An arable farmer’s 10-year dream to turn a commodity product into a high-value culinary ingredient finally paid off at this year’s Royal Show when Duncan Farrington scooped the Waitrose Small Producer of the Year award.
Sleek bottles of Mellow Yellow, Farrington Oils’ virgin cold-pressed rape oil, are rubbing shoulders with Italy’s finest olive oils in Waitrose stores across Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, attracting the attention of more discerning buyers.
The oil is also sold in range of farm shops, butchers and delicatessens nationwide, and has just been introduced to Harvey Nichols stores across the country.
Helped by a grant from the English Rural Development Scheme for 50% of start-up costs, the first pressings were carried out in early 2005.
Branding and packaging, vital to any product’s success, were all home-grown.
The name was born after a brainstorming session with friends, and his wife designed the attractive label, loosely based on oilseed rape flower petals.
After some trial and error to get the product just as he wanted, he launched the oil at last year’s Royal Show.
Waitrose placed its first order in October 2005.
In the first year, Mr Farrington sold 8000 half-litre bottles through various outlets, pressing 20t of oilseed rape and produced a turnover of £20,000.
The bottles sell for £4.50 retail, pitched at the same level as a good olive oil.
“I need to increase sales three times to break even, and I planned to do this within three years of starting up,” says Mr Farrington.
“The aim is to eventually press all 300t of rapeseed produced on our farm.
“It’s not been easy – this project has taken 75% of my time, and my father has had to work really hard on the farm to cover.
“But you speak to any small producer, and the story is the same – it’s really hard work to become established.
But, hopefully, this award will help.”
Other finalists included the Simply Delicious Fruit Cake Company, Maynards Farm Bacon, The Dairy House, Clives Fruit and Bacheldre Watermill.
Graham Cassie, Waitrose’s regional sourcing policy director, said the retailer was keen to talk to small producers, even if they could only felt capable of supplying an individual store.
“I’d be glad to hear from them,” he said.