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Sustain / Eat Somerset

Eat Somerset food distribution

Food distribution is a special challenge facing the local food sector. Eat Somerset worked in a number of ways to address this issue, including running a distribution workshop (details below) and developing a pilot distribution coordination project.

This page is mainly an archive of food distribution work undertaken by Eat Somerset during 2008 and 2009. A summary of findings from the food distribution mapping study can be downloaded here. Other useful case studies can be found on a separate page.

Making Local Food Work

People interested in wider sustainable food distribution issues, for the local and community enterprise sector, may be interested in the Making Local Food Work programme. Sustain (of which Eat Somerset is a project) is a partner in this major Lottery-funded programme, to help commuinity enterprises become more sustainable.

Full details of the programme can be found at

Details of one of the programme strands, Food Supply & Distribution, can be found at:

This strand, coordinated by Sustain, is working with projects around England to increase and improve the supply and distribution of local, sustainable food. The strand is made up of the following elements:

  • Local food distribution hubs
  • A community food centre
  • Supply chain brokerage
  • A learning programme

If you would like to find out more about the Food Supply & Distribution strand of the Making Local Food Work programme, please contact Sustain project officer Clare Horrell, at:

Distribution Workshop
Notes of the meeting held at Puxton Park, 13 March 2008

The Eat Somerset project ran a workshop with producers and distributors on local food distribution. A survey of distributors and producers was also undertaken to build a database of local food distributors in the area. This was used to try to link journeys between producers and distributors.

  • Adam Stratton   Bath District Farmers & R W Stratton
  • Jeremy Padfield  Bath District Farmers
  • Claire Milne  Bristol Food Links
  • Mark Oughtred (speaker)  Bristol Fruit Sales
  • Erika Smith  Castley Couriers
  • Stephen Heptinstall  Cotleigh Brewery
  • Toni Reed (part)  Crabtree & Evelyn
  • Phil Lee  Essential Trading
  • Andy Jeffery   Farrington Farm Shop
  • Mark Druitt  G & S Cossey
  • Clive Wells  Hobbs House Bakery
  • Nigel Boutland  Quality Foods
  • Robert Imlach  Robert's Sauces
  • Linda Hull  Somerset Community Food
  • Roger White (speaker)  Somerset Local Food Direct
  • Christina Ballinger  Somerset Organic Link
  • Nick Cork  South West Food & Drink
  • Alison Belshaw  Sustain (Eat Somerset Project)
  • Clare Horrell  Sustain
  • Cordelia Rowlatt  Sustain (Eat Somerset Project)
  • Tim Roberts  Tim  Roberts International Agriculture
  • Henry Brown  Westley Consulting
  • Michael Merelie  YHA England & Wales 

Presentation: Mark Oughtred Bristol Fruit Sales (Cornwall)

The Business
Head Office in Bristol 250 employees, Bodmin depot employs 37. Also depots in Cardiff and Paignton. Each depot has its own transport links.  Customers include Spar, Costcutters, food service and retail outlets.  Quality and reliability are primary concerns, not price.

Distibution in Cornwall
Bodmin 10 temperature controlled vehicles (7 lorries and 3 vans). Trunker lorry from Bristol for daily for imported goods. 14 routes to serve Cornwall 5pm & 12am-3am so goods arrive in the morning. Roads clearer at night. Multitask for efficiency. Plan drop  off route around visiting farmers so they can drop off and pick up on the same route. Local producers sometimes use their own vehicles to drop off at the depot. Quality control checked. Cooling fridges. Send back stuff below par. Most Cornish produce stays in Cornwall. Having internal vehicles means they have control over their fleet.  All local growers are audited to British Retail Consortium (BRC) standard. Local farmers visited annually and they must fill out a self assessment audit form. They receive three reminders and if they've not completed form by then they are no longer used (doesn't usually come to this). Good communication is essential– daily contact with farmers to discuss market prices and orders. Carrots, Potatoes, mushrooms etc are same price as about 10 years ago, but on-costs have increased significantly, especially fuel prices.

Developing a branding scheme that will launch soon in Cornwall. Called Grow Fair Pride of Cornwall. To denote quality, consistency and price. BFS knows break even point of all growers and they pay above the break even point (unlike supermarkets). Invoices include details of farm produce has come from – traceability. Around 10% of produce is local although this changes seasonally.


  • Fuel prices effect on customer price and localness.  Research into savings on fuel if selling locally.  BFS wants good relationships – that's a priority.
  • Would there be a premium on fair-trade mark over the localness.  Will this make local stuff less competitive with goods flown in from, say, Spain?  It will cost more than non-labelled stuff.
  • Will packaging be supplied to growers?  Farmers buy packaging at cost and farmers get paid a higher price to cover the cost of packaging.  
  • What % wastage is there?  Less than half a percent.
  • How many pickup points and customers and how full are the vehicles?  10 dropoffs?  How full? No figures, but will become more important as the price of fuel goes up.
  • What will happen if supermarkets pay more?  Will BFS be priced out of the market?  Relationships with farmer the most important issue, so hopefully will retain farmer loyalty.
  • Why do farmers sell to supermarkets? The farmer is producing more than BFS can buy and he wants to spread his risk. However, some supermarkets tie farmers in as sole buyer.
  • Why did BFS want a new brand?  To emphasise the localness and the quality. 

Roger White, Somerset Local Food Direct
Roger used to be a farmer and started off work on local food through anger, when farmer demos were regular.  He was involved early on with Farmers' markets - these allowed farmers to meet the end customer. 

Somerset Local Food Direct serve local producers by allowing them put their produce on the SLFD website.  The producer has control over the retail price of their product.  Customers look on the website and make a decision.  SLFD has a warehouse (empty).  Weekly batch system.  Supermarkets sell an easy image.  With SLFD customers need to plan ahead for their meals.  Deadline for ordering is 8am Tuesday morning.  Most orders come in between 5pm Monday and 8am Tuesday.  Producers log on Tuesday morning to see what their order is and they must get their produce into the warehouse by Wednesday morning – some producers share their deliveries into the depot. Thursday drivers with own vans come in to load up. Same on Friday.  Troubleshooting and quality is key.   Practicalities are quite difficult because often dealing with small problems such as not quite enough of one product delivered so have to try and source quickly to satisfy customer orders.

The future
They don't want to have a bigger depot.  Suspects that economics will change the nature of distribution.  Smaller hubs may be more efficient in the future.  Small profit of around 2% on turnover. Looking for partners to develop small hubs.

  • Why don't they want to make a profit?  They are too sympathetic with the farmers.  They are not used to the idea of making a profit – this impedes their pursuit of profit.  Belief that customers must get value for money and farmers deserve a good price.  
  • How do you measure success? At the start there was a problem finding suppliers, now there are plenty.  They have created a market. 
  • Could they make a profit if they could get more customers?  Overheads stay the same. They could probably increase the customer base.
  • From distribution terms, BFS sounds more efficient because they pick up and drop off.  SLFD has very local producers, and the producers often share transport, and the market happens on the same day, and Roger makes a trip and picks up at the same time each week.  The producers are not tied in at all, they are free agents, so it must work for everyone.
  • Shopping habits: Consumer behaviour is unlikely to change, so the market may be limited.  Could deliveries be more often?  Could the farmers take more responsibility for making sure stuff arrives?  SLFD is a market for small producers, who couldn't supply to supermarkets or wholesalers. 

Mapping Exercise
Distributors had the opportunity to plot their routes on maps provided, subsequently used to inform Eat Somerset's work and produce an information sheet on distribution for producers at the event. Other attendees not involved in distribution were asked to write down issues they face and these were to be themed and used in the afternoon discussions.

Afternoon Workshops
Themes from the post-it note exercise came up as:

  1. New Markets
  2. Staff training / customer relations
  3. Logistics / Efficiency

1. New Markets and distribution to them

Problem Solution Partners
Finding right distributor (different requirements for short and long shelf life) Links between producers and distributors SOL - Robert's Sauces
Eat Somerset
Finding forum for vendors and buyers e.g. Meet the Buyers More meet the buyers events. A 'meet the buyer' website Eat Somerset
Bristol Food Links
Individual producer finds it difficult to get into new markets Producers working together e.g. co-op  
Delivery requirements of buyer e.g. daily delivery Find out about other distribution networks Other distributors
Eat Somerset
15 - 20% of retail price is absorbed in distribution    
Internet distribution scheme 'I need a delivery' website Couriers, distributors, producers, wholesalers
Directory Make it easier to search Eat Somerset


  1. Eat Somerset and Bristol Food Links to discuss brokerage options
  2. Produce list of food outlets in Bristol and Bath including co-ops
  3. Directory – web-based and searchable
  4. Distribution survey – when and where deliveries are being made and spare capacity. Small suppliers included. Develop database.

2. Staff Training / Customer relations

Issues highlighted:

  • Drivers bring back cash. Cash transfer to supplier needs to be quick and accurate
  • Beet delivery needs physically strong drivers to carry barrels into cellars. Health & safety concerns!
  • It would be difficult to train the drivers to take on extra loads. It is hard enough to train them properly just to do beer.
  • A delivery failure can ruin our relationship with the customer. Will a third party delivery driver remember to bring back my empties (barrels)?
  1. Mistakes – reducing wastage, paid on delivery, signed for
  2. Driver & vehicle – billboard & 'face of business'; 
  3. YHA have problem with trying to source local on the scale they need


  • Training and logistics and equipment
  • Map point software optimises the route
  • Each driver has a sheet of their route with a delivery schedule, satnav (input own postcodes) and phone
  • If driver starts new round they shadow for 2 weeks before doing it on their own
  • Employees, uniform, clean vehicles
  • Goods already paid for so no cash handling
  • Every driver stays with their own van
  • Or self-employed drivers set their own rounds – downside is less influence on how the van looks. Plus side is motivation to promote it because it helps them
  • Some goods have to be signed for

3. Logistics / Efficiency


  • Mail order problems with weight etc, when starting with small number of orders
  • Mail order – our products are small but heavy so post (Royal Mail) is not an option, Insufficient volume to attract a reasonable cost via courier per parcel
  • Looking for distribution companies that want bolt on products to their main sales
  • Would a lorry courier service of collecting and delivering be more efficient?
  • Many suppliers (not here today) deliver to buyers with vans. Need to find out about them and their routes
  • Looking for other companies distributing to local Waitroses
  • How do you maximise utilisation of warehouse and transport capacity?
  • Would a physical Bristol food hub for sharing resources and creating economies of scale be useful for Somerset / SW distributors and producers?
  • Looking beyond just 'local' to sustainability more generally (oil prices effect production / processing as well as just transport costs!)
  • Distribution to co-ops: if you do this already, what are the issues; if you did do this, why did you stop?

Distribution Hubs
Only two producers in group, and they both had products whose shelf life was short and therefore they did not think that a local food distribution hub would work for them. They couldn't really see how it would add value for them and their top concern was to make sure that their customers receive their products when they are at their best. Concern about whether they could be sure what happened if their products were stored and delivered via a distribution hub. There was talk however of the value of local food hubs in the context of getting local food into supermarkets. Supermarkets are not interested in dealing with small suppliers on an individual basis, but if a hub for local food is created, supermarkets are more likely to be interested in dealing with such a hub. ASDA is already developing a relationship with such a local food hub in the North and sees this as the way forward in getting local food into their shops.
Increasing efficiency of distribution
The main issue was how to make distribution more efficient. They are aware that a lot of the time their vans are travelling empty, but the issue is how do they find/make contact with other local suppliers (not necessarily just food suppliers but any small suppliers) to co-ordinate joint distribution and use their vehicles more efficiently. It was felt that it would be really useful if there was some sort of local mapping service that suppliers could access to tap into information about other suppliers in their area that they might be able to work with to reduce distribution costs.
Using third party distribution
Erika Smith talked through how her courier system works and how she manages her couriers so that they are working at the highest possible capacity. It was apparent that achieving high capacity involves a lot of work and there was much discussion as to whether using third party suppliers might actually be more cost effective for small suppliers than running their own vehicles and struggling to keep them full.
Food Co-ops
Linda Hull asked about what criteria local suppliers would apply to getting involved with food co-ops. The suppliers in the group were happy to supply co-ops and there was discussion over whether links to co-ops could be made via  their existing customers e.g. food co-ops could pick up produce from a local shop that is already a customer of a local supplier. It was acknowledged however that using local shops as pick up points for co-ops was a difficult relationship to manage but it was felt that anywhere where these sorts of "mini hubs" could be created should be investigated and promoted.
As a result of this meeting the following action will be carried out by the Eat Somerset Project:

  • Revise local food directory currently on Sustain website to a directory that can be easily searched for particular products;
  • Carry out a survey of local producers / distributors on distribution rounds. The information from this survey will be compiled into a database and shared with those at the meeting and other interested parties;
  • A directory will be compiled for producers on local shops and caterers that are interested in sourcing local produce.

Other information on post-its for information
Website: International Farm Management Assn. (meet every 2 years) More info available from Tim Roberts.

Alison Belshaw
Eat Somerset Project Officer
19 March 2008

Eat Somerset: From 2006 to 2009 Sustain co-ordinated a food chain project in south west England that worked to increase trading between producer groups in and around Somerset and independent food retailers in the county, and create new markets in Bristol and Bath.

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