Updated 22nd November 2023 Following this year’s Autumn Statement, what do the Chancellor’s announcements mean for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses? To find out how the…
Originally founded by Roger and Jo Mounce more than 30 years ago, Strawberry Fields is now run by their son, Adam and his wife, Laura. Recently named Large Farm Shop of the Year at this year’s Farm Retail Awards, we sat down with Laura to find out how the family-run farm shop has grown from a pick your own strawberry field to the popular destination it has become today.
About Strawberry Fields
It all started in 1991 when Jo Mounce had the idea to start growing strawberries on a two-acre patch of land outside Lifton. Despite locals saying, “it won’t work, you can’t grow strawberries here,” Jo had a great crop the first year and the strawberry pick your own fields were open to the public. With a little weigh and pay caravan, locals would pick their own strawberries before going into the caravan to weigh their buckets and pay.
As popularity grew for strawberry picking, the family also displayed an old-fashioned barrow with an honest box outside the family home full of home grown produce, Adam’s free-range eggs and of course, strawberries! The barrow can still be seen in the farm shop today.
In 1997, the farm shop land was purchased and when the farming sector was being challenged with foot and mouth disease in 2001, the Mounce family looked to diversify by putting planning in for the farm shop. Lifton Farm Shop was built and opened in 2002 and since then has grown year-on-year, with extensions being added in 2006, 2009, and 2019, with the restaurant being revamped in 2022.
Since the farm shop was built, a function suite has been added to host events and to accommodate for more covers in the restaurant. Strawberry Fields has become well known for seasonal events including Pick Your Own Tulips and The Baby Lamb Experience. (You can find details of their events here.)
Despite expansion, the family have ensured they remain true to their original farming activities and core values with traditional family recipes and niche homemade products being key to the restaurant and farm shop. When looking at where to expand, Laura says “It’s looking at what works but it’s also been very customer led as well…we listen to our customers a lot.” The events that have been introduced then have a knock-on effect on the restaurant, but Laura says, “it’s also about being quite niche, especially with our products in the shop. For example, you can’t purchase our saffron bun from anywhere else. Keeping things interesting for both customers and staff is really important.”
A production area has recently been added to the back of the bakery, providing more space and improving efficiency. “With wages and electricity only going one way we knew we needed better facilities to make our products more efficiently to ultimately save money” explains Laura.
In addition to the farm shop, the family bought nearby Wooladon Estate in 2017 which they let out as holiday cottages before becoming a wedding venue.
500-kilowatt solar panels were installed to power the ovens and farm shop but not stopping there, a 500-kilowatt wind turbine was added in 2014. However, as the shop became busier, the need for electric increased and another 150 kilowatts was added to the solar panels. Strawberry Fields have now returned to being 100% self-sufficient.
“Although it was a huge investment in 2014, if we had to pay the market price for electric at the moment, we’d be struggling” comments Laura.
Aside from providing energy for the farm shop and restaurant, the wind turbine and solar panels also provide electricity for the farm shop’s four electric car chargers.
The supply chain at Strawberry Fields is short with produce grown on the farm being sold in the farm shop and used in the restaurant. “We are the producers and sellers. There’s no middleman with the things that we do. We have our own Ruby Red cattle, so all that beef goes through the butchery and then into pasties, pies and cottage pies, any ready meals, and in the restaurant as well” explains Laura.
Fresh breads and bakes are made daily and in addition to strawberries, a range of vegetables are grown including leeks, cabbages, cauliflowers, carrots beetroot and broad beans. “They get harvested seven days a week and then come into the shop and restaurant every day. What’s left over from the day before also goes into the restaurant to be used, so the whole model works quite well” explains Laura.
Overcoming some of the challenges
With the farm shop staying open during the pandemic, and the supply chain being so short, the team were able to continue producing on site. Despite the shop being extremely busy during those first couple of weeks, when the first lockdown was announced, it went quiet.
Within four days, an online shop had been set up (having worked overnight taking pictures and getting them uploaded to the website) and whilst the restaurant team packed, three or four vans were on the road every day delivering.
“Our biggest challenge has been in the last year or so, since the war in Ukraine and increasing prices of everything from packaging to wages” says Laura.
“Our overheads have increased and we’ve got to put the price of a cup of coffee up to compensate for that. But it’s how far we can push that to go in line with this. We’ve had to look at a lot of ways that we can be more efficient, making bigger batches of things and cutting out products that take too long to make. It’s just working smarter really.”
“Our biggest achievement is probably the growth we’ve had in the last four years or so. Despite Covid-19 and the restaurant being shut for months, we’ve still had good growth even being closed year-on-year. If we had stayed the same and we hadn’t invested, I don’t think we would be growing year-on-year. But because we invest, keep going and doing new things, we need that growth, but it’s nice to see that we have got that.
At the minute we are up, so that’s good. We just keep going, chipping away at everything and keep things interesting.”
What's next for Strawberry Fields?
With events growing rapidly and the impact they have on the farm shop and restaurant, Strawberry Fields is only getting busier! Although in the early stages, Wooladon Estate is another string to the bow which is growing rapidly as a wedding venue. But that’s not all. “We are set up in terms of facilities now to grow the strawberry field’s range so there’s much more potential in the products that we can make ourselves” explains Laura.
For more information on Strawberry Fields, click here.
PKF Francis Clark
“We’ve been working with PKF Francis Clark for several years and Justin is fantastic. We couldn’t ask for a better accountant. He’s always on the end of the phone if you need him for something. If he can’t answer it, there’s always somebody there that he’ll draw on to answer a question.”
Talk to one of our advisers now and see what we could do for your business.