Local sourcing has become a buzzword among convenience stores across the country, who are realising the benefit of offering local foods to create a point of difference from the major multiples.
Now the news has reached the cash and carries and all produce sold in Booker's depots now comes from local markets in a bid to improve the company's service and the quality of its fresh produce.
Branded Market Fresh, the new range is larger and there are more interesting products now available, such as butternut squash. It's also fresher, because the produce travels fewer miles, and up to 30% cheaper than before.
Steve Fox, director of retail & Premier development at Booker, says: "We always seek to improve our offer and sourcing locally has been one way to do that. We're now providing the best service that we can. Because the foods travels fewer miles, it gets into branches one-and-a-half days fresher."
Retailers' orders can be delivered to branches within 24 hours, and the produce is available loose or by the case, so independents can buy as much or as little as they need.
"By sourcing local we've improved choice and are able to sell at the very best price," says Fox. "For example, we can now sell pineapples for 99p. Because the food isn't travelling as far, distribution costs are lower. We've passed all of these cost savings onto our customers."
Market Fresh will also help give retailers a point of difference. "We don't dictate to our customers but we would encourage them to flag up on their signage that produce is sourced locally. It makes their offer more unique. Retailers can sell Cornish cauliflowers in Cornwall, and Scottish potatoes in Scotland, for example.
"For our Premier customers, fresh as a whole is on the up and growing so we are encouraging them to maximise their potential from it - whether that's through Booker Fresh (the drop shipment programme with Kerry Foods Direct to Store) or through Market Fresh. With Market Fresh, independents can buy produce loosely as opposed to prepacked with Booker Fresh."
Fox adds that the new range will help to improve shoppers' perceptions of c-stores. "If we can consistently offer high-quality fresh produce, it helps to improve our customers' reputations. If produce is fresher, it gives shoppers a better perception of the whole business, and it also has the knock-on effect of keeping wastage down for the retailer."
Keith Heffernan, Poundbury Village Stores, Dorset
Fresh and chilled foods are proving such strong sellers at Poundbury Village Stores, a 2,000sq ft Budgens store in the Prince of Wales' village of Poundbury, that owner Keith Heffernan has just ordered another chiller to extend the category by 25%. Sales are currently £8,000 a week - about 25% of total sales - but Keith expects to increase this by a further 10% by cutting back on grocery and extending the produce and chilled space.
"Fruit and veg and ready meals go very well, and the fresh meat is also picking up," says Keith. "We're pushing the more premium end at the moment and have just introduced premium sausages and Continental meats. Ready meals are getting more popular and we've just bought in Budgens' Straight to Plate range, which includes recipes such as Moroccan lamb and beef bourguignon. We also sell organic chickens and quality meat like Scotch sirloin. It's more about trading up now - people aren't looking for the value items anymore; they're looking to buy quality."
Poundbury also has a strong range of local chilled foods, such as Denhay cheese and bacon, Blue Vinney cheese, and organic milk. "We try to support local suppliers as best we can," says Keith. "We also have a local beef supplier and buy stock as and when it's available. The farmer will come into the store when he's slaughtered a cow and ask if we want any meat. It always sells very quickly - as soon as it's put out on shelf it goes.
"The organic side is growing - not particularly fast, but the demand is there so we've definitely got to stock it," adds Keith. "We have some organic but most people tend to go to the delivered box schemes for organic produce."