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Greetings from the Dales and Fells. Last month, I gave you a sneak preview of our traceability scheme, and two weeks ago we launched publicly, heralded by the unveiling of a huge QR code in our friend and supplier David Harrison's field, just north of Ripon and close to the beautiful Yorkshire valley of Nidderdale.
Now, with every whole cut, you'll be able to see the farm your meat came from through short films, learn about the food miles, find information about the breed, and download exclusive recipes written by Jeff Baker specifically for that cut.
In brief, every customer will have complete oversight of where their food has come from, and you will be able to trace the connection between our farms and your food.
The response has been immense, and we have been bowled over by the interest, both among you, our customer base and in the media. Please do keep writing to me, I always make time to read your comments
Our traceability project has been ten years in the making. A decade ago, I received a late night phone call. Did I want to go on Sky News and discuss the breaking horse meat scandal?
For me it'll go down as one of those conversations that sticks with you forever.
It's easy to forget now quite how much the horse meat scandal rocked the country, never mind just the meat industry. It wasn't just a horse meat scandal either. Pork was found in products labelled beef, and all over Europe a spotlight was shone on vast, anonymous factories where meat is processed, previously hidden from the public eye.
The day after that phone call, I was repeatedly interviewed as part of Sky's rolling coverage. It was bitterly cold. I was first interviewed in the corner of a soggy field on the edge of the North York Moors, then in a barn, with Longhorns and Galloways behind me, their wet breath rising in the air. It was the ideal place to discuss the danger of our unaccountable and fragmented supply chains, with a beautiful herd of British pedigree cattle behind me.
Back at the ranch in Ripon, my small team was watching on the television. In those days, we covered many different bases between us; from customer service to accounts, to packing the boxes themselves, and when an order came in, all five of us would get a notification. The constant stream of emails flowing into my pocket while I spoke on television was an incredible relief: start-up life is fragile, every sale is hard fought, and people are relying on you to deliver success and secure their livelihoods.
For us, the horse meat scandal threw into relief that the supply chain was not fit for purpose and gave our message the impact it deserved. Many customers found us that day, and in the weeks that followed, more and more people joined through word of mouth and recommendations - something we still rely heavily upon.
Over the years I have spoken to many of you, our customers, but the reasons for people joining us have largely stayed the same. I can boil down the various reasons to one word really, connection.
In his excellent book "English Pastoral," James Rebanks describes how the American landscape is created in the supermarket. A fantasy is imagined as to where food comes from and how it is made. This lack of connection between food on the shelf and its origins is now familiar on this side of the Atlantic. It leaves behind an unsatisfying emptiness that you only truly comprehend when you enjoy food that is produced and supplied another way: locally, sustainably, and humanely. For me in the 1980s, I realised this by visiting the great food cultures of Europe for the first time, and I have used my updates here to talk at length about how Britain has slid into the straight jacket of a cheap, disposable food culture, that it cannot easily shake off.
Many of our customers are looking for this tangible connection, and we are used to hearing our older customers tell us that "this is how food used to taste."
Our traceability scheme is a solution to further demonstrate the provenance of our food and lead the way for British food. It's been a Herculean effort. When you're processing thousands of orders, involving thousands of products, to say with certainty where every part is from, how old it is, and what breed it is, what we have done is no mean feat. It's been made possible by new technologies of course, but ultimately pushed through by the hard work and problem-solving skills of my team.
As an online retailer, (although we do have a bricks and mortar shop too), and really still a new kid on the block in relative terms, the irony is that we are able to restore the connection to food far better than some of the long-established competition found on the high street. It does seem to me that most retailer's efforts to reassure their customers of their food's provenance has been to turn food aisles into something resembling the Last Night of the Proms. Never mind how the food is produced or the farmer treated, so long as it has a Union Jack on the label.
I'm often asked why this is important and it's a fair question: if the people buying that food don't care, why bother?
Food is so important, to our well-being, society, culture, and environment, that we must hold ourselves and our food suppliers to higher standards. If we fail to scrutinize the origins of our food and how it has been made, the result is an abdication of responsibility and standards - the like of which gave us the horse meat scandal in the first place.
We need to remove the fantasy, as Rebanks describes it, and demand authenticity. Only then can we give people the ability to make much informed choices and appreciate their food more.
As ever, please do send any thoughts, feedbacks, or comments to [email protected] I always make time to read your comments.
Founder & CEO of Farmison & Co