John McFarland: harness the love for homemade

John McFarland ? from Sugar and Crumbs, a supplier of baking products to retailers which was established in 2013 ? discusses how homemade food provides a business opportunity for garden centres.

Consumer appetites are changing and homemade offerings provide a genuine opportunity for garden centres to steal a march on other foodservice operators and retailers.

The appeal of homemade has been increasing for many years and was fuelled by the horsemeat scandal a couple of years ago.

Almost half the UK?s population (49 per cent) now totally mistrusts the UK food industry, and 77 per cent of consumers consider it to be too reliant on mass manufacturing.

Shoppers and diners are actively seeking out more locally sourced and ethically created produce, and this is reflected in the rise in the popularity of farmers? markets and farm shops: there are now 750 permanent and regular farmer?s markets in the UK, with many more unofficial local offerings.

The appeal is obvious: produce is more natural and cost effective. Kent Farmer?s Market Association recently carried out a price comparison, revealing that farmers? markets were on average 51 per cent cheaper than Waitrose and 30 per cent cheaper than Sainsbury?s.

Supermarkets are well aware of the shift in shoppers? mindsets, and they have overhauled their in-store bakeries to include sales of speciality bread and cakes, offering products that look more rustic and homemade.

Tesco has recently created a whole new artisan, homemade bakery brand, Euphorium, to respond to changing consumer tastes.

A great opportunity for garden centres

The food offering in garden centres has moved on a great deal. Old-fashioned restaurants or minimal snack areas have given way to contemporary caf?s, delis, farm shops and stylish food halls. In 2013, the HTA revealed that visits to garden centres had risen by 51 per cent in the last three years and the consumer demographic is changing to reflect the wider food and retail offering.

A younger, more?family-based audience is now seeing the garden centre as a viable leisure hub, as well as a destination for shopping ? and this is the audience that appreciates homemade.

The garden centre can be a permanent farmers? market, offering genuine alternatives to the mass-produced supermarket ranges, by serving and selling locally sourced and personally created foods. As well as providing a great sales opportunity it can deliver a strong PR and marketing hook.

Here are some tips:

  • Harness the popularity of afternoon tea and create a bespoke homemade cake menu.
  • Ensure vegetarian and gluten-free goods are on offer.
  • Create a rustic, homemade feel through d?cor and use chalkboards to communicate the different food offering each day.
  • Invite local bakers/food growers to a show and tell for adults and children and profile them through your point of sale.
  • Sell some of the products and ingredients from your caf? as take-home options.
  • Ask your customers what foods they would like and promote their choices.
  • Tap into the love of food programmes such as The Great British Bake Off, by presenting homemade cakes from the show with bunting and baking equipment.

Produce created by small companies has less testing, fewer (if any) artificial ingredients and has been created with a more personal approach. This is what consumers are looking for; a more natural, ethical and genuine offering, and garden centres could easily reap the rewards by offering it.

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