Farming feature: Salami makers bring home the bacon at awards

Clarke Willis, Anglian Farmers - guest speaker, Lady Caroline Cranbrook, Kevin Warden, Rachel Sloane

Clarke Willis, Anglian Farmers - guest speaker, Lady Caroline Cranbrook, Kevin Warden, Rachel Sloane, compere and Roger Grosvenor Executive - Retail East of England Co-op at the Supplier Supper 2014 - Credit: Archant

Lane Farm Country Foods, based at Brundish, near Framlingham, scooped the prestigious Supplier of the Year awards on Thursday night. SARAH CHAMBERS was there.

County winners Rossi Ice cream, Lane Farm and Buxton Potato Company receive their winners' plaques

County winners Rossi Ice cream, Lane Farm and Buxton Potato Company receive their winners' plaques - Credit: Archant

A Suffolk family farming business was over the moon after scooping a major regional award on Thursday night.

Delighted winners Sue, Ian and Rebecca Whitehead with Kevin Warden of East of England Co-op

Delighted winners Sue, Ian and Rebecca Whitehead with Kevin Warden of East of England Co-op - Credit: Archant

The makers of Suffolk Salami, Lane Farm Country Foods,was crowned Producer of the Year at an awards evening hosted by the East of England Co-op.

Kevin Warden of East of England Co-op, Producer of the Year winners Sue, Ian and Rebecca Whitehead,

Kevin Warden of East of England Co-op, Producer of the Year winners Sue, Ian and Rebecca Whitehead, awards judge Lady Caroline Cranbrook and Jason Whittleton of East of England Co-op - Credit: Archant

The Whitehead family, who make bacon, sausages, ham, salami and chorizo from their own home-reared Suffolk pigs, started their enterprise from scratch in 1987. Despite early setbacks, including major storm damage to their farm building, they have built up a successful local food and farming enterprise.

Ian Whitehead said: “We are gobsmacked really, lost for words.”

He and wife Sue and daughter Rebecca, who is also involved in the business, based at Brundish, near Framlingham, was one of around 230 people at the event, held at the East of England Co-op’s headquarters at Wherstead, near Ipswich.

“I have to say when we walked into the room tonight it was like walking into a room of friends,” he said.

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He added: “Our business would not be here tonight if it was not for the East of England Co-op and we do thank them.”

The retail chain’s Sourced Locally initiative has been a remarkable success, as figures revealed to awards night guests showed.

Sourced Locally, started back in 2007, has greatly surpassed the East of England Co-op’s own expectations.

The turnover for its Sourced Locally products in the year to January 2014 exceeded its target by £1million by reaching £12m - a 30% increase on the previous year. And that compares to a £2m annual turnover back in January 2009.

The annual Supplier Supper is a celebration of the Co-op’s Sourced Locally initiative and brings together more than 100 local suppliers from across the region.

Lane Farm saw off tough competition from Buxton Potato Company and Rossi Ice Cream – the respective Norfolk and Essex County winners.

The East of England Co-op’s Producer of the Year Awards showcase the quality and diversity of more than 130 growers and producers from Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk who contribute to the Co-op’s Sourced Locally range. During January the public cast their votes for their favourite producers from a shortlist of six entries, which saw Lane Farm, Buxton Potatoes and Rossi Ice cream all voted county winners.

It was up to a panel of judges made up of local food campaigner and president of the Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival Lady Caroline Cranbrook, William Kendall, a Suffolk-based organic farmer and campaigner who built up New Covent Garden Soup Company and Green & Blacks, and Michael Pollitt, agricultural editor for the Eastern Daily Press to choose a winner.

They praised Lane Farm Country Foods’ innovative approach, the way it reduced its environmental impact, its development and training of staff and the ‘x’ Factor, which helped them to stand out from the rest.

Before the award was presented, farming co-operative Anglia Farmers’ chief executive Clarke Willis talked about food security and the need to bring more farm production back to Britain.

Lady Caroline Cranbrook, who presented the main prize of the evening to the Whiteheads said: “We were impressed by the variety of imaginative and innovative products Lane Farm made from their pigs, by the farm’s high welfare and environmental standards, by the involvement of the whole family and by the brilliant branding.

She added: “The region has good reason to be proud of Lane Farm Foods, together with the many other local producers nominated by customers and members. And all of us are grateful to the East of England Co-op for their enthusiastic investment in local foods.”

Lady Cranbrook said she was sure one of the answers to the challenges of globalisation and food security will be localisation of food supply.

“What the East of England Co-op is doing with its local sourcing is providing a blueprint for the rest of the country. It needs to be more widely known and tonight’s competition will certainly help publicise a truly amazing success story,” she said.

She added: “The finalists were wonderful representatives of our amazing range of good local foods.”

Ian Whitehead said: “We are so pleased and proud not only to win this award but also to be able to supply and feel part of the East of England Co-op.

“We began our farming career back in 1987 and have always been inspired by people who love and produce great food. This led us to convert an old dairy into a small butchery where we could make our own sausages and bacon. Our business has grown steadily over the years and we are very proud of our products and love experimenting on new ideas and today our range includes sausages, bacon, hams, smoked products, air dried salami, chorizo and pancetta. All our pork is born outside and then reared and finished in open straw barns, the best place to be on a cold and wet miserable day.”

New retail figures from the East of England Co-op show that its Sourced Locally range has grown in just six years from a few suppliers to 136 bringing around 2,400 local products into stores. It says it has ploughed £25m back into the regional economy, created over 100 local jobs and protected many more.

Roger Grosvenor, executive – retail at the East of England Co-op said: “In the year to January 25, 2014, our Sourced Locally sales grew by 30% generating sales of over £13m – so it really is a key element of our business. Sourced Locally was built on the concept of Fairtrade so we trade fairly with all our suppliers and work closely with them to help their businesses grow and thrive.

“We continue to expand the brand, forging new partnerships with local producers, bringing new products to our shelves and working with producers to expand our own label Sourced Locally range which includes Crush cold pressed, rapeseed oil, Havensfield 10 pack of eggs and Tastes of Suffolk sausages.

“In addition Sourced Locally products are now available in 50 of our stores and this April we are opening two new stores where Sourced Locally products will be predominant, such as the Lavenham Village store and The Darsham Hamper, which will be our flagship store for Sourced Locally.”

Lady Caroline added: “The East of England Co-op’s local sourcing policy is an inspiring example to other much larger retailers. It provides our East Anglian food businesses with the opportunity to reach a wider market, it enables local people to buy local food and it is economically important to the producers, to the whole area and to the Co-op - local food is the Co-op’s fastest growing line”.

The winners received a commemorative plaque hand-crafted by H.L Perfitts of Diss, £1,000 cash prize and an advertising package worth thousands of pounds. The county winners also received a plaque and £500.

To read more about Lane Farm or to find out more about Sourced Locally visit: