Fodder - the successful blueprint for farm shops
PUBLISHED: 20:28 21 September 2014 | UPDATED: 20:28 21 September 2014
A unique farm shop that has transformed the link between local produce and customers is celebrating its fifth anniversary. Andrew Vine reports
There is one farm shop that set out not to just sell the best of Yorkshire produce but to also create a blueprint for other businesses to succeed. Fodder, at the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate, is celebrating its fifth anniversary and as it goes from strength to strength it continues to provide a model for other farm shops to follow. People who run farm shops elsewhere in the country – as well as from as far away as Canada and Australia – have visited to find out how it’s done.
It’s easy to forget that Fodder’s roots lay in one of farming’s darkest hours – the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic that saw the mass slaughter of animals and left large swathes of the Yorkshire countryside eerily deserted and quiet.
Heather Parry, deputy chief executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS), said that the crisis prompted them to plan a centre that would be a focus for farming all year round, just as the Great Yorkshire Show becomes its focus for three days every July.
And so the £5.1m Regional Agricultural Centre began to take shape, and the farming community had a suggestion to make. Their produce sold well at the Great Yorkshire’s food hall, so how about a farm shop as part of the centre? ‘We thought, “It can’t be that difficult, we can do that”,’ said Heather. ‘A lot of farms don’t have the right infrastructure, the right building, the right location.
‘We knew what we wanted. We were very passionate that what we did here was a celebration of absolutely the best of Yorkshire, and the only way to do that was to go and see people and understand what they were making, and how they were making it, where it was from.’
Fodder tapped into an increasing desire on the part of customers to buy local food – and because 100 per cent of profits go the YAS, they knew that everything purchased benefited farming.
Heather said: ‘The beauty of Fodder is that it helps the suppliers and all profits go to help the charity while making local food accessible to people. There’s a real surge of interest in local food and it’s about people knowing where to get it, and also about making it affordable. There was a perception it was very expensive, and actually it shouldn’t be any more expensive.’
But it was a slow start. ‘When we first opened, people thought it was so nice, it looked like Harrods and they wouldn’t be able to afford anything, and that played against us in some ways,’ added Heather.
‘What happened was that the cafe started to take off, because people thought they could afford a coffee, and that’s what brought people in. The cafe was great, but initially the shop was slow to get going.
‘We re-thought things every day. We never planned to have a gift area, but we were buying game from a guy whose wife made cushions and suddenly we’ve got the area we called Giftland, because there are lots of lovely crafts in Yorkshire that we want to celebrate as well.’
Fodder’s guarantee that shoppers are supporting Yorkshire producers has paid dividends for its 327 suppliers as well as for the YAS. Turnover reached £10m this summer.
All the meat on its butchery counter is fully traceable to Yorkshire farms and produced to the highest welfare standards – and that pledge of quality proved a big selling point during last year’s scandal over horsemeat in processed foods. Sales of meat customers could trust shot up.
Fodder’s ethos of helping the community has brought another significant benefit. All the food that is good enough to eat but no longer good enough to sell is donated to the Harrogate Homeless Project, which teaches the people it helps how to cook.
Just how innovative Fodder is has been recognised by a series of awards, among them the Project of the Year from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the prize for Best Local Food Retailer from The Observer’s Food Monthly magazine, and the Meat Trades Journal Butchers Shop of the Year.
It’s been five years of hard, but rewarding, work. Now Fodder is looking to the future with plans to extend the cafe, establish an outside food stall, and maybe even open a Fodder 2. ‘We are never complacent,’ said Heather. ‘Like any business, you’ve got to keep growing and keep listening. It’s been quite a journey. I always say it’s the best thing I’ve done, but also the hardest thing I’ve done.’
Fodder can be found at fodder.co.uk