Senior managers met several Shropshire producers last week ahead of a significant local sourcing drive in spring. Escorted by regional food group Heart of England fine foods (HEFF), which is working with the Co-op to identify suppliers, managers Peter Coutchman, Patrice Garrigues and Di Bateman visited a meat plant, a brewery and a farm shop.
Embreys Ltd is an existing Co-op suppliers and the day trip gave the managers a rare opportunity to experience the production process ahead of a 'meet the buyer' event in February or March where HEFF will arrange appointments for Shropshire food businesses to pitch their products to the Co-op buyers.
Embreys' factory in Bishops Castle butchers and packs local beef, lamb and pork for the food service and retail sectors. They also cook and cure their own range of hams and cooked meats and produce 2000lb of their own recipe sausages every day.
The managers were impressed and Garrigues said: "The mileage from farm to plate, with Embreys' efficient and localised distribution, is very low."
James Embrey, who already supplies 13 Co-op stores explained his constructive relationship with the supermarket chain: "They listen to us and work with us to produce the best quality, best value meat products that will sell in store. Feedback from older customers in our own butcher's shops told us that a pack of 10 sausages was too much so we reduced it to seven and Co-op have complied with this because they care about their customer's needs.
"They also have an excellent record for clear and honest labelling which allows the provenance of the product to shine through. We can put forward our own suggestions on marketing the range under their 'Local Harvest' banner and many of our packs now have a roundel map that shows exactly how far the meat has travelled."
Alix Hay, HEFF trade development executive, said: "The Midcounties Co-op are genuinely enthusiastic about stocking more local lines and this will generate some fantastic supply contracts for our producers. Once a company is recruited into Co-op's Local Harvest initiative they are in for the long term - this is an organisation that believes in treating its customers and its suppliers fairly and HEFF is delighted to be working with them."