This summer, the four biggest UK supermarkets reported a fall in profits. This, it’s thought, is due to more punters adopting a ‘little and often’ approach to grocery shopping, swapping the big weekly shop for frequent visits to smaller, local stores.
Meanwhile, shops like Country Kitchen in Haslingfield are booming. Set up in April 2013 by seven local women, Country Kitchen is everything that’s good about local, independent shopping. Its pretty, forget-me- not blue shopfront is instantly inviting, and gives way to a wealth of quality products. Starting life as a deli, it now offers fresh food, from shiny olives, rustic loaves, farm- fresh eggs and meats, to home-made Greek- inspired traybakes. The fruit and veg is all seasonal and sourced locally, and there’s an excellent wine selection too. Meanwhile gift- hunters can browse a beautiful selection of locally-made jewellery, homeware, cushions and cards.
“We decided from the outset that you needed to be able to put a meal together in our shop from scratch,” says Liz, who first set up the shop. “You could easily put together a dinner party for ten and buy everything you needed here. And because we’re all cooks, we have a good idea of what’s needed.”
The premises belongs to Liz, who ran it for several years before the other ladies came on board. She explains: “I didn’t want to be working in the shop full-time, and a lot of the others felt that way but wanted to play a part. So that’s how the model came about.”
The ladies all live in neighbouring villages and have since become firm friends. “We had lots of meetings before we started. Nobody knew everyone, but everyone knew somebody,” says Liz. “We’re all from very different backgrounds so we each bring something different to the table.”
Jenny, whose background is in interior design, adds: “We’ve had a lot of laughs, and surprisingly no tears. All the men said, ‘My goodness, seven women – you’ll last five minutes! There’ll be rows and you’ll all fall out.’ There have been a few moments, but nothing like that. It’s been lovely.”
The ladies work in shifts, with one opening the shop and another closing, joined by a third working to cover the busy lunchtime period. It’s a flexible system, designed to fit around family life and other work commitments. Ever innovative, the ladies ran successful pop-up events at the shop over the summer with the likes of local indies Steak and Honour and Fired Up Pizza.
Jenny explains: “For the first one, Steak and Honour brought just 50 brioche buns and it was so popular they sold out in an hour. So the second time he brought over 100 buns plus three people to work with him – and he still sold out!”
It’s clear that Country Kitchen plays a key part in the local community, as Jenny confirms: “We have quite a lot of elderly people who live alone and come in to buy maybe two carrots, one potato and two slices of ham. Or a portion of traybake, which means they get home-made food for not a lot of money. We know lots of the locals, and we have a good lunchtime trade which is a very different demographic. Then late in the afternoon it’s people finishing work who are desperate for a bottle of wine!”
She continues: “The most important thing, we said from the outset, was that it had to be fun. I’d never worked in a shop in my life, so we all looked to Liz for guidance at the beginning.” Liz interjects: “And now they all tell me what to do!” “We were all aware that we weren’t going to make a fortune,” says Jenny, “but it’s actually worked out so much better than we ever imagined.”