A catch up with Oakchurch Farm Shop

From 'Seaganism' to samphire, to an abundance of avocados...

FRA Associate Member Total Produce caught up with Martin McAlpine from Oakchurch Farm Shop & Garden Centre to get ‘the gen’ on this thriving business in the heart of Herefordshire.

 

Oakchurch started as a ‘pick your own’ strawberry farm back in the 1970’s, can you tell us about how the business has evolved since then, into what it is today?


Known locally as the “Harrods of Herefordshire”, Oakchurch Farm Shop was started by Edward and Ros Price in 1970 as one of the first Pick Your Own strawberry farms in the country. Over time, it has grown into a successful, award winning farm shop employing over 40 local people. Having won over 10 great taste awards we have recently been voted Herefordshire best farm shop. We use our own beef in our butchery, our own soft fruit is sold in the shop and we make ice cream, pies, cakes, ready made meals and deserts all in our own kitchen and deli.


Now celebrating our 50th anniversary and still family run we are at the heart of the local community. As well as the huge range of foods we make or grow ourselves we stock over 100 local suppliers making us a true showcase of the best of Herefordshire.


What is your philosophy/ethos at Oakchurch. Why do you think your customers keep coming back?


My philosophy at Oakchurch is Quality, freshness and value for money. It is extremely important that customer satisfaction is high and there is a constant dialogue between my team and myself with all our customers, unlike supermarkets, therefore being able to ensure that we meet their requirements throughout the year and also launch and introduce successfully new lines, special offers and deals of the day. Over the past year I have introduced Fresh Fish from Cornwall, which has enabled me to expand on complimenting items such as fresh herbs, samphire and citrus fruits to provide an even bigger and diverse range to our customers. Customers keep coming back for the quality, seasonality and diverse range that we offer, it is great to hear feedback from our customers that our products last longer than those in the supermarkets and of course we try reduce the use of plastics by only using brown bags and bags produced from maize. My department is the first area of the store that a customer sees on entering and it is important that it sends the right message out to the customer to showcase the store ethos. 


How important are the right suppliers to your business? /You’ve been working with Total Produce for around 3 years now, why do you work with them?


Having been in the produce trade for in excess of 40 years, it is important to have a high level of trust and honesty in the relationship with the suppliers that you work with. Having been a buyer for the largest independent fresh produce retailer in the UK, I have come across a number of characters good and bad over my career, with many companies that promise the earth but are unable to deliver on their promises. When I joined Oakchurch over 3 years ago, it was important to find a company that would be honest, realistic and understand the journey that we would need to go on to build up the department from its humble foundations when I took it on, to the scale it is today. After liaising with many suppliers and testing them out, Total Produce at Cardiff, met with all my requirements and enabled me to build the business to the success it is today, especially in such a difficult market place. I speak to my salesman Ian, probably more than I speak to my wife during the day – starting at 4.30am when we speak about any issues with supply that day, any shortages and delivery problems, we also discuss new lines that may be of interest that has come in over night and market performance. Ian understands my business and is able to highlight potential deals that will work in this environment. An example was avocados that had come onto the market at a very good price, Ian knew would be a good fit with my customer base, so he sent those to me and over the course of 2 weeks we ended up selling over 4000 avocados as a result. I regularly read the market report which enables me to keep abreast of seasonality and new lines. Originally written by the late Charlie Hicks, who lived local to our store, it was lovely to speak with him and be encouraged directly about the way that the business was growing and how impressed he was with the changes. Total produce have the same vision as I do, trying to use local and smaller growers to support the UK farmers and bring the best local produce to our customers tables. Total produce have supported me, when we go into local schools to educate the children in fresh produce and showcase the range on offer. Since starting with Total Produce we have done in excess of half a million pounds of business.


How did the relationship with Total Produce start?


As previously mentioned, I was a buyer for another company, before entering into the Hotel trade for a number of years, running 2 successful hotels, My ethos was the same fresh quality ingredients, seasonal, locally sourced and this enabled our restaurant to be awarded 2 AA Rosettes along with many other accolades. Total produce was known to me for a number of years before starting at Oakchurch from my work in many wholesale markets throughout the UK. After selling our Hotel we decided to move to Hereford for a change of lifestyle and when I went into Oakchurch as a customer, I could see the potential and was excited to get my hands on the department and take it to the next level, with the support of the owners, Ros and Edward Price along with general manager Nick Price.


As we move into the next decade, what’s next for Oakchurch? 

 

We now produce our own homemade artisan ice cream “Scoop” and we are using fresh produce from my department in this. We have made beetroot sorbet, raspberry sorbet, banoffee ice cream, peach sorbet, kiwi icecream to name just a few. Our production kitchens and chefs use Total Produce for all their fresh produce needs which is then turned into our award winning pies, quiches and savoury dishes. We are looking to expand on our vegan offering, again using ingredients from Total Produce. There are plans to further expand and improve the offering at Oakchurch, we never stand still, leading the market not following. Oakchurch is much more than just a Farmshop it’s a shopping experience and will continue to grow. 

I think customers are going to continue to address the plastics issues in 2020, embrace more clean eating, shunning processed mass produced foods. Banana Blossom could be the new trend, as a vegan alternative to fish. Seaganism is gaining traction, with vegans embracing sustainably sourced fish as an addition to their diets.

See drone footage of Oakchurch here.

 

With thanks to Total Produce for this inspiring article!

 

 

To discuss working with Total Produce or to run a simple costing exercise, please get in touch with our friendly contact Natalie King who would be delighted to talk to FRA Members. [email protected], mobile 07415 185363.