When Sandy Boyd ventured into the farmshop business at Chatsworth in Derbyshire back in 1986, he says he was regarded as something of a "health food crank". More than 20 years on, he is now managing director of the Ludlow Food Centre in Shropshire and far from an oddity, as research by IGD has shown that British farm shops are now the fastest growing retail sector.
The Ludlow Food Centre, located on a large Shropshire estate, was one of 234 farm retail outlets to open in the last year - a 15% increase, taking the total number to 1,796.
Boyd told MTJ that the burgeoning sector was "a consumer reaction against the dominance of supermarkets". But he said the rapid growth was also due to reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which meant farmers could no longer rely on subsidies for the production of foodstuffs.
The decline in high street butchers' shops has been matched by a corresponding expansion in farm shops. He explained: "Our local abattoir told us that for every butcher they have lost in the last few years, they have taken on a farm shop."
Boyd said the independent trade had shown a similar shift away from butchers having close ties with farms to them often being incorporated in farm shops.
The butchery department is at the heart of the Ludlow centre. All the meat comes from the estate and comprises both organic and non-organic. Its homemade Cumberland sausages have been voted the tastiest breakfast sausage in Shropshire, in a regional competition run by Heart of England Fine Foods.
Boyd said having kitchens attached to the shop meant customers were able to observe the three highly-skilled butchers at work and see sausages being made.
While recognising that he operates in a niche market, which could become overcrowded, Boyd said: "The beauty of farm shops is that they have, or should have, a character of their own. They are not like a shopping mall."