City slicker turns rural retail winner

City oil trader turned retail entrepreneur Andrew Loftus has won Britain’s Best Rural Retailer of the Year award.

Mr Loftus, managing director of Harrogate grocers Weeton’s, fought off fierce competition from 600 entries and 12 regional winners to win the national competition organised by the Countryside Alliance in conjunction with British Food Fortnight and Farmers Weekly.

Despite opening only six months ago Weeton’s is on track to turn over 1.2m within a year and employs 20 people.

Stocking everything from local game and Thirsk buffalo mozzarella to Harrogate Spa Water and in-store baked biscuits, the business supports 45 local farmers.

“Weeton’s is a worthy winner,” said Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance and leader of the national judging panel.

“It’s a new business but it’s already had a phenomenal impact.

“Andrew’s commitment to local, seasonal food is clear – he has reinvigorated the market for local produce.

And the store’s food miles labelling system is making consumers think about what they put in their shopping baskets.”

Alliance chairman and Labour MP Kate Hoey added: “Food produced locally and eaten locally must be best, and I’d like to pay tribute to all the 13 regional winners who are so valued by their local communities.”

Highly commended were the Northern Ireland winner Chapmans farm fresh fruit and vegetables and East of England winner Pink Pig Organic Farm shop, near Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.

Brian Chapman’s shop, which supports 20 local producers and 10 UK ones, was described as “the hub of the local community,” by the judges.

Pink Pig Organics was praised for what they said was its “crusade to educate people about the value of local food and farming”.

A special commendation was given to South of England winner Sulgrave Village Shop, near Banbury, Oxfordshire.

Staffed by 60 part-time volunteers, the shop is owned by the village and run through the parish council.

Watch out for more details of the national and regional competition winners next month.