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
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,
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
Founder & CEO of Farmison & Co