For some indie retailers, sharing a space with a large Waitrose would be the stuff of nightmares.

But for Truro’s Great Cornish Food Store, the arrangement is deliberate – designed to overcome the belief that buying local is difficult.

Shoppers can choose from a wide range of local produce at Great Cornish Food Store while doing their supermarket shop at the adjoining Waitrose. The two stores share a building, a car park and even trolleys (but not tills).

It’s an arrangement that works well for both businesses – even if, despite having a distinctive look and feel, Great Cornish Food Store sometimes has to remind shoppers it isn’t owned by its neighbour.

“Because customers can come and go between our store and Waitrose next door, we have to work hard to emphasise that we are an independent Cornish business and almost all the money spent in our store benefits our local economy,” says managing director Ruth Huxley.

Waitrose had been working on the idea of a combined shopping concept in Truro for some years before Great Cornish Food Store opened its doors in 2016. When the posh supermarket and its original partner in the scheme parted ways, and with a planning condition requiring 5,000sq ft of retail space be dedicated to at least 75% Cornish produce, Huxley was invited to come aboard.

Although lacking retail experience, she had plenty of knowledge of the local food and drink scene. A market analyst, researcher and business specialist, she played a major role in developing Cornwall’s reputation for excellent produce by founding in 2010 the sector development network Cornwall Food & Drink.

Her immediate reaction to the idea was to say no, because she felt retail was too risky a business.

“I then found myself wondering if there was a way of using this to evolve Cornwall Food & Drink’s own aims by creating a bricks and mortar showcase for the best Cornish produce, as well as using it as a means of continuing the development of local suppliers,” Huxley says.

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Source: Great Cornish Food Store

The café sells a range of hot and cold food produced in-house using local ingredients

Having come on board as sole owner of Great Cornish Food Store, she admits her lack of real retail knowledge or experience made her learning curve steep.

To make the concept work, she knew the focus needed to be on provenance and fresh counters – such as a fishmonger, a butcher and a deli. And it would have a kitchen in which local ingredients are used to create dishes for the deli and in-store café.

“We also wanted it to be accessible, friendly and not feel exclusive or pretentious in any way,” Huxley adds.

The retailer’s relationships with suppliers from across the county have proved invaluable when it comes to sourcing. “Every product is sampled and evaluated – taking into account things like branding, market positioning and value for money alongside the all-important quality and taste test.”

Sustainability is increasingly part of that process. The store challenges the use of excessive packaging and expects packaging to be recyclable where possible. The vast majority of its fruit and veg is sold loose and plastic-free, collected from suppliers in reusable crates.

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Source: Great Cornish Food Store

The butchery offer includes lamb and pork sourced from just five miles away

Huxley adds that collaboration between the different parts of the business, such as the kitchen making the most of excess ingredients from other departments, helps ensures food waste is minimal.

She is proud of how the business has developed in the seven years it has been open. And, although turnover has doubled since the first year, the size of the store team has stayed the same at around 35.

“We are definitely far more efficient now and have invested a lot of time and effort in creating effective systems and making the most of technology,” says Huxley.

She adds that strong growth in years two and three enabled the business to survive the pandemic.

“Had it hit in our first or second year, those first few weeks of turmoil would probably have sunk us. Luckily, we had built up some good cash reserves to see us through.”

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Source: Great Cornish Food Store

The store won the south west regional award in this year’s Farm Shop & Deli Retailer Awards

Being the sole owner of the business and only director through those tough times highlighted to Huxley how vulnerable the business was by being so dependent on her. This was one of the reasons that led to her taking on a general manager in 2021 and opting to turn the store over to employee ownership the following year.

“It also felt like an appropriate way of recognising the incredible effort the team had made in getting us through that period,” she explains. “One of the most rewarding things about running the store is seeing how the team has grown both individually and together.”

Winning the Farm Shop & Deli Retailer Award for the south west this year was especially rewarding for Huxley, as judges were particularly looking at how businesses develop their employees. “As well as showing the team that all their hard work is worthwhile, it gave our new employee-owned status real credibility,” she says, adding that she had coveted the title since being shortlisted in 2018.

Looking ahead, Great Cornish Food Store is keen to develop a range of own label products, with plans to make some in-house and have others produced by key suppliers to bespoke recipes.