Samphire is a food shop based on four principles: local food, small-scale producers, rare breed meat and really high animal welfare standards. Even before starting the smallholding, I knew I wanted to raise animals the old-fashioned way. I gave them a chance to live as natural a life as possible, spending all their time outdoors. They had the space and time to develop at their own pace and, as a result, produced fabulous tasting meat. I wanted to offer this type of meat to others and quickly realised there was a market for it.
At this point, my smallholding was proving to be just that - I simply didn't have enough land to provide all the animals that a
fully stocked shop would require, so I set about recruiting suppliers with similar ethics. As soon as anyone made it onto the shortlist, I visited them personally. It was only by seeing them interact with their animals that I was able to satisfy myself that their animal welfare standards were as high as mine. The efforts paid off - and not only by the standard of the meat. I recently took an RSPCA Freedom Food assessor to visit our meat producers and he was impressed. We opened in May 2005 and from the beginning have emphasised to customers the principles on which the shop is based. Feedback has been fantastic. We have had people in the shop who have said they don't eat chicken because of the welfare
issues surrounding the majority of birds available. When we explain how our chickens are raised, they are happy to buy them and come back time and again. Our chickens are not cheap, costing between £8 and £12, but once people have tasted the difference, they are converted.
Our pride extends to putting up pictures of our pigs in the shop. Some of our customers find it disconcerting to see sausages next to the photos. I firmly believe, however, that unless we take some responsibility for at least understanding the link between animals and food, we run the risk of condoning the less attractive methods of rearing animals for meat. It would be interesting to see how many food retailers would be confident enough to put a picture showing how the animals are reared next to meat in the chiller cabinet. How many people would still be happy putting a £1.99 chicken in their trolley if they saw the way in which it was achieved?
I'm convinced things are gradually changing for the better, however. Talking to Samphire customers certainly points to this. Most have a genuine interest in animal welfare and in eating 'happy' meat.
Norman Olley, our baker at Samphire, says people are asking the wrong question. We shouldn't ask why some food is so expensive; we should ask why some is so cheap. This week's RSPCA Good Business Awards answer this question. We were shortlisted with Abel & Cole and Loch Fyne Oysters in the small food retailer category. And we won!