Public show support for farm shops this Christmas

More people plan to use farm shops over the festive period and continue the support for local producers that has surged since the coronavirus pandemic started.

It follows an increase in the number of people using farm shops since the end of March, when the country went into lockdown. Farm retailers have played a key role in supporting the vulnerable and elderly with deliveries of essential supplies.

Nearly half of shoppers (40%) surveyed by NFU Mutual plan to buy more from farm shops and local producers this Christmas.

The rural insurer’s research revealed that one in four people have used farm shops or local producers more in 2020.

Supporting smaller, local businesses was the biggest reason people chose to buy from farm retailers and small producers during the pandemic.

Fresher, better-quality produce was also rated highly, followed by the environmental benefits of buying local food.

Case study: Heath Farm, Suffolk

Livestock farmers Katie Mitcham and Mike Phillips set up their Heath Farm Suffolk shop in 2012, near Bury St. Edmunds. Business at the shop has doubled since the coronavirus pandemic and Ms Mitcham has taken on two more staff, including an apprentice butcher. She says customers are realising the importance of knowing where their food comes from and how it has been produced.

Mike Phillips in field with cows

Mike Phillips © Katie Mitcham

To cater for customers who wanted something special at home during the first lockdown, Ms Mitcham introduced gourmet food kits, including all the ingredients required, a recipe to follow and information on the provenance of the ingredients.

“The kits have proved very popular for people looking to improve their cooking skills at home,” she says.

Katie Mitcham takes selfie with cows

Katie Mitcham © Katie Mitcham

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Throughout the pandemic, farm shops have provided a lifeline to local communities, sourcing vital supplies during shortages, delivering fresh produce to vulnerable people and helping to keep people’s spirits up with friendly service.

“Promisingly, 40% of people say they will use farm shops and local producers more this Christmas, and there are encouraging signs that these changes are here to stay.”

Research from the Farm Retail Association (FRA), carried out in July, found 92% of farm retailers reported a significant rise in new customers since the first lockdown in March.

As part of its ongoing support for farmers diversifying their businesses, NFU Mutual held a webinar earlier this year with the FRA on how to set up a farm shop enterprise.

FRA manager Jenny Rose said: “We are hugely encouraged by the latest NFU Mutual research. Much of this success story has been a result of farm shops being able to replenish shelves, which has helped establish them as reliable food suppliers, alongside shops providing a relaxed but Covid-safe environment for shopping.”

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