For Cheshire farm shop and café The Lambing Shed, winning a 2022 Farm Shop & Deli Show Retailer Award has been a reminder of how far the business has come in seven years.

The Mitchell family have worked Moseley Hall Farm for more than 65 years, with owner Michael Mitchell and his son Robert maintaining a flock of more than 2,500 sheep and a herd of 250 beef cattle.

After many years of friends suggesting he open a farm shop, Michael took the decision in 2015 to do so.

His daughter Kathryn, who manages The Lambing Shed, was working in a hospital at the time but her passion for food made the transition to farm shop director a smooth one.

One of her first steps was visiting businesses up and down the country to get inspiration for the new venture. “I spent a huge amount of time visiting not only other farm shops but garden centres, farmers’ markets and food producers,” she says.

LambingShed LR-10

The Mitchells opted for large serve-over counters for the butchery and deli, to offer shoppers a more personal experience. The rest of the layout was designed around the counters.

The in-house butchery is the heart of the business, says Kathryn Mitchell. “The butchery is what links the farm and farm shop, as all the beef and lamb we sell is home-reared by my brother and father right here on the farm.”

Alongside the butchery, The Lambing Shed roasts hams and cooked meats, and makes pies, sausage rolls and cake. It also has a cheese counter offering a selection of British cheeses – some of which are local – and an 80-seater cafe that serves breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea.

Much of the produce on the café menu can also be bought in the farm shop. “This traceability is very important to the business and what we stand for,” Mitchell says.

The Lambing Shed team spends a lot of time researching and sourcing produce for the shop. This includes visiting farmers’ markets, tasting goods, and speaking to exisiting suppliers, who often recommend other producers.

“It is very important that our suppliers have a similar ethos to us, in terms of traceability and authenticity of what they produce,” says Mitchell. “Locality is extremely important to us. As a food producer ourselves, we really wanted to have a range of produce in store that showcased the best Cheshire had to offer.”

LambingShed HR-18

The pandemic highlighted the reality of relying on food chains with high food miles, she adds, but The Lambing Shed was lucky to get a steady supply of produce from local suppliers.

The business has grown massively since first opening its doors, in physical size and in terms of product range. The café, for instance, doubled in size in its first year, having begun with space for 40 covers.

And the production kitchen and bakery were added after opening, enabling the business to eventually increase its homemade range to include ready meals, Christmas party food, corporate lunches and takeaway afternoon teas.

Just under a year ago, the size of the farm shop floor doubled, enabling the Mitchells to increase ranging and improve displays. Further expansion is on the cards, with work due to start in the spring on growing the farm shop and café.

Finally, the shop’s wine, beer and gin range has recently grown, with The Lambing Shed working with a local supplier to develop its own gin, which launched in September.

LambingShed HR-9

“We now have a team of over 40 staff members and, alongside the farm shop, café and production kitchen, we run numerous events throughout the year, including pick-your-own pumpkins and Meet the Lambs, which continue to grow year on year,” says Mitchell.

Staffing is one of the biggest challenges. Like so many specialist retailers and suppliers, The Lambing Shed is finding it difficult to employ the likes of bakers, butchers and chefs. “There just simply aren’t enough people to go around.”

While recruitment is a challenge, developing the staff is one of the highlights of running The Lambing Shed for Mitchell.

“It is so rewarding to watch team members grow, learn new skills and really develop,” she says. “We have a lot of young employees who often start with us at 15 on the weekends, and watching their confidence build is really gratifying. Employees are not just colleagues; they really are family.”

Being named north west regional winner at the Farm Shop & Deli Retailer Awards in April was a great recognition of the team’s efforts, Mitchell adds. “I can’t emphasise enough how hard they work, they really put their hearts and souls into the business and to win this award is just amazing for them.

“As a business owner or manager you sometimes focus on the things you want to improve and forget to look back at how far you have come and what you have achieved. Winning an award like this makes you stand back and appreciate what you have built.”