Meet the producer: Craggs & Co
Janet Craggs and family run Craggs & Co – a County Durham-based producer of ancient grain products and flours, initially growing spelt and more recently adding einkorn, emmer and rye to its range. FFD spoke to Janet about the origins of the brand, and how coronavirus has affected business.
What were you doing before you started Craggs & Co?
Our family began farming at East Close Farm over 70 years ago and has since expanded farming activities to over 2,000 acres of arable land. Before Craggs & Co, our farming business concentrated on the production of group-1 bread-making wheats to supply the large scale UK flour mills. We are renowned in the industry as one of the UK’s largest suppliers of group 1 wheat, supplying over 6,000 tonnes per year, before our diversification into ancient grains.
Why did you decide to launch the brand?
Around five years ago, we became despondent with diminishing returns from the UK milling wheat market, so we decided to have a change of focus. At the same time, people were looking for healthier alternatives to traditional wheat so we decided to diversify a portion of our land into the ancient grain, spelt. The Craggs & Co brand was launched to give the new business an identity, based on the supply of high-quality ingredients and products.
Why do you focus on ancient grains?
We focused on ancient grains to make our business unique within the UK, and to futureproof our farming operations. We intend to provide a sustainable supply of spelt wheat and other ancient grains on a commercial scale, that is 100% British and sourced from assured farms.
How has the recent rush to buy flour affected you and the business?
Since mid-March, our flour sales have gone through the roof! In the past six weeks, we have sold almost 60 times more flour via our website shop than in the whole of the previous year. This is great for our business and brand awareness but has resulted in us working seven-day weeks to meet demand. Luckily we have a school leaver in the family so have an extra pair of hands to help with packing!
What has been the worst aspect of the COVID-19 crisis?
Apart from the obvious human impact, the most difficult aspect of the COVID-19 crisis for us is managing stock and production to meet the huge demand.
… and have there been any upsides?
The best thing for us as a business is the national flour shortage. This has forced consumers to search further afield than their usual suppliers and has led to many new customers coming our way. Also, the fact that we grow the grain and have it milled locally into our flour has enabled us to maintain stock levels throughout the crisis, even if only in trade-sized sacks.
Another benefit is that it is creating a new way of thinking among consumers, who are now recognising the benefit of buying UK produce.
Also, the flexibility of small producers and suppliers has enabled them to adapt quickly – they are now filling the gaps that supermarkets are unable to, providing a safe shopping experience, and offering home delivery to the vulnerable.
What advice would you give to other producers during the crisis?
Don’t over-promise, but do everything you can to provide your customers with what they need. Seize the opportunity to fill the gap in the market while the supermarkets struggle to restructure their ways to meet demand.
What are your hopes for the coming months and the post-lockdown world?
The COVID-19 crisis has given us a much greater brand exposure. We are hopeful that the quality of our products, and the increased public awareness of them, together with the current desire to buy local produce will help us to continue to grow our customer base.
Read more in May’s edition of Fine Food Digest – read online here.