Public being 'hoodwinked' by mis-named farm shops
Shoppers in the South West are being misled about the source of their food by a growing number of businesses masquerading as local "farm shops", according to Westcountry business leaders.
Regional representatives of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) have called for a shake-up of local planning guidelines to prevent the public from being "hoodwinked".
They say that a raft of new developers are exploiting planning guidelines to give new businesses a veneer of authenticity when they are little more than "fruit and veg warehouses".
Pete Ashton, a South West representative of the FSB, said the only way to prevent the exploitation is to bring in guidance for planners.
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"The public is being shafted," he said. "We currently have a system where you pick up something that says 'Made in Devon' when it is actually made in Dundee.
"There should be far tighter restrictions about what should be constituted as local."
Richard Haddock, who runs Churston Farm Shop, near Brixham, said he arranged his own guidelines with planners prior to building his farm shop.
"The description 'farm shop' should mean people are being offered distinctive and local produce but all too often they are walking into an industrial building to be offered exactly what they could find at Sainsburys or Tesco – and probably cheaper," he said.
"Our own planning conditions here are pretty strict but we are happy to abide by them because they distinguish us from run-of-the-mill shops and customers know they can buy with confidence."
Due to the planning restrictions in place, 55% of what the farm shop sells is from South Hams, and 35% from wider Devon, Cornwall and the rest of the UK.
But Mr Haddock said the increasing amount of shoppers turning away from supermarkets to support the local economy are simply being offered goods that they would find on the shelves of the superstores anyway.
"The fact that genuine farm shops offer a real alternative to supermarket shopping is what is behind the steady increase in sales we are seeing here and which is being experienced right across the sector," he continued.
"But at the moment there are people who are riding on our coat tails, opening up warehouses described as 'farm shops' but which are nothing of the kind, apart from perhaps selling a few pots of jam from a local maker. Planners have to realise the importance to the local economy of a genuine local farm shop and that farm shops are an emerging, high value retail sector which are doing a good job for customers and suppliers alike. The last thing we want is for the farm shop brand to be watered down by developments which are third-rate supermarkets in all but name."