When John and Elaine Maxwell-Jones bought Burgess Stores in Goudhurst, Kent, in 1995, the number of local products stocked was in single figures. Some 11 years on, that number has risen to more than 300.
Alongside the jars of Marmite and cans of beans you'll find locally produced jam and chutney. There's cheese and sausages from in and around Kent, and in the drinks chiller you'll find apple juice from apples grown and pressed in Goudhurst itself. Where possible, all fresh fruit and vegetables are supplied by Kent producers. Even beer and cider and wine fans are kept happy with a wide selection of local lines.
From day one John has been determined to form strong relationships with local suppliers. "In April 1995 we went to the Kentish Fayre trade show and met a lot of local producers," says John. "It was ideal to be able to meet people face-to-face and soon we had a lot more local products in the store. It helped a great deal with getting started."
John was invited to join the food group (now Produced in Kent Ltd) as a retail sector representative - a position he held for six years. "Previously, all the other members had been suppliers or producers," he explains. "Speaking to people there and then joining the group as a member gave the store a real kick-start. We had 80-90 local products on the shelves by the end of 1995."
He recommends that anyone interested in stocking more local produce should get in touch with their local food group to start off with. John adds: "I'm also part of the Rural Shops Alliance, which is good for building contacts and sharing ideas with other retailers in the same kind of business."
Burgess Stores' 300 local products come from about 20 food and drink producers and cover a complete range of items. "We stock mustards, chutney, sausages, beer, ciders, fruit juices, local dried flowers and plants and as much fruit and veg as possible throughout the year," says John. "We've also formed a great relationship with some local artists and know that their paintings, which they can convert into greetings cards for different occasions throughout the year, will always sell well."
John is proud to inform his customers that nearby New Park Farm, which supplies his store with asparagus, also supplies the Queen. He adds: "As well as fresh asparagus we have Kent strawberries and raspberries on sale. We get the first of our Kent tomatoes in March and will go on using the same supplier right through to November.
"The apple juice we stock is from a Cox's apple orchard right here in Goudhurst. It produces about 2,000 bottles of apple juice which we help to sell throughout the year. We also stock wine and cider from Biddenden Vineyard, which is Kent's oldest commercial vineyard.
"We have a large number of local cheeses on our deli counter and I'm more than happy to let people try before buying. If they don't like it they don't have to buy it, but they often end up spending something.
"It's good to know about the product. It helps if there is a story behind it and customers like the fact you have researched the products you sell."
John says it's important the local products he stocks are advertised in the store correctly. "It's important we market the new products properly," he says. "We have blackboards at the front of the store to highlight the fruit and veg in season and any products that are particularly interesting or
on offer. The signs let people know that we offer them something a bit different."
As well as village residents buying local produce, Burgess Stores is also popular with tourists looking to buy something to remind them of their visit to the Kent countryside. John says: "I can remember when we first opened I served more than 20 different nationalities in the first few months. Tourists obviously like finding things of interest and food and drink which is made close to the store is often a perfect gift or something which can remind them of their visit to Goudhurst.
"Local products have always been popular in this area but people have become more aware of them in recent years. We get quite a few people from other areas saying they'd like to see more local products in stores close to where they live and they often make return visits to us. Customers like to see where the product they are buying comes from and they like it even more if it comes from somewhere they know and can picture."
John is proud of the fact that by stocking local products the store is supporting other local businesses, which he can work closely with. "We've teamed up with a local jam, marmalade and chutney producer called Johnathan French," he says. "He was able to design labels with the store name on them so the products are unique to us. He and a lot of our suppliers are good about supporting any ideas we have. By working together we can do a lot of things that would be impossible on our own. It's not something you can do with the large multinational suppliers."
John uses his local Booker cash and carry in Tunbridge Wells to stock up on other essential lines. He adds: "We met our local Booker manager recently and spoke about local produce. Things seem to be changing and they are doing what they can to encourage retailers to source locally, but there is still more they can do."
John has daily deliveries of fresh local bread and milk and fresh sausages are delivered at least twice a week. "The good thing about local suppliers is that you can get on the phone and arrange a delivery very quickly. We never run out of stock.
"We have a flower and plant delivery once a week and visit the nursery ourselves if we need to top up."
John believes all retailers should stock at least a few local products and adds: "We used this year's Independents' Day to push local product sales even more than usual. Even if retailers stock just two or three products at first it will be worth the effort. It creates a point of difference and is something that the supermarkets rarely offer customers."


Store size
No of employees
Opening hours

No of local products
1,200sq ft
5 (one part-time)
Monday to Saturday,
10.30am-5pm Sunday
about 300