27 Sep

Liz Abell writes about Quality Standards in the Food and Drink Industry


This month is Organic September, a UK awareness campaign organised by the Soil Association to encourage more of us to buy organic. Organic produce can be easily spotted in many supermarkets by The Green Leaf logo on packaging, and is among many labels that indicate a product that is in some way better for us, our community, or our environment. Have you ever wondered though why fresh produce in supermarkets displays a range of quality logos, but equivalent produce in your local farm shop, greengrocer and butcher often does not? Many of us want to make good choices when it comes to how and where our food and drink is produced. Many of us want to ensure the food we eat is of high quality and is produced in a way that looks after the welfare of animals, protects the environment and supports British farming. So how can we be sure we do that?

The multitude of different logos and standards that have been introduced can be a great help. However, understanding what we are looking at can be complex. For example to be classed as organic, and to be able to display the Green Leaf logo, all food and drink sold in the European Union needs to meet with stringent EU regulations. Food and drink carrying the Soil Association logo, in addition to the Green Leaf label, are guaranteed to meet not only the EU organic regulations but also the highest possible standards of animal welfare, environmental and wildlife protection as outlined by the Soil Association. This is just two in a wide range of quality standards to choose from. The Love British Food website has a simple guide to the common logos and labels and what they mean http://www.lovebritishfood.co.uk/british-food-and-drink/logos-and-marks-to-look-for.

However, while buying according to logos and labels is one way to make your purchases, what about all the small producers who have either not had the money or time to get accredited with certain schemes, or who simply do what they do without being formally recognised for it? We at the DR Company help hundreds of small, rural businesses to either set up or grow, and many of those businesses produce food or drink. We are always impressed by how many of those businesses make active choices to source products that are local, British, organic, sustainable and environmentally friendly. And they aren’t making those decisions purely because of market demand, or to be able to display a logo, they are making them because it makes good business sense, offers their customers high quality produce, contributes to their local community and ultimately because they care.

Take the Taw Valley Brewery. Marc Whiteside and his partner moved their young family from Brighton to the Taw Valley in August 2016. Escaping City jobs and urban life for a rural change of scene, they bought a Grade II listed Tudor thatched property with outbuildings. Wanting to start a business from his long term hobby of home brewing, Marc decided to use the 16th century thatched threshing barn on site to set up and the DR Company successfully helped him to apply for funding to start the business.

Marc uses locally sourced and sustainably produced products wherever possible and the brewery thrives on reusing and recycling. The property has its own well, which supplies the brewery with fresh Taw Valley spring water year round; all spent grain is recycled as feed for neighbouring farmers; liquid waste from the brewing process is channelled from the barn to feed a custom created reed bed which filters and thrives on the waste; the grain the brewery uses is from nearby Crediton. Taw Valley Brewery bottles and casks are sold to local pubs, shops and bars within a 15 mile radius and returned bottles and casks are recycled, re-used and re-purposed.

This business supports and contributes to its local economy. It benefits the local community. It uses products and processes that are sustainable and self supporting. It buys from and sells to the local area. It uses good quality supplies that can be traced without difficulty. Ask Marc and he will tell you all about the product you are buying. Marc has his own quality assurances, and his own sustainable accreditations purely from being passionate about what he does and how he does it. You can read more about the Taw Valley Brewery on the DR website www.drcompany.co.uk or Marc’s website https://www.tawvalleybrewery.com/

As consumers, it is our choice what we consume. Logos and labels enable the consumer to purchase an item knowing that someone else has formally acknowledged the product’s benefits. That is a great start. However there are a multitude of other places to buy high quality produce that don’t display a quality logo. The key is to ask. If you want to know more, if something isn’t clear, ask. Whether you buy from supermarkets, farmers markets or the local shop, Organic September is a reminder to us all that the key to ‘good’ buying is knowing where your food and drink comes from, how it was produced and what process took it from a farmers field to your shopping basket. Whether a logo or the farmer themselves tells you, asking the question is the key to supporting sustainable, quality, local produce.

By Liz Abell, Managing Director of the DR Company

This article was featured in the Issue column of the Western Morning News on Thursday 27th September 2018