Wholesale Food Hub Pilot

This initiative, commissioned by Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT) and undertaken by Tamar Grow Local (TGL), piloted a wholesale food hub. The hub supplied food businesses with local produce from Tamar Valley producers who undertake environmentally beneficial farming practices.

Aims

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Carry out a pilot study to supply a range of clients with produce from local farms which undertake environmentally beneficial practices

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Gain an understanding of the economics of an intermediate-scale brokerage role

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Use the gained understanding and development work to aid the development of TGL’s wider food hub activities

The Challenge

The Tamar Valley has a long tradition of fruit and vegetable production. Though competition from overseas has been pressuring local producers since the 1950s, there is still demand for local produce. Meat production is significant but Tamar Grow Local considered there to be insufficient capacity to meet demand for fruit and vegetables.

Tamar Valley food supply chains are dominated by supermarkets, with international supply chains, and regional wholesalers, who primarily source from larger local suppliers. Mid-scale producers are rare; the supply networks are not able to support entrants to the market and there is a lack of incentives for small-scale producers to scale-up.

A possible solution to this mismatch between local produce demand and supply was identified – to pilot a wholesale food supply model which helps bridge the gap between micro-businesses and large producers. By operating as a not-for-profit, producers retain more of their profits, and by pre-selling produce, the costs of unsold or wasted produce does not have to be passed onto producers. By widening the range of production and distribution methods, the resilience of the local food production system can be strengthened, and there is a clearer career path for new or expanding producers.

The Solution

Pilot Study Method

The pilot supplied to both ‘high volume – limited diversity’ markets, such as educational caterers, and ‘low volume – high diversity’ markets, such as pubs, cafes and events catering.

Suppliers were drawn from TGL’s existing Retail Food Hub. Informal interviews were used to identify production practices which result in both food production and environmental benefits.

Pilot Study Findings

School caterers were highly price sensitive and were difficult to supply due to the difference in timings between seasonal vegetable production and school term-time. They also tended to buy a limited range of low value vegetables.

In contrast, events caterers, pubs and cafes tended to be less price-sensitive and were more concerned with quality and local provenance, as this added value and was beneficial to their business.

The food hub also supplied mixed bags of vegetables to Plymouth City Council and a large housing association, as part of separately funded projects to address food poverty and increase engagement with local food. This was identified as an ideal market for start-up businesses as it offers a guaranteed demand over 18 months. It also helped to identify gaps in local provision which could be filled by new or expanding producers.

Environmental Benefits

WRT supplied food hub suppliers, via TGL, with information on farming best practice to protect water quality. In informal interviews, these suppliers also discussed the following activities as those they undertake in order to reduce their environmental impacts or improve environmental conditions:

Fruit and Vegetables Beef and Pork Fresh fish Honey and apple co-ops
Water harvesting Avoid overcrowding around feeding and watering stations Sourcing fresh fish regularly to avoid lengthy cold storage Supporting pollinators
Minimal irrigation to save water Using fresh pasture to minimise poaching Sourcing line caught fish where possible Maintain important habitats
Tailoring practices to current conditions eg. avoiding machinery use in wet weather Prevent run-off from yard cleaning and drainage reaching watercourses Supporting small scale fishermen Conserve traditional apple varieties and their bio-cultural diversity
Contour ploughing where possible Appropriate ditch/drain maintenance
4m headlands around field boundaries Maintaining hedgerow habitats
Planting to attract pollinators Keeping pigs >10m from water source
Minimal pesticide use

 

Local Producers

Different Clients

Different Sectors

Action Plan Created

Lessons Learnt

Qualitative data on the challenges and opportunities of providing local food to various market sectors was analysed in a detailed project report. In particular, it was clear that there is demand for local food of high quality and known provenance, but challenges remain regarding the consistency of both supply and demand.

Improvements to the wholesale food hub model have been identified and include: supplementing local produce with regional produce to improve continuity of supply; further engagement projects to raise awareness of seasonality; developing online ordering software to increase efficiency; promote the added value and unique selling point opportunities surrounding Tamar Valley food; and encourage the use of protected cropping to extend the local season. These lessons have been taken into consideration in an Action Plan to expand the wholesale food hub from a pilot stage to a full-scale project.

Lessons for the Catchment Partnership

The project strengthened ties between TGL and WRT, members of the Catchment Partnership, which has enabled further collaboration in other projects. For example, the My Tamar engagement campaign lead by WRT was advertised via TGL’s retail food hub, extending the reach of the campaign. This collaborative work is vital for the success of the Catchment-Based Approach.

Buy local with the Tamar Valley Food Hub!

The Tamar Food Hub allows you to enjoy Tamar-grown food and products, while the farmers get a fair price for their produce. Order on a Tuesday and have it delivered on Friday!

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