14 January 2000

Direct from field to public

More livestock producers

are considering adding value

to their stock and one option

is direct retail selling.

Farmers markets are

thriving, but is the next step

a move into the high street?

Jeremy Hunt reports

OPENING a high street shop may not be top of the agenda at the moment for six Yorks stock farmers who recently joined forces to create a meat marketing business, but a permanent retail outlet may be considered.

"Its a frightening thought when you think of the financial investment involved, but some sort of retail outlet cant be ruled out in the long term if demand for our meat continues to grow," says beef and sheep producer Sam Blacker, Wilstrop Hall, Green Hammerton, York.

Hes one of a six Vale of York farmers who recently set up Ainsty Farms Direct. Group members are Stuart Beaton, Phillip Hughes, Jeremy Gill, John Barnes and Peter Pick. The idea followed a successful joint venture running a meat stall at a farmers market at their local agricultural show.

Annual primestock output from the six partners is about 1400 lambs and 380 cattle, and Mr Gill also runs 300 free-range sows.

"We set out to present ourselves in a professional way at the farmers market and were absolutely staggered by the publics response," says Mr Pick.

Although, as yet, there is no formal agreement between the six farmers, their combined effort has helped cope with the workload and expense in setting up the business. So far £10,000 has been invested in equipment, including a freezer trailer and display cabinets, and marketing.

"Because there are six of us it means we can ensure continuity of supply. Thats an essential part of the business," says Mr Blacker.

The partners had a common goal: To highlight to consumers their natural rearing methods.

"We are a like-minded group who felt our stock was undervalued. We are responding to a local demand for traditionally reared, traceable stock produced on farms with a commitment to conservation and the environment," says Mr Beaton.

Considerable time and expense was spent in creating a brochure to set out the aims of Ainsty Farms Direct. The partners agree it was a worthwhile investment.

From the slaughterhouse, meat is butchered and packed by a local butcher who is also responsible for weighing, pricing and labelling. Meat is returned to the group in packs and is sold through farmers markets and a personal house-to-house delivery service.

"We are not selling on price but on our integrity. Its a great boost to your confidence to be directly in touch with consumers who appreciate what you are producing," says Mr Pick.

Ainsty Farms Direct sells a variety of beef packs ranging from £30, with a minimum weight of 4.5kg (10lb), to £60 for a minimum weight of 8.4kg (18.5lb); jointed half-lambs with an average weight of 7.7kg (17lb) at £32, and free-range pork with an average weight of 25kg (55lb) at £60.