Farm shop’s £250,000 expansion after 25-fold lockdown sales growth
- Credit: Archant
A Norfolk farm shop is investing £250,000 in a major new building – an ambitious expansion which was only made possible thanks to a massive lockdown sales surge.
Construction work on the upgraded shop and café is under way at Fielding Cottage in Honingham, outside Norwich, which was one of the many farm shops to benefit from a change in shopper’s buying habits as they sought out local food during the coronavirus pandemic.
Owner Sam Steggles said after settling from a huge peak at the start of April, his takings are now 20-25 times higher than they were this time last year.
It has given him the confidence to invest in the new building, which dwarfs the tiny “Goat Shed” self-service shop which was operating just a few months ago before the pandemic struck.
In response to the rising customer demand which followed, and the sudden availability of stocks from farms and food producers as trade collapsed from pubs, restaurants and caterers, Mr Steggles expanded the product range and temporarily moved the shop into a larger empty shed destined to become part of the processing factory for his goat’s cheese business.
He hopes the new building will be completed in September, allowing the diverse business to also open a café to complement its ever-increasing retail stock of Norfolk food and drink including meat, fish, eggs, cheese, fruit, vegetables, bread, cakes, ice cream, fruit juices and preserves.
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“Without Covid we would not have done any of this,” said Mr Steggles. “If Covid had not happened we would still be in a little wooden shack with an honesty box.
“I think the key is to keep moving forward, and not stand still. When Covid happened we lost all of our holiday cottage bookings and the majority of our cheese orders pretty much overnight, and I had a responsibility to the guys that work with me here to make sure that they had enough money to pay their bills. I was not prepared to make anyone redundant or furlough anyone. We had to make it work.
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“People kept asking us for things and once we moved into the bigger barn nearly every customer was asking if we were going to keep it going.
READ MORE: ‘It was as busy as the Christmas rush’ - How farm shop adapted during lockdown“What we are seeing now is a very loyal customer base coming and enjoying the quality and local provenance, and the range of what we have got.
“A lot of people would be proud to have that business. I certainly am. But I think with the plans we have got now for the future we will see that increase and expand if we continue to give our customers what they want.
“The biggest message is to keep believing – and where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
The company has taken on one full-time and two part-time staff as the shop expanded. Mr Steggles said the new farm shop will include a “cheese cave” to showcase East Anglian products and artisanal cheeses from around the country, and a window into the neighbouring building where his own goat’s cheese will be manufactured. The café will include outdoor seating, allowing diners to enjoy the company of the goats in the fields around them.
And in keeping with the flexible ethos of the business, the building has been designed and constructed to food-grade standards in case it needs to be re-deployed for cheese manufacture, should consumer demand and buying habits change again in the future.
“We are building it as a food-spec building so it can be totally versatile,” he said “It is more than we need for what we are doing so it gives us the flexibility to move back to cheese production if that is what is required.”