How locally produced, speciality food will be holding its own

Nobody can doubt the appeal of “pile it high, sell it cheap” food retailing at times like these. But while cut-price snacks and two-for-one ready meals will continue to drive the checkouts this year, locally produced, speciality food will also be holding its own at the till.

Fuelled both by our growing appetite for flavour and innovation and by pressure on supermarkets to tick key environmental boxes, sliced white is in many parts of the country already rubbing shoulders with sun-dried ciabatta and mousetrap with marinated goat’s cheese.

Yet while cynics would argue that artisan - with its implication of low food miles, loving preparation and traceable provenance - is just another short-term fad for the multiples, independent producers are divided.

For the many SME butchers, bakers, brewers, preserve-makers or chocolatiers who have graduated from kitchen table to full-scale production unit, clearing the hurdles to supermarket distribution remains a far-off dream.

But while the promise of greater retail exposure is attractive - particularly via Waitrose, which has arguably done more than the rest to establish its artisan credentials - not all suppliers relish being a David among the Goliaths.

Based in Suffolk, the drinks business James White supplies both the retail and wholesale trade with a large and colourful menu of organic drinks, such as Beetroot Juice and Fruit Coulis. When it comes to the supermarkets though, the company proceeds with caution.

“Although I supply Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Waitrose, I have quite deliberately kept my distribution through the big supermarkets at a modest level. I fear that if I get too reliant on them, they will begin to push me around,” says Lawrence Mallinson, managing director.

“While I recognise that doing business with the big chains can be very profitable, I sleep better at night knowing that they represent only 30 per cent of my business.”

Mallinson believes that however attractive the returns can look on paper, many artisans are naive about what a supermarket deal can mean.

“I think it’s great that the multiples are embracing speciality food, but in my experience, maintaining a decent profit can be hard when you are put under constant pressure to go as cheap as possible.”

“The multiples are constantly on the look-out for price reductions and can afford to be more tenacious than you are. However many crates or pallets they say they will order in future, if you aren’t making a decent profit now, you have got your sums wrong,” he adds.

While short-termism is a perennial concern – “there’s no room for sentimentality in business and if a supermarket decides to de-list you tomorrow, you’ll have to deal with it,” says Mallinson - a more insidious issue is imitation.

“There is a danger that artisan producers are used as unpaid new product development houses. Whether your product is a unique chutney or a new truffle chocolate, you may find that the supermarket mimics your idea, sticks an own-label on it and sells it at a cheaper price.”

For Inverawe; the award-winning specialist smokehouse based in Argyll, on the west coast of Scotland, a five-year collaboration with Waitrose – which currently has 25 per cent of its business - has proved positive.

Last Christmas, the family firm’s smoked salmon was distributed in 30 of the supermarket’s London branches while its smoked Loch Etive Trout made its debut in 19 of them.

Says Inverawe director Patrick Campbell-Preston: “Our relationship with Waitrose is based on a sound cultural fit and the fact that they understand our core values.”

“As long as we hang onto our artisan heritage and don’t come under pressure to go mass market or step up production to an impractical degree – neither of which would fit in with the current Waitrose ethos - we are happy to maintain what is in effect an exclusive arrangement with them and develop it further.”

While the logistics of supplying products to all four of Waitrose’s UK distribution centres can, he says, “be challenging” for the business – which employs about 80 people for most of the year, but steps this up to 130 during busy periods - Campbell-Preston believes that the advantages are overwhelming.

“We’ve had deals with other multiples, but this one has proved the happiest so far. Although we have a thriving mail order business, Waitrose gives us coverage among a new and wider group of consumers.”

Over at the Guild of Fine Food; which represents around 600 independent retailers and the same number of artisan producers, director John Farrand believes that the choice between chasing profits via a supermarket deal or staying out in the cold; albeit fully independent, may soon become less stark.

“Independent retailers, such as farm shops and delis, are using attractions, such as restaurants and playgrounds, to create shopping destinations in their own right and may yet give the supermarkets a run for their money.”

“While some artisans want to create lasting brands and need supermarket deals to make this happen, for others, artisan food is a way of life and making a good profit is far less important than sticking to principles.”

While all supermarkets face criticism for blandness, Waitrose has already tapped into 2,000 speciality lines from 460 producers via a local and regional sourcing programme rolled out in 2001.

But how genuine is its artisan stance and can it last as the fast-growing, 221-stores chain moves from niche to mainstream?

“At a time when the offer of most big supermarkets is so similar, we see quality products as a real point of difference for us,” says Richard Hodgson, commercial director.

“While some artisan producers feel confident about supplying a lot of stores and others less so, we appreciate that many dislike the whole idea of becoming commoditised.”

“But whether their production is geared up for five stores or 105, artisan food is a major plank of our bid to be the UK’s most innovative food and wine retailer and we are keen to build up positive relationships with these smaller firms.”

While Hodgson says that a large number of suppliers “responded favourably” to the store’s request for a two per cent price cut last year, he denies there is constant pressure to go cheap.

“We believe we set the right prices when it comes to speciality food and we certainly see no need to put undue force on smaller suppliers. These are not usually key value items such as eggs, milk or bacon and as such, there is a large degree of leeway.”

For higher-priced artisan products to thrive in the long-term, they must do more to shake off their perceived elitism. And just the same can be said of Waitrose.

“We’ve got a very middle-class image, which doesn’t always help us in the current economic climate,” says Hodgson.

“We make no apologies for stocking high-priced artisan lines, but when it comes to staples, we are just as competitive as Sainsbury’s. Whether you’re looking for Pot Noodles or our asparagus and parmesan frittata, you are welcome.”

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?