Indies are increasingly turning to small suppliers to create a point of difference from the multiples. Do you use smaller, lesser-known suppliers? Why?
Brundle: We use loads. It is a huge part of the store’s success.
Thornton: We have a huge range of artisan cheeses. A customer tweeted earlier today comparing our store to the Harrods Food Hall, which was great. And we’ve been told that we have the best range of local ales in London.
James: We use small producers in all our stores including the forecourts. They are keen to ensure supply and give us their full support. We are often also their only outlet, which gives us key point of difference.
Warner: Yes, customers really like the concept of being able to buy locally-produced food, from small suppliers, alongside more conventional items.
Meet this month’s masters
James Brundle Co-owner of Eat 17, the bar, restaurant and Spar Village Stores in Walthamstow, developer of new condiment Bacon Jam
Andrew Thornton Owner of Thornton’s Budgens, which runs two Budgens stores in London’s Crouch End and Belsize Park
Jonathan James MD of James Graven, a family-run business of two supermarkets and two forecourts in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.
Guy Warner Owner of Warner’s Budgens, which operates five supermarkets and a forecourt in the Cotswolds
Which smaller brands or products have worked well in your store? How did you find out about them? Why were they so successful?
Brundle: We get great quality meat direct from the farm from Field & Flower, reasonably-priced, delicious soups from Soupology and a range of Macedonian chutneys from Pelagonia. Snacking Salami from Serious Pig is also selling really well, and Kooky Bakes’ products are probably the best we have ever tried. We are all very excited about working with him.
Thornton: We have our Made in London range, which includes 30-plus suppliers, 14 of them from Haringey and Camden. We have customers who travel from farther afield to shop with us because they know that we have interesting and unusual products.
James: If a product is truly local, it will sell, regardless of the category. We were Corkers crisps’ first-ever customer. They are located two miles from our store and now they supply some very large customers indeed. Elysian Fields wine is also a great seller. We were their first retail customer and they now supply a number of local shops and restaurants. To have a very local wine with a picture of Ely Cathedral on the label makes it a product that tourists and locals alike are very keen to purchase.
Warner: Fresh, locally-produced bread, local seasonal produce and locally-reared mature beef are among our most popular products. Todenham Manor Farm beef, for example, is produced less than three miles from one of our stores and the meat’s quality, combined with it being produced ‘just down the road’, has won over many customers. Their success is down to the consistently high quality of the product and strong ‘on pack’ message.
What advice would you give to other retailers interested in sourcing and promoting more local products?
Brundle: Look at the best stores around and what they are stocking, word of mouth and read The Grocer!
Thornton: Now we have a reputation people come to us, but previously we used to go around to farmers’ markets and delis, looking at things and talking to people. It is as simple and time-consuming as that.
James: Initially we advertised for small producers in the local newspaper. Now we are well-known for supporting small, local producers, many new suppliers contact us. We make every effort to promote their products in store. All products are promoted with shelf-edge labelling, and often PoS material is provided by the supplier with their story on it.
Warner: Organisations like Heart of England Fine Foods and Taste of the West offer some fantastic local food producer contacts. Going to farmers’ markets and country shows is also a great way to meet small producers.