The growth in demand for premium locally and regionally sourced food has been phenomenal, enabling farmers to turn adversity into real opportunity. A series of health issues – BSE and E.coli followed by foot and mouth – has led consumers to become interested in food’s full traceability and provenance. Add to that the latest global issues and environmental concerns such as food miles, and we find that today almost two thirds of consumers buy local food at least some of the time. 

Twelve months ago IGD forecast that by 2012 the local and regional food market would increase by 33% to £5.7bn. Last week it indicated that the economic slowdown could prompt one in five consumers to be less likely to buy local. However this would be offset by the same proportion of people expected to buy more.
Regional Farm Foods has first-hand experience of this burgeoning consumer trend, which contributes to the success of our business model featuring farmers, conservationists and retailers working together. We offer South Downs-branded lamb, a premium product retailed through local butchers that enables us to return a guaranteed premium to our farmer suppliers.

Back in 2004, livestock farming on the South Downs came under the microscope of the South Downs Conservation Board. Seeking to preserve the landscape and offer a benefit to the local economy, it put sheep at the heart of the plan. However to be profitable, it became apparent that taking full control of the supply chain would be a prerequisite. 

South Downs Marketing Limited, a farmer-owned business and RFF subsidiary, was created to carry out a feasibility study with a supply of 800 lambs bred from native breeds. Quality independent high-street butchers locally were identified to be the core market and, to minimise the food miles, processing would remain within the region. In 2008, its 18 farmer members have committed a supply of 12,000 lambs to 50 retail outlets within the south east region. 

Our quest to maximise our efficiencies and fully exploit the marketplace has led us to explore the growing interest in locally sourced food from foodservice, in particular the public sector. SDML plans shortly to commence supplying lamb to local schools.

RFF is now among other National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, testament to its exemplary business model.