Groundbreaking research reveals true value of Britain’s farm shops to economy
The UK boasts more than 1,500 farm shops with a combined annual income of £1.4 billion, groundbreaking research has revealed.
Harper Adams University found that the sector had blossomed during the two years of the pandemic and now employed 25,000 workers.
The research, commissioned by the Farm Retail Association, represents the first known study of its kind.
Nine in 10 farm shops surveyed by the university’s academics said their sales figures had grown since 2019, and two in three expected further growth this year.
Alastair Boot, senior lecturer in food retail and marketing at Harper Adams, told FFD the scale of the industry revealed by the research “knocked my socks off”.
“My personal opinion is that this is the largest the sector has ever been,” he added. “Two-thirds of respondents opened in the last 20 years.”
But the most “impressive” element of farm retail was the benefit it offered to local communities, said Boot.
“Staff are local as are the majority of suppliers – on average, farm shops had 50 suppliers, 30 of which they counted as local.”
He added that there was scope for further growth.
“I am confident more farms will diversify into retail, particularly when they see the growth and job satisfaction it offers.
“Also, convenience aspects such as click and collect are growing, and so is the number of cafes.”
The greatest challenge cited by established farm retailers was attracting talent or skilled staff – and Boot called for action to remedy this problem.
He said working at farm shops meant people were “involved in good businesses contributing good things to local economies” and added that there was more scope to deliver “really good service” at an independent retailer than at a high street chain.
“That is a good place to work,” said Boot. “We all have a duty to spread that positive message.”
Farm Retail Association chairman Rupert Evans said the total income of the sector was “absolutely staggering”.
“We knew anecdotally that consumers were preferring to shop and support local more than ever before – and this data confirms just that,” he added.
“Trust was built up through the pandemic as farm retailers could adapt quickly to introduce Covid-safe measures and people felt safer shopping in smaller environments as opposed to large supermarkets. We think the pandemic will have changed shopping habits for many.”