Richard Fryers is harnessing the potential of artisan food producers here to bring a ‘wow factor’ to nurture even greater success for one of Northern Ireland’s leading garden centres.
Mr Fryers, managing director of the popular Coleman’s at Templepatrick, is planting a new future for the business by creating Northern Ireland’s first destination garden centre that includes what is probably one of the UK’s biggest farm shops. The new shop is set up open this weekend.
He’s already signed up many of our most successful artisan food and drink producers and is set to open the biggest showcase of the best local produce. “We are providing a spectacular presentation of our wonderful food and really giving the products the showcase they so richly deserve,” he explains.
“We have plenty of space– over 4,000 sq ft– for a wide variety of the excellent food and drink that’s now readily available here. We want to broadcast the products which underpin Northern Ireland’s amazing success in gaining the ‘World’s Best Food Destination’ title in last November’s World Travel Trade Awards.
“We should be shouting this from the rooftops, showing our pride in the products and the people making them with such dedication, talent and commitment to stunning flavours.
“This is what we intend to promote actively and professionally in the new farm shop here. Local food and drink will have pride of place. And our staff will be doing their utmost to encourage shoppers to sample and buy more of our food. We will offer shoppers superb food and a great day out at Templepatrick,” he says.
The shop, he continues, “offers a genuine food destination, a one-stop-shop, for local people, other shoppers and visitors”. It’s part of a £5 million expansion at the extensive garden centre and nursery, which is located just outside the village on the road to the M2 motorway. A vast car park makes life easier for shoppers, especially those wishing to purchase products such as fresh meat in volume.
“This is a very significant development for us and one which will offer tremendous opportunities for a very broad range of local producers. Farm shops within garden centres is now an important trend within the industry in Britain,” he says.
“I believe that we are the first to develop such an extensive facility for local food in Northern Ireland,” he adds. “It will support the local industry and help smaller producers in particular to grow sales by introducing them to a much wider base of potential customers.”
The farm shop has its own bakery, butchery counter and fishmongers in a purpose-built extension to the existing garden centre, which also includes a 200-seat restaurant with an enticing menu of meals and snacks created from locally sourced ingredients.
He’s also linked up with leading local promotion body Food NI to increase contacts with local artisans. Food NI supported the project by arranging a ‘meet the producer’ evening at which over 30 smaller companies sampled and sold their food and drink to hundreds of the centre’s regular customers.
The new food destination, according Mr Fryers, has been modelled on the success of the Barton Grange Garden Centre, Farm Shop and Cook Shop near Preston in Lancashire. “We’ve carried out extensive research with industry bodies such as the UK Guild of Fine Food which has indicated the developing trend towards farm shops as a much wider shopping experience,” he continues.
Mr Fryers has met management at Barton Grange and recently appointed farm shop manager David Thompson, an experienced grocer who has also spent time with the food retail team in Lancashire. Other local staff have trained there too.
Local food has long figured on menus at the Templepatrick centre’s restaurant. “For example, we use the local and wonderful Burren Balsamic from Richhill in County Armagh in our salad dressings.
“It’s a great example of stunning flavours produced here. We produce all our own desserts in house, once again using premium local ingredients. Our local Irish cheese board includes Castlereagh-made Kearney Blue – a delicious way to end any meal,” Mr Fryers adds.
“Our chefs foster strong relationships with a range of local, artisan food producers which share our passion for great food.
“And we take great pride in cooking the best local, seasonal food with care, honesty and passion. Sharing our passion for seasonal local food is crucial to our food philosophy. We are proud to support locals from our suppliers to our customers. The new farm shop also means that customers who enjoy meals in the restaurant will be able to pop over to the in-house farm shop and take the ingredients home with them,” he adds.
As well as stocking local products, the farm shop will feature the centre’s existing butchery counter, fishmongers and bakery specialising in traditional and contemporary brands ranging from wheaten to sourdough and cornbread. The team of skilled butchers feature dry aged beef matured up to 40 days from meat supplied freshly by local farmers.