Meet the farmers bringing rare breed meat to the masses through their fashionable farm shop. Emily Scaife reports.
Ever since she was eight-years-old and running a stall from her family home’s garden gate, Rebecca Wilson has been interested in retail.
She has donned numerous hats in her life, from chartered surveyor to pig husbandry specialist, but she had always harboured a wish to create her own farm shop alongside husband Simon.
“I had joined the Farm Retail Association and for years would go to their annual conference and farm shop tours but, I was the only one on the bus who didn’t have a farm shop, and it became a standing joke” she says.
It’s the couple who are laughing now, however, and since opening the doors to Jolly Nice five years ago, they are now generating more than £2 million turnover every year and employ up to 30 full-time members of staff.
Rebecca credits their success to the cornerstones of their enterprise: championing rare breed livestock, a dedication to top-quality products, honesty and support for the next generation.
Prior to opening Jolly Nice, the couple were tenants on Simon’s father’s farm on Grade 1 historic parkland at Westonbirt Arboretum on the Holford estate in Gloucestershire. The land was notoriously difficult to produce milk from but, realising that rare breeds would suit the land better, they switched from Holsteins to Shorthorns and, eventually, from milk to beef.
“The Holsteins needed to eat a lot of higher protein grass, which we couldn’t produce,” says Rebecca.
“The Shorthorns were much better at converting the old-fashioned grasses into milk and meat.
“Rare breed cattle reared in this natural way mean they can tough it out in all conditions and graze on harder grasses many animals won’t touch.”
The finished product also benefits.
She says: “Rare breeds are not the quickest or the most profitable option for farmers, as they grow much more slowly and often aren’t as big as other breeds.
“But this means more fat marbling throughout the muscle and much more depth of flavor.
“Acclaimed chef Neil Rankin said our shorthorn beef was some of the sweetest beef he’d ever tasted.”
In 2009 Simon’s father made the decision to sell the farm to a neighbour. The couple bought 6 hecatres (14 acres) of woodland on the same estate, which is now home to a handful of Shorthorns and up to 60 rare breed pigs, including Berkshires, Tamworths and Large Blacks, sourced from Cotswolds farmer Adam Henson.
A new farmstead was also built for the family on the site, in addition to a production kitchen.
“My eldest daughter Harriet, who had suffered very badly with poor mental health, left school at the age of 14 and started making ice cream using our milk,” says Rebecca.
“It was good quality, so we entered it in the Great Taste Awards and she won three gold stars for two flavours, which was pretty much unheard of.
“So, we built a production kitchen and were ready to start wholesaling ice cream as a partnership until we realised the distributor wanted 33 per cent of the retail price, so that plan quickly fell apart.”
Determined to create their own market for their meat and ice cream, the family began looking for a suitable site for a farm shop and found it nearby, in the form of a disused garage.
Five years on, the shop boasts an ice cream parlour, stocking Harriet’s Jolly Nice Ice Cream, and a takeaway which provides a platform for the farm’s highly regarded rare breed beef and pork.
A priority for Rebecca right from the start was ensuring their on-site butchery was completely honest with the consumer too.
“Having been in this industry for quite a few years now, I’d learned that the butchery trade in general can be quite dishonest,” she says.
“The only way the consumer can really 100 per cent trust the meat they’re buying is to get it from producers and cut out the middleman, because once an animal is cut up you don’t know what it is.
“We only buy whole animals from our suppliers, direct from the farm, and when we put it through the butchery we label it, so the customer knows who the farmer is, how the animal has been reared and what breed it is. That has built up trust.”
Rebecca is also passionate about supporting the next generation and puts Jolly Nice’s success down to the dynamic atmosphere created by the young workforce on site.
“We employ a lot of young people and because of that the whole shop has a really energetic atmosphere,” she says.
“It means we attract lots of people their age, which is brilliant, but we also attract older shoppers who just love being able to chat to them. It creates a brilliant buzz.”
Another key strain to the farm shop’s philosophy is its commitment to sustainability, but Rebecca warns that this goes far beyond cutting down plastic use.
“So many of the general public think that sustainability is all about how much plastic you use, but it starts much earlier than that,” she says.
“I always say that it starts with the soil. We talk a lot about how our animals are reared and that we don’t house the animals for long periods of time. Therefore, we’re not having to use fertiliser to make lots of silage to bring in, therefore we’re not compacting the soil with heavy machinery or using fossil fuels.
“For me, that’s a bigger part of sustainability than plastic use. However, we don’t package any of our fruit, veg or meat, we use paper bags and we generate virtually no waste - all the overripe fruit and vegetables that hasn’t been in the kitchen goes straight back to the pigs.”
Their work promoting rare breed meat hasn’t gone unnoticed, with appearances on Countryfile and and a string of industry awards. Rebecca says their biggest achievement so far is arguably winning a Young British Foodies Award at Meatopia, a festival focusing on rare breed and free-range meat. Judge Richard H. Turner said: “These guys have a story; their meat is excellent, and they’ve shown vision. They’re bringing rare breed meat to the masses.”
And they’re determined to spread the word even further, as planning permission has recently been granted for an even bigger shop and a drive-thru.
“We would like to be one of the first free range meat drive-thrus - they are typically associated with poor quality meals, but ours would be the opposite of that,” Rebecca says. “Eventually our long-term aim is to have a few in different locations.”