When it comes to local sourcing, Lincolnshire retailers should be spoilt for choice. A whopping one-fifth of the nation's produce is grown in the county, yet many growers, suppliers and retailers believe Lincolnshire doesn't get the credit it's due.
That could all be about to change, though. A scheme to boost sales of locally sourced food in the region has been launched, along with a new brand - Select Lincolnshire - to bring together a wide selection of the county's produce under a single banner.
The brand aims to show what the county has to offer, from peas and sausages to eggs and flowers, in a way shoppers can easily identify.
Select Lincolnshire is backed by £160,000 funding from Lincolnshire County Council, and the results so far look good. The branded products have enjoyed early success in Asda stores and new suppliers are signing up to the brand each week. Now it's time to grab the attention of other retailers in the area.
Grower Mark Tinsley, who has been involved in developing the brand, explains: "In food terms, Lincolnshire should be the ace in the pack. Our food, however, has been massively under-advertised. Products haven't been promoted as they should have. We should be top of the premier league, but this will only be the case if we sell our brand and properly promote our products. Food with a story can outsell big brands."
Lincolnshire farmer Paul Davey recently incorporated Select Lincolnshire into the Ideal Lincs food group he runs. The group was established in 2005 with the strapline, 'From field to hub, it's ideal'.
Paul is certain the brand will help improve the status of the county's produce and says: "Consumers are surrounded by a multitude of accreditation and nutritional schemes, but there's nothing that directs the customer to regional produce. Lincolnshire is a food-producing machine and we're happy to use the Select Lincolnshire branding to support this county initiative."
Select Lincolnshire bosses are confident the brand will become a familiar sight on the shelves of the region's stores. Manager Jill McCarthy tells Convenience Store: "It's easy for retailers to get involved. As a first step, they can visit our website, www.selectlincolnshire.com, or they can contact us direct at the project. From that initial contact we'll be more than happy to meet individual retailers to explore opportunities around the use of the Select Lincolnshire brand."
A number of roadshows have also been organised to spread the word. "The roadshows provide an informal setting for Lincolnshire businesses to find out more about the benefits of adopting the Select Lincolnshire branding," explains Jill.
She adds: "We'll continue to forge strong links with retailers including c-stores. Our marketing plans will focus on raising awareness and getting more suppliers and retailers to adopt the brand. We're in the process of having promotional items such as car stickers and posters printed. We'll also be showcasing the brand at the Lincolnshire Show and the Royal Show in Warwickshire."
A number of independent retailers in the county have given the thumbs-up to the idea. Londis retailer David Smith, who owns Smith's Corner Store in Grimoldby, is keen to give the products a go. He says: "Our policy is to source locally where's there's availability - this is providing the products are competitively priced and the quality isn't compromised. I think a brand such as this could certainly help retailers.
"Being a local store we get a lot of support from the community. If we can in turn support local people and their businesses, then it's a good thing. I'm certainly going to find out more and discuss the matter with my local cluster group to see if other retailers are interested."
Lincolnshire Co-op, which has 68 stores in the area, has also been talking about the possibility of stocking the brand. Food controller Jim Thompson says: "We have good links with some local suppliers, but we're always looking for ways to improve them. We hope this can happen with the help of Select Lincolnshire. It's something we're keen to get fully involved in."
Lincolnshire Co-op's supply chain manager Nicola Berry agrees. Local issues including local sourcing are very important to us," she says. "We want to gain better links with local suppliers wherever possible. One of the ways we do this already is by having a special team to specifically serve the county's suppliers. Select Lincolnshire offers the chance for a number of groups to develop a consolidated approach to local sourcing. It's good that a whole range of products can be brought together under one banner."
As part of its work with the brand, the society is in the process of organising open days for suppliers to introduce their products. It expects to meet again with the Select Lincolnshire team in early spring.
Nicola adds: "The open days will give local suppliers the chance to showcase their products. We want to encourage as many local suppliers to speak to us as possible and want the county to do well. I believe Select Lincolnshire has a real future."
For more details, visit www.selectlincolnshire.com, or contact Jill McCarthy or Adam Peacock on 01522 550564.
What the locals think...
89% of shoppers would consider buying locally sourced produce if it was more widely available
Willingness to trial Select Lincolnshire is high; 92% of shoppers say they would consider buying the brand
Sausages, meat, vegetables and potatoes are top of shoppers' lists when they think about locally sourced food
Shoppers expect to see the brand in independent stores as well as supermarkets.
Source: Lincolnshire County Council consumer research
What it's all about
To provide a distinct identity that can be used across the board, from packaging to vehicle livery
Act as a unifying device for the agricultural sector
Become a recognised genuine source with brand quality, heritage and values
Provide a central point of support and contact for retailers.