Warner's Budgens: Truly Local
PUBLISHED: 01:16 21 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:01 20 February 2013
Warners Budgens is flying the flag for local suppliers, as Mark Taylor discovers when he catches up with owner Guy Warner at this year's Moreton Show
Warners Budgens is flying the flag for local suppliers, as Mark Taylor discovers when he catches up with owner Guy Warner at this years Moreton Show.
When it comes to introducing customers to local producers, it all comes down to interaction and tastings, according to Guy Warner, owner of community supermarket chain Warners Budgens.
The company stocks more than 700 local food and drink products in its stores, including many award-winning items from across the Cotswolds, and last month it continued to fly the flag for local suppliers by sponsoring the Country Larder food hall at the annual Moreton Show.
Several thousand show visitors poured into the two dedicated food tents, which were linked by a new food theatre where local chefs Rob Rees and Ben Axford spent the day cooking and talking about local produce.
Stallholders offered free samples and tasters of their products, all of which were also available to buy on the day. One of the largest one-day agricultural and horse shows in the UK, with around 20,000 visitors each year, the Moreton Show has been an annual fixture on the Batsford Estate since 1949.
Well known for its livestock and equestrian events, it is now gaining a name for showcasing local food and drink and this year saw an increase in the number of local suppliers in attendance. These included Simple Suppers of Moreton-in-Marsh, the Cotswold Pudding Company of Poulton and La Parisienne of Tewkesbury, all of whom supply Warners Budgens stores.
Many of the small local suppliers rely on selling their products at farmers markets so the Moreton Show was the opportunity to reach an even bigger audience, according to Guy Warner.
When we were first approached to be involved as a sponsor for the Moreton Show, they were wanting to increase the amount of local suppliers attending, rather than having food suppliers that werent local.
What we have done is try to encourage local suppliers who supply our stores to come to the show and take a space because it was a great way for them to get their products sampled by a new audience.
There were more than 40 food and drink suppliers under canvas at Septembers Moreton Show and more than half of them are regularly stocked in Warners Budgens stores, with 80 per cent of them being truly local, according to Warner.
He says: We have brought more to the show than purely sponsorship, and we have worked closely with the shows organisers.
The Moreton Show is a big event for us and we start working with the organisers as early as March. Theres a lot of work behind the scenes to get the suppliers to go there and support it.
This year we paid to have a food theatre there with Rob Rees (The Cotswold Chef) and Ben Axford (the BBC Masterchef finalist and former owner of Cheeseworks in Cheltenham).
They drew a crowd and, more importantly, held a crowd. We had two food tents and another tented, seated area between them so people could spill out of one, watch some cookery and tasting demos and then go back into the second area.
Rob and Ben went back-to-back all day and worked like Trojans. Rob was doing cookery demonstrations all day, using food from local suppliers who were attending the show. He was cooking things like rib-eye steaks from Todenham Manor Farm in front of the visitors as we handed out recipe cards.
Ben was doing things like local cheese and drink pairings so he was taking a number of local cheeses and matching them with local ciders, beers and wines.
While he was talking, we were handing around individual trays with samples of all the cheeses and drinks he was talking about so everybody could taste everything he was talking about.
We added the demos and tutored tastings this year because we wanted to take the food area to a different level and make it more of an experience for visitors by increasing the interaction.
Its this interaction that Warner sees as a major point of difference when it comes to showcasing local produce, both in his stores and also at shows such as Moreton.
Nearly every supplier in the tents offered samples so, from a consumer perspective, it was incredibly interactive and people could talk to local suppliers about their products, taste their products and see chefs cooking them.
The food tent was the first thing you came to when you entered the showground and it was incredibly busy all day. A lot of the suppliers had sold out by the afternoon and the tents were rammed.
There must have been thousands of people walking around there all day. A lot of stallholders were saying it was busier than ever before and there were a number of local suppliers in there I couldnt even get to for a chat because they were so busy.
People love to taste and sample food and because there was so much of that going on, it really drew the crowds to the food tents.
From the suppliers perspective, they are not only getting to sell a lot of their products on the day but they are getting to showcase and champion their whole business to a very receptive and targeted food audience. We are always encouraging them to show off their wares.
This month, Warners Budgens will also be supporting British Food Fortnight, although Warner stresses that his stores showcase local food all year around, not simply for annual events and shows.
On every stand for those suppliers who also supply our stores, we had signs telling people they can buy the produce from our stores all year round so people can make it part of their everyday shop at Warners Budgens.
We always encourage local suppliers and I think tastings are an essential way to draw people in. We are all about championing local food all year round in our stores. If you can put a local producer in front of customers and get people to sample their food or drink, they buy into it very quickly.
We put more into the Moreton Show this year in terms of time and effort, and for the first time it felt like a mini food festival of its own within a much larger event.
We were lucky with the weather and the footfall to the show was high so the event overall was a huge success. There was so much going on, whether it was livestock or equestrian. Its simply a great country day out because the show offers so much to so many different people.
It takes us about nine or ten months of planning and hard work, and even though its just on for the one day and entirely dependent on the weather, its well worth it.
Its lovely when it all comes together and you see all that great local food being showcased. Ultimately, it gives me a sense of pride to see our local producers having the opportunity to reach such a wide audience.