Winter 2020, Happy New Year and I hope that 2020 is healthy, happy and productive.  I also trust that Christmas trading was good, despite all the political upheavals and market strife.  I need first to apologise profusely for our below par service levels caused by our computer update. This had been 18 months in the planning, but left us unable to view stock, print orders and much more, with the result that we spent weeks trying to reconstruct our systems.  I must congratulate our staff on manfully endeavouring to sort out the problems we caused for you and thank you all sincerely for being so understanding and giving us time to get things right. Talking of which I always produce a draft report for the product list which I then update. Having typed up and saved on my iPad in draft, imagine my personal concern when I found out my entire draft folder had disappeared after an Apple update!  Several phone calls later, Apple admitted defeat and apologised closing the conversation with “is there anything else we can help you with?”  I merely said yes, write my report, which caused much amusement!  So this is a second attempt, lacking a little of my initial enthusiasm but hopefully the same content.

So where to start? We hear a lot about the woes of the High Street, but I do think many of you, as independents, are in a totally different place. Farm Shops and Garden Centres have different challenges, including attracting the public to your door and you all seem to manage by having a more personal, enthusiastic approach.  You can tap into what people want – local, quality products that are well displayed and staff who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic with time to talk to people, cafes perhaps to pull them through with good food that may also have a local feel and low food miles.  Linked to this, most of our suppliers are very committed to the development of a niche range, keen to look after the environment by reducing plastic, looking after your health by being organic or part of the Free From groups.

For example, Lottie Shaw’s range are delicious in their own right, as witnessed by her new biscuits, with fully recyclable packaging.  The stem ginger is a Great Taste winner and the chocolate coated Yorkshire Parkin is lovely.  The little gingerbread tractor will sail off the shelves.  Artisan Biscuits continue to produce crackers with the emphasis on simplicity and goodness.  They suit coeliacs in particular, with thin crackers for pate/cheese, made from gluten free cereals and flours.

Atkins and Potts are helping to promote Veganuary for 2020 with another couple of vegan dressings.  On the same tack, Moo Free approach chocolate making by replacing cow’s milk with rice milk, so dairy and gluten free as well as being delicious.  And I can finish off the A’s by mentioning Artisan Grains, who produce tasty vegan packs of varieties of Couscous and Falafel, with flavours like Mushroom through to Pumpkin and Quinoa.

Continuing along the the alphabet, Bakedin are a young company with high ideals and a super range of ready to bake kits. They use Wessex Mill flour and obviously enjoy taste testing the product of their endeavours.

Fever-Tree now produce their own gins and so logically have added them to their tonics, so why not try them with some new Kettle Cheese and Red Onion crisps.

A new name to our company, Percy’s Biscuits are unashamedly luxurious and baked in the West Country. Uncle Percy is the inspiration for this beautiful range, which has a lovely range of both colours and flavours. Should you fancy cake, look no further than the two lovely fudge cakes from Nevis, Chocolate and Lemon, which would go nicely with two of Teapigs new infusions, Cucumber & Apple or Lychee & Rose.

As regards the nut and fruit markets, we now have available new crop Almonds, Apricots, Figs and Walnuts. Prices are reasonable, and it appears that the fires in California have not seriously affected the growing areas for Almonds and Walnuts. However, the weather across the world and either fires or floods, be it the US, Australia or India, or even Yorkshire, still play an increasing part within the food market.  For us in the UK, the weakness in the pound and Brexit also are significant influences.

So as we approach the New Year, let us hope that we can sort out our differences within the political parties, conclude Brexit and stabilise the currency.  And rest assured that we will do our very best to serve you at the level which you all need and deserve.

David Hider, Chairman