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Herefordshire’s food and drink sold in over 50 countries around the world – yet many UK buyers think it’s still made in Hertfordshire!

Herefordshire’s food and drink sold in over 50 countries around the world – yet many UK buyers think it’s still made in Hertfordshire!

Taste The Marches speaks to small and large producers about some of the challenges selling their food and drink outside of Herefordshire.

Despite Herefordshire being one of the most important food and drink counties in the UK, producers regularly have to explain that their products are not made in Hertfordshire.

The relatively remote location of the county is often confused with Hertfordshire, just 24 miles from Central London. Food retailers, restaurants and bars in the capital are often confused when they realise that a visit to a Herefordshire farm or producer is in fact over 150 miles away.

Not kidding – Julie & John Joseph really are based 150 miles from London!

“Once a month I get people confused where Herefordshire is and want to pop up for the day to taste our ciders, yet we get hundreds from all over the world who know very well where Herefordshire is,” explains Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider & Perry. Dubbed ‘The Cathedral Line’, the return train journey from London to Hereford would take over six hours.

Julie Joseph of Trecorras Farm, which recently introduced its new goat charcuterie range to restaurant owners in the Tower of London at an event to launch the ‘Lebey’ eating out guide, said people understand better when she explains that her farm is near Ross-on-Wye.

Perfect Match – After introducing their granny as the creator of Tigg’s sauces, Sam and Jacob have now given the brand a more generic feel along with a purposeful strapline to choose the salad dressing you love

“We border Wales,” is often the answer that Tigg’s producer Jacob James gives to his retail customers when they confuse Hertfordshire with Herefordshire. “This can draw some puzzled looks,” explains Jacob, who produces Tigg’s salad dressings and sauces with his brother Sam at Broadfield Court in Bodenham.

“For people to visit us it isn’t exactly around the corner and most people think that everything west of the M5 is basically Wales. People just don’t realise how big Herefordshire is,” says Will Chase of Williams Chase Distillery. But, he says: “Nobody will ever tell me there is any disadvantage in promoting Herefordshire. We always stay very true to our Herefordshire farming heritage in making products with real provenance that consumers love.”

We’re British and proud of it. But we’re really really proud of Herefordshire, says William Chase

Chase says Herefordshire’s location and the fact that everything is grown, fermented, distilled and bottled on a single estate, can give Herefordshire products a real point of difference and a very good marketing story.

“I hate twee marketing stories, but unfortunately we are in a space in the market where it is full of them. We really try and communicate our uncompromising approach to everything we do and the real provenance we actually have, and this is sometimes difficult to really get across against some of the fog created by masses of ‘craft’ producers. They aren’t even producers, they just buy in spirits from big industrial plants and stick a fancy label on it and name it after a town,” Chase said.

Getting ahead at the Tower of London: Tom Oliver & Julie Joseph were up at the crack of dawn to exhibit their Herefordshire produce at the launch of the Lebey eating out guide

Craft cider makers, Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider & Perry and James Marsden of Gregg’s Pit, agree. Both say the challenge is providing products with a real point of difference for high-end London restaurants and bars. Oliver, whose bottle-conditioned cider and single variety perry sells at Michelin Star Fera restaurant in Claridge’s as well as other top London restaurants, says he deliberately does not sell sparkling cider in London because it gets him away from the ‘mass market’. Yet, Oliver says, his customers in the US genuinely feel that cider ‘really is sparkling’.

Apple county: ‘no clever chemistry’ or watered down cider at Gregg’s Pit

Marsden says: “Our cider is 100% fresh pressed juice from named varieties, so we’re not dependent on clever chemistry, or dilution with water to achieve a consistent (and boring!) product range each year.” Both Oliver’s Cider and Gregg’s Pit are distributed across London by Felix Nash of The Fine Cider Company who points out that some mass-market ciders are only made with 35% apple juice. Nash and Oliver showcased Herefordshire cider brands at the Lebey Guide event at the Tower of London, which drew in sales and greater awareness of Herefordshire’s famous craft cider among chefs and restaurants.

It’s only the real deal for REAL AL who distributes both traditional and contemporary branded cider from her beloved Herefordshire across the UK

Herefordshire-based beer and cider distributor Alice Churchward, founder of the Real AL Company, says that in London, “people love the fact we’re bridging the gap between the rural countryside and one of the busiest cities in the world.” However, she says, craft cider is a rapidly expanding category so ‘contemporary’ branding could be the key to the future success of new craft cider brands.

She said: “Contemporary cider makers are coming onto the scene with products that are more accessible, easier drinking and better branded, such as Seacider in Ditchling and Turners in Kent.” Churchward advises those looking to source a distributor to choose a good ambassador for your brand, “a friendly face who you can feel confident to work with and who has built their reputation both offline and online”. The Real AL Company also hosts pop-up restaurants such as the recent Cider Pig event, which showcased pork with cider tastings to key clients.

Dragon sha-slayer: Jo Hilditch refused offers in BBC’s Dragons’ Den and made her own huge success of her British Cassis brand

Herefordshire’s location and stiff competition from mass-produced brands aren’t the only challenges facing producers in this county. Some artisans say it’s so difficult to make deliveries around London, to sit in hours of traffic, to host customer tastings and then return to Herefordshire all in a day that the only solution is to find a distributor. “You have to have the patience of a saint and the energy of a herd of antelope for this,” says Tom Oliver, who speaks for many Herefordshire producers when he says: “It’s soul destroying!”

Other artisan producers looking to expand their sales to markets beyond Herefordshire say the sauce, charcuterie and alcohol markets have become so competitive that it is a struggle to even find good distributors, or they have been forced to drastically change their artisan labels to designs with a more general appeal. However, working with a distributor means forfeiting essential profit margins and, if you want to sell outside the local area, you may have to change your artisan-style label and packaging.

To make her brand’s name on the world stage, Jo Hilditch of British Cassis says she found she had to be “one thing or the other”. Hilditch, who famously took her fledgling British Cassis brand to TV’s Dragons’ Den then walked away from an investment offer, said the BBC show was the catalyst for turning her British Cassis brand from a spirit she sold in local markets and farm shops into the international brand it is today.

After significant investment designing a new label, bottle shape and size, along with new packaging and a glitzy new website, Hilditch brought in two sales people and new distributing partners. She now sells her British Cassis brand in Australia, the Cayman Islands, Europe and, soon-to-be, Canada and China. Fortnum & Mason sell this as an own-label as ‘English Cassis’ but proudly announce Jo Hilditch makes it in Herefordshire.

See our back label on the shelves in M&S: Castle Brook sparkling wine label proudly states it is made in Herefordshire

When it comes to an artisan approach or a bigger goal for international expansion, Hilditch says, “you have to be one thing or the other,” with your branding. Some advice she gives to other spirits brands is to choose your on-trade distributor wisely and give them as much information about your product as possible.

“Some distributors don’t do as much for you as they say they will because they have so many brands in their portfolio,” she says. Hilditch also added a White Heron logo on the label of British Cassis to reinforce the fact her spirit is made at her family farm of the same name. This was another move by Hilditch to stand out on-shelf and to emulate what vodka owners such as ‘Grey Goose’ do.

While the word British is more prominent than Herefordshire on the label of British Cassis, Hilditch insists it is important to demonstrate that her product is British. This is also being reflected in food products such as Tigg’s who have had to evolve from their former ‘Granny Tigg’s’ artisan-style labelling to a more generic label that appeals to a wider market. The Tigg’s brand has undergone a recent makeover and as well as securing distributors, Jacob and Sam James have had to think outside the bottle when it comes to marketing. Their new labels now carry the words ‘Perfect Match’ to encourage more food pairing.

William Chase is so proud of Herefordshire, even the wording on his trucks operating on his farm in Herefordshire remind visitors that they’re definitely in Herefordshire, not Hertfordshire

“To be successful we needed to increase our presence and stockists nationally. We tweaked our brand to a play on dating amongst food, in which different all-purpose sauces and dressings might find their match with different foods as well as different customers,” says Jacob. “There just isn’t space for dozens of sauces and dressings to flourish and therefore we wanted to bring that something different to the customer to enable us to stand out. To do that we thought of adding our personalities as well as a bit of fun.”

While some Herefordshire food brands have had to change to generic branding to increase sales, Castle Brook Vineyard found that despite redesigning their Chinn-Chinn sparkling wine label to a more classic design, they were still able to promote Herefordshire on the label. Supermarket chain M&S decided to stock the newly designed Castle Brook sparkling wine but has kept the original back label, which includes the Chinn family’s Herefordshire story.

London distributor Felix Nash & cider maker Tom Oliver in London flying the Herefordshire cider flag

“We don’t have an established presence in restaurants and bars,” says wine producer Chris Chinn and because of the volume we produce it’s never going to be a huge business, so we have largely relied on friends and associates to grow organically to a local audience. But that said, we did redesign the front label to a more classic sparkling wine design and it was very well received.”

The Chinn’s ‘Wye Valley’ brand of asparagus and blueberries, is largely kept with its original Herefordshire labelling when it sells outside Herefordshire in wholesalers, restaurants, delis, farm shops and greengrocers. One hundred per cent of the asparagus that M&S sells is by the Chinn family and the supermarket chain notes that it is made by ‘Wye Valley’.

Traditional cider making at Gregg’s Pit – the kind of artisan activity you’d find 3 hours out of London, not 20 minutes away!

As Herefordshire’s entrepreneurial farmers continue to diversify into successful, national food and drink brands, those who have established their brands and grown into bigger companies are now finding other challenges. Trecorras Farm has found that less London chefs than they thought have actually cooked with kid goat meat. However, when they do stock goat from Trecorras, London restaurants such as The Thomas Cubitt in Knightsbridge and Belgravia include the words ‘Kid Goat Meat from Trecorras Farm, Herefordshire,’ on their menus.

Tiggy with it: brothers Sam and Jacob have found their perfect match as business partners in their successful dressing business

Will Chase who diversified from potato farming into Tyrell’s Crisps before starting Williams Chase gin, vodka and whisky, says: “Hiring for specific roles can sometimes be difficult when we are so heavy on innovative design and marketing. They tend to be roles more associated with the big cities than rural Herefordshire!” Chase, who champions his single estate spirits in 50 countries around the world, and is currently flying the Herefordshire flag in India, says: “I feel privileged to be able to say that I grew up in Herefordshire and it is fantastic to be able to promote Herefordshire in some of the finest bars, hotels and restaurants across the globe.”

As one of the largest food and drink-producing counties in the UK, Herefordshire is only set to grow as a serious food destination. Hilditch of British Cassis and Chinn of Castle Brook Vineyard believe that growing tourism to the Hay Festival, Symonds Yat, the Brecon Beacons and the Wye Valley, as well as a new university, will only raise awareness of the true location of Herefordshire on the UK map.

Mr Pheasant’s bird-ict: Hertfordshire, what a notion!

Herefordshire’s producers say they are more than happy to explain to their customers where Herefordshire is, even if they do get quizzical looks. And for those about to promote their products outside Herefordshire, Will Chase gives his words of wisdom to artisan producers looking for sales further afield. “We always look to promote Herefordshire on the world stage and in our county we have so much to be proud of. Our use of Herefordshire and British goes very much hand-in-hand, and for me I wouldn’t dream of changing this.”



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