Bakers & Larners of Holt
Size of shop: 4,700 sq ft
Established: 1770
Total number of lines: estimated 15,000-20,000
Speciality: Exotic and unusual food

Locals in the sleepy little Norfolk town of Holt don’t need to take a trip to London’s fine food retailers for a taste of the finest French snails, Russian Chatka king crab or laverbread. All they need to do is pop down to their local store.

Not just any shop, of course, but department store Bakers & Larners of Holt, which is affectionately known to the locals as the Fortnum & Mason of East Anglia. The store, which celebrates its 237th anniversary this year, has remained independent since it was established in 1770 and, as well as selling everything from clothing to plants, has a 4,700 sq ft food hall bursting with fine foods.

The food hall has its own entrance and has become a local institution for selling food with a difference. Its unique selling point is stocking exotic and unusual products, which often get the customers talking, explains food hall manager Anthony Cude.

“We stock products from all over the world,” says Cude. “From monkfish liver to laverbread, some of the more unusual products we stock are proving very popular.”

Tasting sessions held twice a week in the food hall introduce customers to the more unusual products and provide a sense of theatre to the store. A chef is also on hand to demonstrate how to cook a whole meal using the products. “People gather round to watch and our sales improve,” says Cude. “They are a great success.”

Although the store’s search for products can send across the globe, Cude says the food hall always strives to stock as many local lines as possible. “It can be difficult to get all of our products from the UK,” he says. “We always try to support local produce wherever possible. The more support we can give to local produce, the better it is for the area.”

Its flour, for example, comes from a local flour mill just two miles away, its ice cream is made by the local dairy, while its eggs, ham and bacon are all from the surrounding area. It also stocks at least three or four cheeses from Norfolk, its herbs and honey are from suppliers less than 20 miles from the store and its extensive range of bread and cakes is delivered daily by four local bakeries.

“Food miles are such an important issue at the moment,” adds Cude.

“Customers are actively looking for local produce and reducing food miles and we always flag up our local food in store.” One of its most popular lines is also a local produce - apple juice sourced from the Royal fruit farms in Sandringham.

Local products are big draws for tourists who flock to East Anglia in spring and summer. The store is also in a popular area for holiday homes, with many customers arriving at the store on Fridays and Saturdays to stock up on provisions for weekend breaks.

Cude has been able to capitalise on the tourist trade by selling gift hampers, which are sold both in-store or via the company’s website, which also sells a limited range of products from the food hall. “The hampers are up and coming. In the past two or three years, they have really taken off. We sell a lot at Christmas and send them all over the world. People living in the area also order them for their friends and family.”

The store’s nearest supermarket competitors are Tesco and Morrisons more than 10 miles away. However, Cude does not class the multiples as direct competition. “If they stock something, there is no point in us stocking it as well because we simply can’t compete with their prices,” he says.

“Instead, we aim to stock something different and focus on quality.”
The food hall’s 16 staff also give the store a strong point of difference from the big four.

A quarter of the staff, including Cude, have worked at the store for more than 10 years and two of the supervisors have both worked there for 25 years. “We’ve been here a long time so we’re experts,” he says. “We are all experienced, have our own sections to look after and can answer questions from shoppers.”

Staff are constantly looking out for the latest trends in food. “At the moment, rapeseed oil is selling well because of the health benefits associated with it and because the TV chefs are using it more,” says Cude.

“Delia Smith is from Norfolk and anything she cooks usually increases our sales.”

“A few years ago, sales of Malden salt rocketed when she used it in a recipe. She also made a chocolate cake once using glucose syrup which we had to stock.”

The store is gearing up for what it expects is a greater interest in food in the coming few years. Next year it plans to increase its already impressive delicatessen, also extend its fresh foods range and double the space it devotes to gluten free and diabetic products. Locals may never need to leave Holt again.

food hall manager Anthony Cude
Bakers & Larners of Holt

Cude is one of the many loyal workers of Baker & Larners of Holt’s food hall who have worked at the retailer for more than 10 years. He started his career there 13 years ago as a Saturday boy. When a full-time position became available in the company’s farm shop, he jumped at the chance, before moving back to the food hall and up the ranks to become food hall manager. He knows the food hall inside out, having worked on the tills, right through to ordering and management. He enjoys his role because he gets to meet so many people and taste new products when they arrive in the store. “It’s a real challenge and there is always something to do,” he adds.