Farm shops are predicting a positive future, with early indications suggesting new customers who turned to them in lockdown are remaining loyal.
Turnover is up on pre-Covid-19 levels at Newlyns Farm Shop, near Hook in Hampshire, run by the Janaway family.
See also: Vending machines help Welsh dairy farms
Many of the first-time customers who used the “call-and-collect” service introduced in response to the coronavirus crisis are now coming through the door, said Abby Janaway.
They are seeking quality and traceability, want to feel safe and enjoy the whole experience of visiting, she added.
Farm shops could now benefit from the appreciation and loyalty of customers who viewed them as a safe environment during the early days of coronavirus and saw how the giant retailers’ supply chains failed.
“Supermarkets let them down hugely during lockdown,” Ms Janaway told Farmers Weekly. “Because we were selling meat from our own farm, we didn’t hit any supply issues. Producing it ourselves means we have a lot more control and flexibility.”
The recent trend towards sections of society spending more on food also bodes well, she noted.
“People were definitely cooking much more in lockdown. It was partly because a lot had relatives living back with them, partly because they were spending less on other things and partly because they wanted to treat themselves to really high quality. Rather than buy mince, for instance, they might have opted for a sirloin steak.”
‘Above and beyond’
Matthew Grindal at Manor Farm in Catthorpe, Leicestershire, said turnover at his shop is “above and beyond” what he would normally expect for this time of year, although spending at the restaurant remains down.
Some consumers will revert to pre-lockdown purchasing habits, he feared, but there is an opportunity to retain some of the new business.
“What we have to do is make sure we look after them so they keep coming back. You can never rest on your laurels, though. It is those retailers who think they’ve got it sorted who end up in trouble.”
Ingredients for farm shop success
- Enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff
- Top-quality products
- Focus on sustainability
- Customer service and experience
- Welcoming environment
- Family farm connections
- Wow factor
The sector should be highlighting aspects such as quality and provenance, but if a big chunk of the six million people currently on furlough are made redundant and can’t find work, the value element will become increasingly relevant.
“Helping people really appreciate good food at a reasonable price might become ever-more important,” he said.
“Meanwhile, we’ve got to fight for every penny of consumer spending, make sure our customers and staff are safe and that, if we did have a problem in terms of a new Covid-19 outbreak, we have a plan B.”
Farmers are used to dealing with unpredictability, he added. “One year we make £200/t on potatoes, next year we can’t even sell them and feed them to the cattle, so we probably understand the dynamics of life right now better than anyone.
“We can make decisions quickly too, unlike some of the huge retailers – that’s one of our key strengths.”
Rob Copley at Farmer Copleys, near Pontefract in West Yorkshire, has also noticed how the agricultural background of many operating in the farm shop sector means they are “robust, resilient and not afraid of a challenge”.
Many positives could come in the long term from recent events, with the nation realising the value of readily available, locally grown and reared produce.
Having surged by 300% in the early days of lockdown, turnover in the Farmer Copleys shop is now running at about 150%.
“The nation was in lockdown so long it created a habit in terms of home cooking – it became a new form of entertainment,” said Mr Copley, who is also chairman of the Farm Retail Association.
“People really have appreciated what farm shops have done in terms of keeping them fed and keeping them safe – we’ve been there for them.”
He added: “Browsing in a farm shop is part of the experience, being able to chat to the butcher or taste new cheeses at the deli counter and see what new local ranges are being stocked, for example.
Since Covid-19, the Copleys have had to transform their business to make more of technology and become more efficient.
“We put in an automated booking system for the restaurant and customers can order and pay by phone at their tables. I’m blown away by the fact that 45% of customers are doing that,” said Mr Copley. “The farm retail sector is a hotbed of innovation.”
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