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Choosing local: Staff and student researchers put the spotlight on farm retail 

Posted 22 January

"Farm retail has received little specific attention in research which is surprising given the increasing consumer interest in where food comes from and in short supply chains."

Continuing our theme of “eating our way to a healthy planet”, Alastair Boot, Senior Lecturer in Retail Marketing and Management, turns attention to farm retail.  

The vision of Harper Adams University shows our concern for the sustainability of food chains.  This refers to all kinds of sustainability including the economic strength of farms and rural businesses.  In this context, there has been plenty of work done on the value to farmers of diversifying their businesses.  The options are numerous and include tourism, accommodation, rural leisure and farm retail.  The last of these, farm retail, has received little specific attention in research which is surprising given the increasing consumer interest in where food comes from and in short supply chains. Staff and students at Harper Adams University are addressing this shortfall. 

Before graduating in 2020, Hannah Ingham focussed her dissertation on what makes consumers loyal to farm shops.  After reviewing literature on the subject of loyalty, Hannah needed to see how that applied in the context of farm shops. To do this, she conducted two focus groups and an opinion survey. While these are common techniques used in dissertations, they are also new and very stretching for students – just what final year should feel like!  With the added insight of her own data, Hannah was able to conclude that the factors most influencing loyalty to farms shops are the quality of their products and consumers’ desire to support local businesses.  

I frequently ask students, “What is quality’?”  Hannah’s research did not look at this in detail, so the topic is being developed by another student, Georgina Glew.   

Georgina, currently in her final year, has been reviewing literature on the importance of local food in the marketing of farm shops.  She has found research from around the world debating the definition of local and more on the increasing importance of local to food consumers.  She is now planning the collection and analysis of her own data to find out the importance of local food specifically to farm shops. Georgina hopes that, whatever she finds, the answers can be of genuine use to farm shop owners in their plans for marketing and assortment. I believe they will be. 

Dr James Bell and I have both worked in food retail before becoming academics. We are using this experience to examine farm retail ourselves through the lens of research on the wider grocery retail industry.  

We are comparing the capabilities found to be essential for farmers when diversifying a farm business – for example entrepreneurship, marketing skill and planning – with those required in the wider grocery industry like stock management, assortment planning and customer skills.  We look forward to interviewing farm shop owners in person when travel restrictions are relaxed.  Our research could provide evidence of the capabilities that a farmer should consider necessary when considering diversification into farm retail. 

The dovetailing of undergraduate research and academics’ research is not uncommon.  Given the lack of research on-farm retail, it feels right that we are joining forces at Harper Adams to support the sustainability of rural businesses. As Georgina says, “The research is challenging but I am glad to be doing work that should provide original insight and be of genuine value to the industry." 

Read more about Alastair Boot 
 
Georgina Glew is a final year BSc (Hons) Agribusiness student.  

Hannah Ingham is a Commercial Graduate with ABP UK, having graduated from the BSc (Hons) Agri-food Marketing with Business programme.  

  

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