Leaving no one behind: small producers in the East of England

The co-op has just showcased ten of them women producers included in its Sourced Locally initiative

A recent study shows that women account for 30% of the food and drink manufacturing workforce in the UK. East of England Co-operative is determined that both small producers – and the women involved – aren’t left behind.

In 2007, the society began working with suppliers across Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk to bring local products to customers in the region. In June, the society is celebrated 10 years of Sourced Locally by showcasing ten of its women producers.

All are deeply involved in their businesses, from managing farms to leading their own companies and creating new products – and all have their produce stocked in East of England Co-op food stores as part of the Sourced Locally initiative.

Rebecca Miles runs Lane Farm near Woodbridge in Suffolk with her parents, Sue and Ian Whitehead. The farm produces a range of pork products from home-reared pigs on site and has been part of the Sourced Locally initiative since it began.

“The Co-op has always been supportive of me as a young person in the industry and is always looking to learn more about us to help promote our brand and our products,” says Rebecca.

For her, gender has never been a barrier within the industry – she started out herself after being encouraged by another woman studying agriculture.

Her mother, Sue, believes the relationship with the co-op is extremely positive and helps small businesses like theirs in a number of ways.  

“The impact East of England has on local business is really fantastic. Over 200 local producers are growing because of their support and their ethos is completely centred around this commitment to local produce.”

Lane Farm won East of England’s Producer of the Year award in 2014, and Sue believes it helped their sales “as the recognition this brings speaks for itself”.

“It’s so important that local suppliers receive this support and promotion and I think consumers want this choice,” she adds. “More people want to know where their food comes from, and schemes like Sourced Locally allow this. By continuing to buy local, people are creating their own food security – support your local farms and there will always be food on the shelves.”

She has witnessed a real change in the farming industry over the years; “Even as recently as twenty years ago there were hardly any women running farms, but all roles are so accessible now and we work with a number of local businesswomen who are running successful farms.

“The food industry is a good place to be, we will always need to eat. The rewards of seeing people enjoying your produce make it all worthwhile.”

The Sourced Locally Fortnight – an annual event is held to encourage shoppers to support local businesses by making one swap in their basket for something local – took place

This year sales of local produce rose £972,050 during the two weeks, an increase of 5.9% on last year.

“The Sourced Locally initiative has gone from strength to strength over the past ten years and we are proud to be keeping money in our regional economy and improving choice for our customers while supporting local producers,” said Roger Grosvenor, joint chief executive at the East of England Co-op.

Click here to read more about how co-ops make sure no one is left behind