Huge amounts of passion and a determination to be the best for their customers are what unites our Local Food Farmer of the Year finalists. Three very different farm shops prove that success lies in showcasing the connection between agriculture and quality food. Caroline Stocks reports
Strong family ties and a passionate belief in the highest-quality, local, Welsh produce are what drives Roland Watkins and the success of Cwmcerrig Farm Shop.
Run in partnership by Roland, his three brothers and his sister, the shop and the adjoining 100ha (250 acre) beef and sheep farm in Llanelli, Camarthenshire employs a total of 21 members of the Watkins family.
Growing from small beginnings to the family affair it is now, Roland first starting selling the farm’s produce direct to the public in the 1980s in a bid to help the farm become more profitable.
“We had 100 acres at the time and the farm was struggling,” he says. “There are a lot of us in the family and we couldn’t all live off the farm, so we had to do something different.”
Over several years selling door-to-door and holding market stalls, Roland and the family gained a strong customer base, as well as a reputation for selling top-quality Welsh meat, fruit and vegetables.
Recognising the potential to build on that customer support, in 2008 the family decided to invest £900,000 in developing a farm shop so they could showcase not just the farm’s produce, but other Welsh food.
What the judges liked
– Genuine farm shop, producing 80% of the meat sold
– Good local identity and collaboration with local businesses
– Excellent eye for marketing which brings in customers from a wide area
As well as a traditional farm shop, the Watkins family introduced a deli, a butchery and a café – which is managed by Roland – in a bid to become a destination venue for both the local community and tourists.
It was a move that paid off. Since the shop’s doors opened in 2009, its customer base has grown rapidly, with more than 6,000 people visiting each week from as far away as North Wales and England – thanks in part to investment in extensive local advertising on Welsh television.
“Because of the markets we had a wide customer base, so when we opened we had people coming straight away because they knew the quality of our fruit and veg,” says Roland.
Much of the fresh produce sold in the shop is produced locally, while about 70% of the beef and sheep is from the Watkins’ farm, which is run largely by one of Roland’s brothers and nephews.
– 100 ha upland grass farm
– Beef, sheep, pedigree Texels and poultry at Christmas
– Significant diversification to turn a struggling farm into an enterprise which supports an entire family
The café serves between 300 and 500 meals a day using food sourced from the farm and the shop, while the butchery counter – which is undergoing an extensive expansion project – has become a key part of the enterprise as shoppers come to see the shop’s three butchers at work.
“One of the key reasons for doing the shop was to find a premium market to sell our meat,” says Roland. “We make pies and rissoles to use the fourth-quarter meat and we are looking to sell boxed meat online to add value.”
As well as ensuring a strong South Wales link to the fresh produce in the shop, the Watkins have also linked up with 40 different companies in Camarthenshire to ensure other food stocked in the shop is from the region and meets Roland’s ‘Welsh is best’ philosophy.
It is something the Prince of Wales learned first hand when he visited the farm last summer and was offered a cup of Welsh tea.
“He asked how tea could come from Wales,” says Roland. “I told him if you can have Yorkshire tea you can have Welsh tea, and Welsh tea is even better. I think he agreed.”
The shop’s success means the Watkins are able to look at developing the enterprise sooner than expected.
“We want to increase sales, so one big idea we have for the coming months is to sell things online,” says Roland.
“We have also been thinking about how to use other buildings on the site. We have let one to a local brewery which has started selling its beer in the shop, but we are considering an on-farm play area in the other buildings.
“Longer term, I hope my son will take over from me. Three of my nieces and nephews are nearly 30 so we want to bring them in and give them shares in the business. This whole thing started to provide a future for the family and the plan is to continue doing that.”
A word from our sponsor
More than ever before, our customers are telling us they want to buy local products and Asda has a long-term commitment to working with and developing a wide network of local producers, from individual farmers who have a single product right through to larger regional brands.”
Pearce Hughes, Asda
Find out more about the 2012 Farmers Weekly Awards including details on how to books tables for the event’s glittering London awards bash