“Sadly, precious few politicians have ever run a business, which might explain why they are so cavalier with our money”
“MY BUSINESS RATES are £1,000 a day,” bemoaned Partridges’ John Shepherd during lunch at this year’s final Great Taste judging day, adding wryly: “I need to sell a lot of cheese to cover that.”
Long before black fly on my broad beans and unpaid childcare duties consumed my life, I would occasionally wake in the early hours fretting over my business outgoings, particularly those outside my control. Running a small firm has always been tough, as I well know.
Next year we celebrate this magazine’s 40th anniversary, albeit we called it Good Food Retailing back then. At the time, its circulation included 4,700 delis and independent grocers.
By 1994, supermarkets were decimating high streets. Over 2,500 of those small shops had closed, and research suggested there were fewer than 1,000 delis left in the UK. In that year, John Shepherd called me to suggest we do something to halt what he saw as a potentially terminal decline and, together with seven other like-minded businesses, we formed the Guild of Fine Food.
That same year, the Guild created Great Taste, the independent benchmark for fine food, giving producers and retailers a point of difference over supermarkets. In 1996, contrary to much sage advice, the Guild launched the Fine Food Fair at Sandown Park, a forum for small producers to meet indie retailers that five years later became the Speciality & Fine Food Fair.
Perversely, it wasn’t the Guild but the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic that finally aroused consumer suspicions about how and where supermarket foods were produced. As a result, the last 15 years have witnessed the emergence of a thousand or so new regional producers and almost 3,000 new farm shops and delicatessens.
Forty years on, the fine food landscape appears far healthier, although debilitating business rates along with inflated high street rents may pose a greater threat to independents than supermarkets ever did. Sadly, precious few politicians have ever run a business which might explain why they are so cavalier with our money and how we ended up with a Prime Minister once quoted as saying, ‘‘f*** business”.
P.S. If you were a food producer or independent food retailer back in 1980, please get in touch via email@example.com. We’d love to know more about you for our anniversary issue in 2020.
• John Farrand is in post-Great Taste therapy.
This story appeared in the September issue of Fine Food Digest. You can read more on the digital edition here.
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