asda. This project now supports 12 Cumbrian suppliers.
As a result of this rapid expansion, Plumgarths has achieved turnover of more than £3m each year and is set to clear £5m for the past financial year.
The judges were particularly impressed by Mr Geldard’s vision which extended beyond that of his own business, but to the future of the industry as whole.
Also the importance placed on social responsibilities. In addition to sponsoring the Cartmel under-11 football team and supporting various charities, fundraising by local schools the Geldard family farm also hosts regular school visits.
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