Record numbers support small food producers

RECORD numbers of people are using Suffolk's celebrated network of small food producers and farm shops in the face of competition from supermarkets, it has emerged.

Elliot Furniss

RECORD numbers of people are using Suffolk's celebrated network of small food producers and farm shops in the face of competition from supermarkets, it has emerged.

A new report has revealed that nationally support for local food has doubled in the last five years - and that trend has been reflected in the county.

Suffolk Food Hall said in the last year alone it has seen a 14% increase in the number of people visiting its Wherstead base, while other farm shops have told the EADT of significantly improved trade.

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Lady Cranbrook, a campaigner who has championed the cause of locally-produced goods, said that it was clear that more people were seeking better quality food to give to their families.

She said: “We've got more than 50 farm shops in Suffolk and it's amazing the number of them and the quality of food they are providing.

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“But it's always on a knife edge because if we have too many big supermarkets and there's so much readily available, people will stop going to farm shops. We don't want any more big ones around here.

“The message is very much for people to ask where their food comes from and make a fuss, even in the supermarkets.”

Oliver Paul, director of the Suffolk Food Hall, said its sales had gone up by nearly 15% in 2009 from the previous year and feedback from customers showed they were becoming more conscious of where their food was produced.

He said: “We went into this project with a leap of faith, but that's been born out to be a successful leap because we have seen that not only is it viable but we've had significant growth in a difficult period.

“The reason is because it's better quality and there's a better taste to it.”

Alison Youngman, manager of The Grange Farm Shop in Hasketon, said that although last year had been tough due to the recession, it was clear that compared to five years ago, people were much more interested in supporting farm shops.

She said: “Some people don't have any interest in it and come here because it's convenient, but a lot of people are more conscious about where their food is coming from and how far it has travelled.

“Last week we had cauliflowers from Bromeswell that were cut the same day we were selling them - it's lovely to have that. We are lucky in East Anglia that there are people producing such good food.”

Louise Abbott runs the Beacon Hill Farm Shop in Martlesham and said it was also tourists that were backing the county's farm shops and farmers' markets.

She said: “People come and buy our potatoes that are grown here and they like to know when they were lifted and a little bit about them. They like to buy stuff that's not packaged up already.

“There are also a lot of holidaymakers wanting something they can take home that says it was made in Suffolk.”

However, not every farm shop in Suffolk is enjoying the boom - the Friday Street Farm Shop in Saxmundham has been fighting off competition from a new Waitrose supermarket that opened nearby last summer.

Manager Kate Prentice said: “People like to be seen to be shopping in Waitrose - it's the 'brand factor'. We need to think of ways to adapt and to entice our customers back.”

Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive of IGD, the company that carried out the research, said support for ethically produced foods had withstood the pressures of an 18month recession and was in fact growing, despite the tough economic conditions.

She said: “These figures prove what we have been saying throughout the recession - shoppers are looking for both value and values.

“They are not simply looking for cheaper food in tough times, they also expect the grocery industry to support their moral and ethical values.”

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