Local Food Farmer of the Year Finalist – Douglas Wanstall

Douglas Wanstall is a big bloke with big ambitions for himself and other local producers.

At Bank Farm, Ashford, Kent, he is pioneering a local food distribution hub and has had remarkable success in supplying hospitals, schools, hotels, food stores and restaurants. In just six years, his formidable energies have developed a business with a £5m turnover. He predicts revenue will quadruple to £20m by 2011.

“My vision for our business is to build the largest and most successful food business in the country,” Douglas explained to the judges. “We intend to build the market for locally produced goods and develop as many routes to market as possible.”

The sheer scale of the enterprise is awesome. Bank Farm buys products from local farmers and sells them on to a wide range of customers interested in localised food. While clever logistics are vital to this business, farming is still at its heart.

The Wanstall family, including his wife Stephanie and parents, run their own mixed farm with arable and vegetable crops, free-range poultry and diversifications, including a restaurant and shop. Overall, they have 1040ha (2500 acres) for arable, 40 livestock and Douglas is still hands-on.

“The business started in a basic way in 2002,” said Douglas. “We had been producing free-range eggs and I started selling to local shops and pubs. We then moved into marketing in London and aimed for the top end.”

Bank Farm now supplies over 1400 lines with its motto: “One supplier, one invoice, hundreds of local products”. Its customers include seven schools, big city hospitals like the Royal Brompton, prestigious London hotels like the Lanesborough and the Wolseley as well as Fortnum & Mason, Wholefoods Market, Clarence House and five Asda stores in Kent.

Supplying Asda has its challenges with product positioning, pricing, packaging and merchandising all having to be absolutely right if local lines are to fly off the shelves. Bank Farm works with up to 100 local producers and Douglas admits he is picky about who to take on. He is equally choosy about customers, refusing business with celebrity chefs Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay because “their attitude was all wrong and they were shocking payers, so why should I subsidise them?”

In the beginning, Douglas identified that barriers to market were technical accreditation and company credibility. So he set about acquiring it through the membership of the Lion code, Freedom Foods and LEAF.

While specialists can be expensive, Douglas quickly realised they could add value and help him grow quicker. He has since recruited finance, IT, sales, fresh produce and business development specialists. A meat expert to oversee a new Truly Tender Meat brand is also on the cards, along with a web shopping portal to compete against Abel & Cole and Riverford.

Douglas Wanstall is not a man prone to bragging. When he says he has aspirations to grow you have a feeling he will achieve it. He wants to bring together local food hubs across the country. They would operate as individual businesses but with a single desk administering nationwide contracts with the NHS, restaurant chains and major contract caterers. His first step is to set up a similar local hub in Hampshire this September.

Douglas describes himself as “someone with itchy feet all the time”, which is why he manages to juggle all this with the demands of a two young children, plus farm visits. If there’s a spare hour, he’s even thinking about renovating an ancient 16th century barn into a wedding venue. This farmer is simply inspirational.

Farm facts

  • Local food hub, farm and shop

  • Free-range eggs, beef and arable

  • 11,000sq ft shop with £720,000 turnover. Average spend £17

  • Food hub with £5m turnover

What the judges liked

  • Ambitious and switched-on driver of the business, particularly in finding new market opportunities

  • Aware of the problems that can emerge and evidence he can deal with them

  • Breadth and size of the hub means not dependent on one customer

  • Taken tough decisions to get rid of low-margin activities

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