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Happy New Year from Ripon, Farmison & Co's base in North Yorkshire. With my update this month, and to mark the beginning of 2023, I have a story to tell and exciting news to share.
Ripon, for those of you who don't know the city, lies on a belt of fertile land running north to south, nestled between the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. It is an ancient place, and today the medieval cathedral towers over the settlement.
When I first moved here, over eighteen years ago, Ripon was the perfect base for the fledgling Farmison & Co, with the farms of the Dales and the North York Moors on the doorstep. We envisioned a network of farmers doing things the right way, in terms of animal welfare, heritage breeds, sustainable farming, ecological stewardship, and supplying the country with meat that was simply better in flavour and quality.
To do this though, we needed to build a supply chain from scratch. While the farmer's reluctance to fix something that wasn't broken had served us well with the sheer quality of the produce, it was a tricky time convincing suppliers, producers and farmers to stick with us; back then an untested business concept with lofty ideals.
Today if you drive into Ripon from the A1, you'll see our building and fulfilment home. Our name is spelled out in six foot high letters. Remembering how we started out (in my upstairs 'bedroom office'), the site still feels to me enormous and a little unreal. It's been one hell of a journey to get to this point, but it wasn't all off our own bat.
Ten years ago this month, Farmison & Co received an almighty boost thanks to what is commonly known as the 'Supermarket horse meat scandal'. If you recall, horse DNA was found in numerous products labelled otherwise and found on certain supermarket shelves, with story after story exposing incompetence and negligence. It reflected precisely what we were saying at the time, that the meat supply chain was opaque and unfit for purpose, obscured by numerous steps from field to fork, with meat divvied up and packaged in vast anonymous factories. A race to the bottom in standards for pennies profit had led to a complete and utter abdication of responsibility, and, ultimately, horse meat entering the UK's human food supply chain.
In horror, searching for an alternative, many people found us at precisely that moment, and became Farmison & Co customers. Often this was because customers had lost the option of a traditional highstreet butchers, as many had closed down unable to compete with the low prices unleashed by the vulnerable disastrous food supply chains. Some of you who found us at that point in time still write to me after every update, and I am so grateful for the continued support and custom.
The horse meat scandal undoubtedly inspired a great deal of scrutiny from retailers into their supply chains at the time, but I wonder what reforms their supply chain, in the long term, have been introduced. I believe the answer is very little and that meat food supply chains remain as opaque and difficult to trace as it ever did. 'reputation management' - I would venture - was more important than addressing the fundamental wrongs of these systems.
Often, I'm met with the charge that it's all very easy for me to bash the supply chains from my position of safety in Ripon. I say, they've had ten years to win back trust whilst we in Ripon have been building something better.
Consumer trust and support, while a precious commodity for us, was something we've always had in large supply. As we have built our supply chain from scratch and ship direct to your kitchen, we benefited from cutting out several steps in the supply chain and more often than not, the farm was up the road. Even now we still pass customer compliments and feedback on to the farmer!
Economies of scale will undoubtedly change the complexion of our business in some regards, but I am confident we'll retain our watertight oversight of our supply chain. We can scan the product and know everything we need to know about that cut; whether that's breed, or dry-aging time, or farm etc.
Sadly, this is not quite as human as passing on compliments to the farmer, or when I overhear Farmison & Co's excellent customer care team describe the unique topography of Nidderdale and how that contributes to a wonderful steak. Perhaps in the future, it'll be a different valley, not so close to home, and one that my colleagues aren't so familiar with.
I'm thrilled that this month we roll out our product traceability standards, you will be able to scan a QR code with your smartphone on every package of meat bought from us. Simply put the camera to the code, and follow the link.
If it's a whole cut, you'll be able to see the farm through stunning videography, learn about the food miles, find information about the breed, and download exclusive recipes written by Jeff Baker specifically for that cut. In short, every customer will have complete oversight of where their food has come from. While still from within our network of farms there will be some exceptions (although still 100% traceable), such as sausages, burgers, or the Sauce Pan Ready range, which are traditionally a means to use up leftover trim and reduce waste.
I hope that for those who read and engage with my updates, it will put faces to names of many of our suppliers, producers and friends and show exactly what I mean as I describe the wonderful landscapes of Yorkshire. If I was to single just a couple of suppliers out for you to watch out for and to get a flavour of our operation in Ripon, I would say the Harrisons of Nook Farm and Ed and Lexi Stavely, both of whom are just up the road from us.
David and Carl Harrison have been supplying Farmison & Co from near on the beginning. They maintain a pedigree Galloway herd on the windswept tops above Arncliffe in Wharfedale, as well as sheep and cows closer to us at Grewelthorpe in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding National Beauty.
Ed and Lexi Staveley run a newer operation on the outskirts of Ripon, and, for me, are a case in point for why we should be optimistic for British farming. Their woodland pork represents a fantastic idea - the regeneration of woodlands and marginal land through the pig's natural furrowing and rooting - to give wonderful meat that's ethical, tasty, and unique.
This Farmison & Co traceability project is, I hope you will agree, an exciting new step for British food supply and something we are keen to further roll out as we welcome more farms and suppliers to our flourishing network.
I wish you all the best for the new year, and, as ever, if you have any thoughts or comments, do not hesitate to get in touch at [email protected]. I always make time to read your comments.
Founder & CEO of Farmison & Co