Farmers As Salespeople

Many rural towns in the U. K. have farm stores. These are grocers that sell locally raised and processed meat, dairy, grains, fruit and vegetables. Rob Ward started Green Field’s Farm Store in Telford, England in 1990. He was 19. Rob is also a food retail and marketing consultant with Bidwells. See more about Green Fields at www.greenfieldsonline.co.ukand Bidwells at www.bidwells.co.uk/agribusiness.In an email conversation, editor Jay Whetter asked Rob about farm stores and whether the concept would work in Canada. He was kind enough to provide detailed and informative answers. Here are Jay’s questions and Rob’s answers:

1. Why did you start the Green Fields farm store? I have always been fascinated by trying to understand why consumers buy things. As a farmer’s son, from a forth generation farming family, I wanted to have control over the whole supply from farm to plate. At that time we supplied supermarkets nationally with strawberries and raspberries, but we could not influence the price to our business. I saw this as an opportunity to take charge of our business rather than be controlled by another.

2. How many farms are involved? We now buy from over 100 farmers and producers from around our region.

3. Do they own shares and divvy up profits accordingly? (Or how do they get paid?) There is no connection other than mutual respect that flows equally between producers and our retail business. I know what it is like to be a producer, so we listen a great deal and try to develop the business together.

4. Is your meat, dairy, bread and produce all locally raised/produced? All of our meat, milk and bread are produced within 30 miles of our store. Our produce is from local growers when the seasons allow. We buy direct from these growers. We also support this with a range of regional and national producers. It is very important to make sure we have a full range to satisfy our customers’ needs. To only source locally would reduce our footfall and therefore reduce our overall business, which would damage sales for our existing local producers. You need momentum in sales to build a justification for local producers growing for us.

5. What is the “best thing” about farm stores? Our strap line is: fresher, faster, friendlier. This defines our offer. Fresher because we buy direct and work very hard to have the freshest than any other store. Faster because it is easy and convenient to shop in our store, which is on the edge of a large town. Friendlier because we have a great team that loves what they do, which makes our customers happy.

6. What is your biggest challenge? (Does Tesco want to crush you?) We concentrate on what we do and what our customers want. I don’t think Tesco’s want to crush us we are irrelevant to them. We have, however, pioneered the local food movement. Tesco’s now see this a key target market. We have less than three per cent of our local market. Being a niche business, we don’t have to be big, we just have to be great! Staying agile and fast at reacting to our customers needs is where we can win.

7. Is your store typical of farm stores across the U. K.? No, our store is located on a roundabout next to a large population. We have 250,000 people within 15 miles and 450,000 within 30 miles. Many farm shops are out of town, and some focus more on retailing instead of creating an experience. They are starting to suffer now. I believe bringing our type of food into a convenient location is as important as the range of what we sell. If the farm shop is out of town, it has to focus on creating a destination food business. Read http://www.foodmarketingnetwork.com/node/53

In summary, there is a fantastic opportunity for farmers in Canada to create an “in-town” store concept.

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