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Goat's cheese maker seeks the global secrets to sustainable business growth

PUBLISHED: 15:25 03 November 2019 | UPDATED: 16:26 03 November 2019

2020 Nuffield Farming Scholar Sam Steggles, of goat's cheese maker Fielding Cottage in Honigham, is researching sustainable food business growth. Picture: Chris Hill

2020 Nuffield Farming Scholar Sam Steggles, of goat's cheese maker Fielding Cottage in Honigham, is researching sustainable food business growth. Picture: Chris Hill

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A global search for the secrets behind sustainable business growth has been launched by a diversified farmer who is planning the next big leap forward for his own goat's cheese company.

The award winning Norfolk Mardler. Picture: Fielding CottageThe award winning Norfolk Mardler. Picture: Fielding Cottage

Sam Steggles, of Fielding Cottage in Honingham, is one of two 2020 Nuffield Farming Scholars from Norfolk who are set to start their international industry studies next year, and report back in 2021.

He plans to travel to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and China in order to research his topic: "The journey to maturity - Navigating sustainable food business growth".

It is a subject inspired by his own ten-year journey to build a business which grew from ten goats bought on a holiday in Cumbria into an award-winning producer making around 50 tonnes of goat's cheese this year for deli counters, an airline and many supermarkets.

Recent developments include a purpose-built processing factory to ramp up production, three barn-style holiday cottages and the launch of cheese- making courses.

Sam Steggles and his production manager Samantha Fairweather at Fielding Cottage. Pic: Jungle PRSam Steggles and his production manager Samantha Fairweather at Fielding Cottage. Pic: Jungle PR

But now he is keen to learn from other businesses, and other sectors, about how to manage the next phase of growth while keeping staff motivated and customers satisfied.

"The business this year is in a real growth period," he said. "I want to understand how businesses have grown successfully and sustainably while incorporating really significant growth.

"For us to get to the next level there is significant investment required, and bigger contracts. But I want to have a particular emphasis on people - how businesses find the right people to come and work with them for specific roles that they need, but also how they retain them and motivate them and allow them to help the business grow and deliver its objectives.

"We have got a really fantastic team here now so I am not worried about going away and leaving the business with them.

"Every business needs to get the right people. But then also we have got to understand that we would not have the business without our customers, so how do these successful growing businesses keep their customer relationships going? How do you sustain those contracts and keep everybody happy through the supply chain?

"That all sounds very positive but I think we also need to understand that a lot of the time the only way you learn is through mistakes. I am hoping that the people I see will be totally open about the pitfalls they have experienced and share the mistakes they made with me so that I can learn from them."

By the end of next year, Mr Steggles hopes to be producing 80-100 tonnes of cheese per year, after investing in a new vat in July which holds 1,000 litres of milk and increased production capacity five-fold. He is also exploring export opportunities.

READ MORE: Farming scholar aims to unlock the potential of his industry's disconnected deluge of data

While he expects to visit other farming and agri-food businesses during his travels, he hopes to learn from rapidly-growing tech companies on his trip to China.

"I'm just looking for someone with a business that just went 'whoosh'," he said. "The principle is the same whether it is a farm or food business, or a mobile phone business or someone making cars or aeroplanes. They will have had similar problems with growth. They will have needed to finance it, cashflow it, staff it, store it and distribute it. They will have all the same problems as my growing business, or a poultry business or a crisp manufacturer in Norfolk that's looking to grow. Being able to learn from them will stand us in good stead for what we are doing going forward."

At the end of his study, Mr Steggles said he will be eager to share his findings with other growing businesses.

"I think historically farmers and diversified farm businesses have been very protective of what they are doing," he said. "There has not been a huge amount of knowledge sharing, but we are all learning every day. We should all be working together, not separately. If we can share something we have learned and help improve someone else's business, that's great."

Mr Steggles thanked his scholarship sponsors at the NFU Mutual Charitable Trust.

Norfolk's other 2020 Nuffield Farming Scholar is Jamie Lockhart, farm manager at the neighbouring Honingham Thorpe Farms, who is researching how to unlock the potential of data use and agri-tech within agriculture.

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