Fodder – ‘celebrating the best of Yorkshire’

GROWING: Heather Parry believes a second Fodder will open in the next few years

GROWING: Heather Parry believes a second Fodder will open in the next few years

First published in Farming Darlington and Stockton Times: Photograph of the Author by

FODDER, the awardwinning farm shop and cafe next to the Great Yorkshire Showground, in Harrogate, has celebrated its fifth anniversary.

The shop is the only one of its kind in the country and has proved a runaway success.

Total turnover since opening on June 17, 2009, is expected to reach £10m this year – and a second Fodder elsewhere in Yorkshire could be on the cards.

The Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS) established Fodder after the foot-andmouth crisis decimated farming and saw millions of farm animals slaughtered.

The twin aim was to give the county’s farmers and artisan food producers an outlet to showcase their produce – and to show the public that they can afford locallysourced food and support agriculture.

Today, it has 327 suppliers and 49 staff, including five butchers and five chefs.

Every penny of profit goes to the YAS – organisers of the Great Yorkshire Show – to plough back into its charitable work and support for rural communities and life, and its education programme.

Fodder has also forged close links in Harrogate, and all of its leftover produce is donated to the Harrogate Homeless Project.

It has been recognised in national awards for its approach to retailing and the green credentials of its building.

YAS was about to build its £5.1m Regional Agricultural Centre, to bring rural organisations together under one roof, when farmers involved asked if a permanent outlet for their produce could be included as it always sold well in the Great Yorkshire Show’s food halls.

Heather Parry, YAS deputy chief executive, said: “A lot of farms don’t have the right infrastructure, the right building, the right location to have a shop. We were building anyway, and it was just a matter of making it bigger.

“Because the Great Yorkshire Show food hall is so busy and because footand- mouth had such a massive effect, we wanted to do more tangible things all year round to help the farming community.”

She and Fodder’s head chef embarked on an intensive tour of farms and producers to decide what the shop should sell, making 12 visits a day.

“We were very passionate that what we did here was a celebration of absolutely the best of Yorkshire. The only way to do that was to go and see people and understand what they were making, and how they were making it, where it was from.

“Seeing them gave us a real insight, so we could be real, passionate champions of everything we sell.”

Fodder struck a chord with shoppers increasingly keen on knowing where their food is from. Ms Parry said: “There’s a real surge of interest in local food and it’s about people knowing where to get it, and also about making it affordable. There was a perception it was very expensive, but actually it shouldn’t be any more expensive.”

However, in the summer of 2009, trade got off to a slow start. “When we first opened, people thought it was so nice, it looked like Harrods and they wouldn’t be able to afford anything, and that played against us in some ways.”

But then the cafe started to take off – people thought they could afford a coffee – and that brought people in.

Everything about Fodder was innovative. The building itself was one of the most eco-friendly in Britain – it had a timber frame and was insulated by the wool from 1,500 sheep.

It still leads the way for farm shops, both nationally and internationally, and hosts visits from businesses eager to tap into its experience.

Ms Parry said: “They started coming round undercover, but we said ‘Don’t be undercover, tell us, we’ll show you round the back, we’ll show you the mistakes we’ve made’.

“We are very helpful, very welcoming. We’re here to help farming, to help local food. The supermarkets are very strong, and we’re as strong by working together as a team of people.

“Working with the community of farm shops, not just in Yorkshire but nationally and worldwide, it’s a nice group of people and we can learn from each other.”

Customer demand took Fodder in some unexpected directions. Ms Parry said: “When we started selling pasta, meat sales went up hugely, because people want to come in and buy everything they need for a meal, so we’re actually helping more farmers locally by selling pasta.”

Customer demand for food they could trust saw beef sales soar by 47 per cent last year when the scandal over horsemeat in some supermarket ready-meals broke.

All meat sold by Fodder is fully traceable back to Yorkshire farms, where livestock has been kept to the highest welfare standards.

Although butchery sales are still growing overall, some customers have returned to supermarket ready-meals.

Ms Parry said: “We’ve got a lot of customers from that period who still come, but a lot have slipped back into going to the supermarkets, and that’s interesting. We will never be the cheapest, but we sell the best at a reasonable price.”

Feedback from customers and suppliers is vital for Fodder. Monthly mystery shops are carried out and research is done with regular and new customers.

Fodder’s rapport with its suppliers is vital for both the shop and those who produce its food.

Jane Thornber, general manager, said: “Not many shops deal with 327 suppliers – they will just go to a couple of wholesalers. So a lot of our time is spent dealing directly with our suppliers; we are talking to them all the time.”

Ms Parry added: “We’ve never got complacent. Like any business, you’ve got to keep growing and keep listening.

We’re passionate and the suppliers are passionate, and we have them in for the evening and give them food and drink. We want to hear how they’re doing, and they want to know how we’re doing, what our top ten products are in each area, what profit we’re making for charity, and what we are going to do next.”

It’s now possible that a second Fodder will open its doors in Yorkshire, but where and when have not been decided.

Ms Parry said: “If we can help more suppliers by doing more in different areas, it’s all to play for, and I think that in the next couple of years, there’ll be another one. But we need to be very careful because we don’t want to damage any independent shops or farm shops in another area.

“It’s been quite a journey.

When I show people round, I always say it’s the best thing I’ve done, but it’s also the hardest thing I’ve done.”

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