“It’s non-perishable, it has a better margin and it just sits on the shelf looking nice.”

That’s how one farm shop owner describes their non-food offer, while pointing out the challenges of stocking fresh produce compared with a non-food product.

If this is the case, why do some businesses remain hesitant when it comes to carrying goods such as cleaning products, homeware and pet supplies?

Suppliers suggest some specialist retailers like to stick to what they know, while others point out that lack of space can often be the problem.

“Many farm shops don’t have room for the food and drink products they would like to stock, let alone introducing non-food products,” says Paul Hargreaves, CEO of distributor Cotswold Fayre, which began stocking non-food items two years ago.

“Others would perceive that stocking non-food products such as cleaning products would somehow reduce the premium nature of their store, though I certainly don’t agree.”

For many businesses the pandemic proved a turning point when it came to non-food. Last year, with lockdowns in place and shoppers concerned about the safety of using larger stores, Brits turned to smaller local food retailers – many of which increased their product ranges to include non-food staples, such as toilet roll and toothpaste. 

Non food GettyImages-520942274

Farm Shop & Deli Retailer of the Year regional winner The Farm in Stratford-upon-Avon went even further, opening a homeware department as many retailers remained shut.

“With other homeware shops closed, we saw it as an opportunity to maximise basket spend,” explains marketing head Charlie Wells. A dedicated kitchenware room was later added, selling a range of kitchen equipment and cookery books. “Waterstones was shut and although people were buying online we thought ‘Why not?’ and it has worked really well.”

Hargreaves at Cotswold Fayre believes many farm shop operators have realised non-food lines can bring in incremental sales. “This was particularly clear during the pandemic when many consumers were doing a full shop at their local farm shop and wanted to buy everything they needed in one place,” he says.

Now, with Covid-related restrictions easing and consumers less likely to be doing a full shop at a local independent retailer, what non-food products should farm shops and delis be carrying?

Non food GettyImages-1141670958

Local and ethical are key attributes when ranging non-food products. Customers who frequent farm shops and delis like to know the story behind the product or brand and are often willing to pay extra for quality. 

Shoppers “want to connect with their local community and the makers and brands behind the products they buy” says Laura Harnett, founder of cleaning products brand Seep. “These stores are connectors within their community and often great curators of a range to suit their local customers.”


Household cleaning products are relatively easy win, particularly because of ongoing concern over hygiene in the wake of the pandemic, she adds. “It’s a great way for shops to increase their average basket size without too much risk around stock.

“Our research shows people buy household essentials regularly. Items like sponges and cloths get changed monthly and, in some cases, weekly so these items are part of a regular grocery shop.”

Nevertheless, household goods are often overlooked in farm shops or given limited shelf space, according to Chris Forbes, co-founder at The Cheeky Panda, which supplies bamboo products including toilet roll and baby wipes.

“Everyday household items can have a higher sell-through rate than jams, but it depends on shelf space,” he says. “If there is space for a nice display or a section for household then retailers could definitely make the most of it.”

His view echoed by Mahira Kalim, founder of ethical cleaning products brand Spruce. “I often find a small selection of non-food products but a bit more hidden, as it is not their primary offer, and I don’t think most are utilising the opportunity as much as they could,” she says. 

Non food GettyImages-1076563710

Agreeing that cleaning products perform well, Hargreaves at Cotswold Fayre also recommends retailers consider pet products. “Particularly dog treats,” he says. “In rural locations, many people will buy a treat for their dog as well as for themselves.”

Some shops can also consider big-ticket times such as the Big Green Egg BBQ cookers, suggests Stefano Cuomo, CEO of food hall operator Macknade. “The advantage at the higher end can be that, while the margin may be lower, there is a bigger cash spend and the halo effect of ancillary bought products is good.”

But if a product isn’t working, retailers may need to be willing to pull the plug. The Farm tried to sell women’s linen wear and other clothing, but it failed to take off. “Even aprons didn’t really sell,” says Wells. “I think women have brands they like and they stick to them. They don’t think of going to a farm shop to buy clothing.” 

Nevertheless, Forbes points out that consumer tastes change and something that didn’t work a few years ago might be worth another try in future. “The Cheeky Panda only had 5% brand awareness in 2018, but now it is 25% and people are more likely to buy brands they have heard of,” he says.

The appetite for non-food is not universal, however. One specialist retailer sticking resolutely to food only is Norfolk Deli in Hunstanton. “The reason we do not stock non-food products is because we’re a delicatessen that remains true to the principles of everything a delicatessen should be,” says MD Mark Kacary.

“It’s all about supporting and selling real artisan produce made by local suppliers. It’s good food and nothing else in our book.”

Stocking non-food would risk the business losing its identity and what differentiates its offer from that of a standard supermarket, he adds. “As a delicatessen, there is simply too much good stuff to dilute the offering with nice-smelling candles.”



Are you a specialist retailer looking to source the best quality local and regional produce? Visit the Farm Shop & Deli Show 2022 to find trend-setting food and drink from hundreds of British suppliers, plus the latest technology and industry insight. Register your interest now.