Farm shop tills are jingling as demand surges for local Christmas food
- Credit: Samantha Fairweather
Norfolk farm shops have reported a roaring trade in Christmas hampers and festive foods.
A survey by rural insurer NFU Mutual shows the coronavirus pandemic has led to a quarter of people increasing their use of farm shops and local producers this year, with 40pc planning to buy more from them this Christmas.
And those findings seem to be ringing true across Norfolk, where the increased demand for a safe and reliable source of locally-sourced food sparked a boom for the region's farm retailers in 2020.
Many transformed their businesses, extending product lines, increasing floor space and launching online order and delivery services to become a key lifeline for vulnerable communities.
And they have continued adapting to meet changing demands at Christmas, with many launching festive hampers which are being delivered to as gifts to family members kept apart by Covid-19, or as corporate gifts for companies unable to stage traditional Christmas parties.
Sam Steggles, who runs the Goat Shed farm shop at Fielding Cottage in Honingham, has already sold around 600 locally-sourced food hampers with a week still to go before the big day.
"We are finding that we are getting a lot of people ordering them from away for relatives in Norfolk," he said. "This morning, we had a call from a lady in Surrey whose mother lives in Mattishall. Normally they would come and visit but they can't this year and they knew mum is just down the road so they asked us to deliver a hamper.
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"We are also doing lots of corporate hampers for people who are not having Christmas parties this year. We did 100 for one company, 30 for another, and 80 for a doctor's surgery.
"We are seeing a change in shopping habits and I don't see any reason why that shouldn't continue if we keep giving people what they want."
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Samuel’s Family Farm Shop and Butchers, in Walpole St Andrew near King's Lynn, was set up in 2015 by farmer Ben Human. Its growth has accelerated this year, as the coronavirus crisis prompted the launch of delivery, takeaway and "click and collect" services, along with the arrival of four new staff, taking the team to 24.
For Christmas, it is stocking an increased range of locally-sourced seasonal produce, Norfolk turkeys and Christmas hampers.
With many families force to have smaller gatherings this year, Mr Human said customers are ordering smaller quantities - but the increased footfall means the shop is "at least twice as busy" as it was at the same time last year.
"We are doing a lot of smaller orders for people, but the orders are up due to the extra people who are coming to us. During the pandemic, they got rid of the supermarkets and many stayed loyal to us, which is great.
"We noticed when the first lockdown was lifted we probably retained two thirds of the people who came through the door during the pandemic. Some did go back to the supermarkets, but the majority have tasted our produce and realise they are getting a lot more value."
Mr Human aims to recruit more staff next year and open his recently-completed new 120-seat restaurant when Covid-19 rules allow.
"With the restaurant opening between spring and summer, by this time next year we could have double the amount of people, it could be 45-50 people," he said. "We are hoping the success of the farm shop will interlink with the restaurant."
Norfolk-based NFU Mutual agent Patrick Verrell said the rise of rural retailers in 2020 has been "no mean feat".
"Many farm shops have worked round the clock transforming their business model to meet demand, such as introducing click and collect services," he said. "Staff have adapted from serving in farm shop cafes to processing and delivering online orders, and stores have redesigned their layouts to offer Covid-safe shopping experiences.
“Promisingly, 40pc of people say they will use farm shops and local producers more this Christmas and there are encouraging signs that these changes are here to stay.
"There’s no better way to thank our farm shops and farmers for their hard work this year than by supporting them - not only over the festive season but into 2021 and beyond.”