Agricultural shows are a vital opportunity to meet people who can transform your business. As the UK's largest gatherings of growers, farmers and local food producers, these hubs are a vital way of connecting independent businesses with the community.
There are dozens of county shows across the UK each year, with breeders, growers and suppliers showcasing a range of local Produce from prize bulls to delicious pies and pastries. These shows boast growing attendances because the public’s knowledge and interest in their food’s provenance is growing. Despite this, New Scientist cites that the UK still imports more than 50% of its Food, with restaurants and cafes particularly guilty of ordering online or via catalogues without considering where this anonymous produce is coming from.
As a result, customers can struggle to connect with imported fruit, vegetables and meat. Business owners may also be unable to explain the benefits or stories behind any of their produce. Agricultural shows are the biggest meeting places of everyone from farmers to butchers and bakers, meaning they are a great way to bring local produce onto your menu. As such, independent establishments wanting to stand out may pay slightly more to use local suppliers, but can achieve some brilliant business benefits:
1. Reduced food miles
Millennials are the most rapidly growing consumer group and they eat out more than three times as much as their parents. They’re also much more environmentally conscious and more likely to spend money in sustainable businesses. By meeting suppliers at agricultural shows, you can reduce the food miles of your produce, reduce your carbon footprint, and appeal to this vital demographic more than your competitors.
2. Improved quality
As the growing controversy over chlorine-rinsed chicken from the US intensifies, it’s becoming increasingly clear that food quality standards vary massively between suppliers. Thanks to the exhibitions, trade stalls and opportunities for discussion at UK county shows, however, you can be different.
For example, by sourcing your bread from a local baker, you can simultaneously meet them, watch their work, meet the farmer who mills their flour and get free market insight on the type of customer who is buying their product. This gives you knowledge and control over the origins of what you serve to customers.
3. Get people talking about your business
As record breaking attendances and takings at 2017 agricultural shows prove, people are flocking to local producers. Attending and chatting to suppliers is therefore a great way to get free word-of-mouth publicity, as vendors have lots of opportunities to talk about the innovative ways your business is using their product. It's also great for them to highlight catering professionals who trust and value what they do, meaning establishing a good relationship is a publicity win-win!
What’s more, local suppliers are part of a complex and diverse web of people who all love food. By stocking their produce, your business becomes a beacon of quality for other producers who want to spend their money with businesses that buy locally.
4. Reduced workloads
Buying pre-made products saves money by reducing the staff hours used to produce items internally. Unfortunately, that can mean compromising on quality and diners notice the difference. It’s why ‘homemade’ produce is so popular with customers, whilst pre-made desserts leave them so cold. That said, customers also welcome the opportunity to try local delicacies. Sourcing selected items from local suppliers is therefore an excellent compromise between 'buying in' and producing food yourself.
Take the opportunity to learn what people are flocking to at your local show. If there’s a pie, beer or ice cream which is selling like hot cakes, stock it. In doing so you can save on the staff costs associated with internal production and still deliver a winning product, rather than trying in vain to compete with it yourself.
5. The best way to source ethical meat
Animal welfare concerns surrounding battery-raised chicken and Danish pigs typify the difficulties many businesses face when trying to buy meat ethically. There are also concerns surrounding the way these animals are raised, fed and medicated, with insinuations of antibiotics entering the human food chain via our meat consumption.
Your local show gives you the opportunity to meet farmers and their animals whilst seeing them showcased and celebrated. By understanding where your meat comes from and communicating with your supplier, you can answer questions regarding meat with confidence. This relationship also guarantees the type of quality that visitors are happy to pay for.
What do these changes mean for your business?
Improving and taking control of your supply chain gives you confidence in where your food comes from. This trust and belief in the ethical values and quality of the food you serve is something consumers value. As a result, it can be easy to recover the higher purchase price of local produce and also market your business's environmentally conscious approach to sourcing and preparing food.
Improving local connections via suppliers can also draw in new customers. This established base of locals is vital for quiet winter months, future-proofing your business and improving your bottom line. Agricultural shows are therefore a one-stop shop to altering your business’s long-term trajectory.
Are you ‘show ready’?
Attending agricultural shows is simple and fun! Just go armed with your phone, business cards and a willingness to chat to exhibitors and stallholders. As well as meeting suppliers of high quality produce, it’s a superb way of tracking the latest food trends and keeping an eye out for how and why people are spending their money. Simply search online for your local county show or find more details at http://www.ukcountyshows.co.uk/ and book tickets.
By Oliver Bernard
My years of experience working in pubs and restaurants means I am always interested in the latest industry trends. If I’m not exploring interesting new eateries, I’m trying to mimic them at home!