FoodNI, supported by the NI Regional Food Programme, to host new Farm Shop Workshop

Michele Shirlow, Chief Executive, Food NI

As regular readers of this column will be well aware, Food NI runs specialist programmes designed to assist the growth of food and drink companies. We’ve assisted artisans and smaller companies to enhance professionalism and performance over the years as an essential element in our commitment to our most important industry. Its inspiring to watch entrepreneurs develop and gain new customers, especially in some of the specialist market programmes we co-design with InvestNI.

However, a new programme being developed with support from DAERA’s Northern Ireland Regional Food Programme, will help farm shops in particular to grow business sustainability. It’s a response to the impressive growth of the sector over the past few years. Typically, Northern Ireland has had very few farm shops, but this is a trend that has started to change.

The growth of farm shops has been an important influence in the development of artisan and smaller food and soft drink businesses in terms of sales, marketing and new product development. Many of our most successful processors began their business journey on the shelves of farm shops across the country. A number also started their own outlets to sell their products and those from other smaller enterprises.

Farm shops are now a thriving sector within retail and one that’s set to continue to grow strongly both in terms of their size, the products offered and people employed. They are also growing in terms of professionalism in retailing and customer service.

The coronavirus lockdown was, furthermore, an important influence due to the reluctance of shoppers to travel far and the concerns over the number of people in the bigger supermarkets. Small convenience shops, especially those linked to the farms, really did come into their own. And we’ve continued to see the sector grow in the number of shops and the size of outlets. Owners responded – and continue to do so – by investing in their business and in local food suppliers. They’ve become community hubs, a bit like the corner shops of another era.

Owners, in addition, have also expanded their role in terms of advising shoppers in food and in ways to cook and prepare local produce to ensure quality and taste.

In Food NI, we are keen to support the growth of this important sector because of the opportunities it offers to start-up, artisan and smaller businesses. So, we have developed an initiative specifically for farm shops. An expert workshop has been organised for 15th March to assist the growth of these community-based shops.

Participating owners and staff will be able to draw on the vast knowledge and experience of several experts. Julie Mills of Shrewd Foodie in Britain will provide practical advice, while Nigel Bogle of EPOS Systems, from Fermanagh, is an expert on the latest technology used for stock control and payments. He has provided technology to many of the leading farm shops here and in Britain that enables them to operate efficiently and profitably. They will be joined by Neal Kelly of the Henderson Group and FoodNI Board member, who will share his experience of retailing.

Julie established her Shrewd Foodie consultancy in Scotland on the back of her experience over more than 20 years in food retail and hospitality. Julie’s depth of knowledge on the commercial aspects of farm shop retail is unrivalled.

The workshop, in addition, will help smaller food entrepreneurs with information on what farm shops expect and how to do business successfully and farms thinking of diversifying into retail.

The event is open to all farm shop operators and smaller producers. For more information go to or to Eventbrite and search farm shop workshop.