When it comes to diversification and innovation, the farm shop and deli industry should have no fears as to its credentials and potential to perform in order to stay ahead of the game and thrive when the going gets tough. Let’s face it, the entire industry was born directly through the instinct of survival – a text book case study of the principal that necessity is truly the mother of invention.



The BSE catastrophe of the late 90’s, and a multitude of cost rises coupled with commodity and livestock drops over decades, forced farmers to look at what few advantages they did have and adapt fast to unprecedented market conditions. And they did this in spades. Farmers markets multiplied nationwide exponentially; culinary skills that had only been sampled by nearest and dearest, were suddenly being lapped up by well-heeled, aspiring urban foodies. And a sea change response to the bland, faux-artisan products peddled by the big boys of food retail swept the nation. Threadbare barns and outhouses were getting the kind of makeover Grand Designs would be proud of; entire families galvanized into industrial production lines, while cash tills, refrigerated display units and retail shelving were hurriedly drafted in as the lateral integration of business saw field begin to seamlessly blend with fork.

Fast forward just over twenty years and the farm shops market is worth around £1.5 billion each year. The number of farmers markets has risen from zero in 1996 to over four hundred today with fifteen million visits each year. But there is no room for complacency in the cut throat world of tasty tucker. Those giants of the retail park haven't reached their lofty heights by sitting back watching admiringly as new trends burgeon. You only have to wander down the supermarket asles to see rationality and provenience on an industrial scale. The bottom line is, the industry has potentially become a victim of its own success, making innovation and diversification as important as ever. It’s time once again to grab the bull by the proverbial horns and go forth into unchartered territory to make your mark and secure your future.

Applying the exact same principals of lateral thinking utilized in that first wave of farm shop creation those couple of decades ago, those established farm shops can start to host wine and beer tastings marketed through customer data bases and social media. Supper clubs and cookery classes not only contribute to the coffers but help build customer relations and community spirit. And it doesn’t have to be just limited to food-based activities. Specialist craft skills can be monetized in the form of classes, demonstrations and retail opportunities, let alone the enormous on-line booking advantages created by the likes of Airbnb, who have incidentally now added an ‘experience’ section to their search tab - thus opening up a whole new world of opportunity to create experiential Boutique accommodation from your surplus rooms.

For those with livestock experience and recourses, and a little investment, artisan cheese-making is a truly burgeoning business, while the arrival of new world camelids have the potential to offer everything from wool products to tourists attraction in the form of those Walt Disney faced Alpacas, Llamas or Vicunas.

At the root of all this lies the need for some simple lateral thinking and a basic desire to succeed. As a business you can’t stand still. Sometimes, particularly after years of battling at the front line, just the concept of finally coming through and crossing that red line into the black can seem just a little too draining to digest. Fortunately, the vast majority in the farm shop and deli business have discovered that passion can be profit, which ultimately makes the battle a whole lot more comfortable to swallow. And if, after all this, you’re still struggling to find inspiration, just get on-line and see what others are doing. Unlike the birth of the industry in the wake of those crises all those years ago when it was all unchartered territory, there’s now no shortage of cyberspace innovators to offer a virtual helping hand.

Richard will be hosting the Farm Shop & Deli Show’s live events programme taking place at the NEC Birmingham, 16 – 18 April 2018.

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Take a look at our other FEAST articles here.