Up to the Challenge

Competition has been hotting over up the past 13 years in the meat industry in Hampshire. But one man who seems unperturbed by the fact that three farm shops have opened since he arrived to take over as manager of Manydown Farm Shop on Scrapps Hill Farm in Worting is Terry Tarrant.

With 30 years of butchery experience behind him, the 44-year old started working in the meat trade as a 13 year old Saturday boy to earn some pocket money, Terry is well qualified to take on his competitors who include the former South African Formula One racing driver Jody Scheckter who has spent a colossal amount of money on his farm and farm shop at Laverstoke Park. It appears that Scheckter is following the success formula of Terrys employers the Bellasis family who 15 years ago tired of the margins derived from selling their beef to processors for the supermarkets, decided to sell their product direct to consumers by setting up a farm shop in 1994.

Terry, has built the business from a 50,000 turnover a year to one approaching 1 million employing 13 staff including three full time butchers. Initially the Bellasis just provided cattle for the farm shop. But over the years they have added lamb and chickens. The farm has 180 suckler cows, 500 calves, 1,000 ewes, 2,000 plus lambs and around 1,200 chickens at any time so the farm shop is 100% self sufficient in beef and chicken. In lamb it is however 75-80% self sufficient and Terry says he has to buy lamb in sometimes. However when we do we try to buy English and local lamb. The shop also stocks partridge and pheasant during the season. Pork is bought from Hugh Norris at Plantation Pigs. All the meat we sell is free range, explains Terry who is keen to stress the welfare and provenance credentials of the meat he sells. The success of our environmental policy can be seen when me measure the distance travelled (food miles) between our produce and that of the major supermarkets and importers, says Terry pointing to figures in a booklet which Manydown has published for its customers. While chickens are killed on-site in a purpose built processing plant set up in 1999, lambs and cattle are taken just 13 miles down the road to Turners, a small family run slaughterhouse business in Aldershot.

The Manydown Farm Shop which was a garage in its former life, has grown in size by 75% in the last 13 years. Another extension was added recently so the shop could offer fresh vegetables and fruit as well as a coffee shop area. It is modern, clean, spacious and welcoming. Today it could be described as a one-stop shop where you can buy everything from meat, vegetables, desserts, bread and various condiments. When the farm shop opened it started off stocking two stands of condiments and now it sports seven.

Terry, despite the success of his shop, is not a complacent man. He now has ambitions to grow it even further by adding meals and snacks to the drinks currently offered by his coffee shop. However, to grow it further he plans to add a conservatory ready for summer. The ambience is not right at the weekend as the shop tends to get busy and I want a relaxing comfortable area. But I think the potential for the coffee shop is massive, says Terry. We will put some signage on the road and we will do it well.

Punters who frequent Manydown, according to Terry, tend to be middle aged 30 plus mainly from a surrounding five mile radius. However, he also has some travelling from far afield as Southampton and London for his award winning meat dishes. When people know you and your name, even though they have moved they will return even though the visits drop down to one a month, he says.

Terry is not a fan of selling products on the internet. We tried it a couple of years ago but we had problems with the couriers so we stopped it. We had done it on the RSPCA/Freedom Foods website. But it also pulled out of it because food was not turning on time, he explains. Frankly it was bit of a nightmare.

Sales at Manydown are up 20% on last year from April last year. Christmas, he says, was slow coming. It came late in the five day in the build up to Christmas. January has been good so far. One or two people have mentioned the credit crunch but we have not seen any signs of it yet. I am not saying it is not coming but our customers have slightly more disposable income and so they may be hit later. In some way Terry believes the current economic downturn benefits businesses like his as people tend to cut down on eating out and instead opt for a decent joint of meat.

Manydown has won many prizes, It is particularly renowned for its pies. In the early days the shop was making a dozen pies a week. Now it is producing around 1,200 pies a week. With one member Annette producing the pies from Monday and baking them on Thursday and Friday, Terry now buys the pie pastry shells from South England pastries in Wokingham to save on labour. We started making the pies to utilise the forequarter meat from cattle. But our best seller is the Lamb & Mint Pie which won the Eblex award at the Q Guild Smithfield Awards, followed by steak kidney pie and on the poultry side chicken and ham is popular with our customers.

The top award in sausage has so far eluded him. But he is not ready to give up yet. We get a little bit further every time. We will get there, he says. I love competitions because they generate fun, and interest among customers while providing us with a challenge. You need a benchmark to up your game.

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