Farm shops and local producers will be the destination for 40 per cent of consumers this Christmas, with trust in the farming sector rocketing throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
One-in-four people used farm retailers more in 2020 following the Covid-19 crisis, with respondents to an NFU Mutual survey citing supporting smaller local businesses and fresher, better quality produce as drivers behind their decision.
It came as new EU-funded research involving the University of Reading found farmers were the most trusted actors in the food supply chain ‘benefiting from the continued image of being hard-working independent producers who face a lot of risks and particularly in the UK’.
Rebecca Davidson, NFU Mutual’s rural affairs specialist, said farm shops had provided a lifeline to local communities during the pandemic, sourcing vital supplies during shortages, delivering fresh produce to vulnerable people and helping keep people’s spirits up with friendly service.
She said: “Many farm shops have worked round the clock transforming their business models to meet demand, such as introducing click and collect services.
“Staff have adapted from serving in farm shop cafes to processing and delivering online orders, and stores have redesigned their layouts to offer Covid-safe shopping experiences.”
She added shopping locally was the top permanent change customers surveyed planned to make after the pandemic is over.
Colwith Farm Shop, Cornwall, run by Clare and Chris Dustow, transformed from a small cabin with an honesty box to a farm shop to meet growing local demand.
Mrs Dustow said: “At the end of March, we saw a surge in customers, with hundreds of cars queuing around the car park just to buy a bag of potatoes.
“By June, we expanded the shop to a converted shipping container with a dedicated member of staff and stayed open seven days-a-week.”
Mrs Dustow added consumers were more appreciative of local produce and reported strong Christmas orders.
Jenny Rose, manager at the Farm Retail Association, added: “Much of this success story has been a result of farm shops being able to replenish shelves, which has helped establish them as reliable food suppliers, alongside shops providing a relaxed but Covid-safe environment for shopping which consumers find less chaotic than other retail settings.”
AHDB said despite anti-farming reports in the national press, consumer perceptions of farming in the UK are positive, up from 62 per cent in 2019 to 66 per cent in 2020, according to research with Blue Marble.
A recent AHDB/YouGov poll showed 75 per cent of consumers felt British farmers were doing a good job in keeping the nation fed during the pandemic.