6 September 2002

Branded milk a hit with buyers

By Jeremy Hunt

North-west correspondent

BOWLAND Fresh Milk has captured 5% of a north-west supermarket chains total milk sales in less than month despite costing 6p/pint more than unbranded milk.

The branded milk, supplied direct to Booths supermarkets by a group of 15 Lancashire dairy farmers, is proving the latest success for the firm which now stocks over 5000 regionally produced food items.

Sales of the milk prove consumers have never been more concerned about the origin of their food and how its produced, according to Booths marketing director Chris Dee.

"Its given us a very clear message about our customers buying habits and confirms our commitment to locally produced food. Our approach to retailing is not mainstream but its increasingly what todays consumers are demanding," says Mr Dee.

Booths – a family firm just about to open its 27th store – has a turnover of £150m. Built on a reputation of high-class grocery tracing back almost 100 years, the firm has always been renowned for its extensive range of "fine foods" and imported delicacies.

British food producers may have been slow in getting out of the starting blocks compared with the rest of Europe but the first glimmer of originality and quality saw Booths giving its wholehearted support.

"The door has always been open to regional producers. We pride ourselves in the quality and range of local foods we now offer and I believe we now stock the biggest range of any supermarket in the country," said Mr Dee.

The firm is the only supermarket chain apart from ASDA to have achieved an annual sales growth of more than 5% in the last year.

The first wave of locally produced foods to hit the north-west market almost 20 years ago were quickly on the shelves at Booths. They included organically grown tomatoes from Blairs greenhouses at Pilling near Preston and a range of fruit yogurts made originally in the farmhouse kitchen of Preston dairy farmers wife Ann Forshaw.

"BSE, E coli, GM and foot-and-mouth have all had an impact on consumers. Theyve become more circumspect but weve made every effort to support farmers and small food producers and in so doing re-build consumers trust in food," said Mr Dee.

Booths was the first supermarket to stock organic bread from the now famous Village Bakery at Melmerby near Penrith, Cumbria – a business basking in a nationwide retail success – but Mr Dee says the ability to win customer confidence is not only the preserve of organic food producers.

"Organic food has a role to play and we were stocking organic products earlier than most but its only part of the rapidly growing demand for locally produced food."

Consuming passion…Booths marketing director Chris Dee with local foods.