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Rob on the road Tuesday, 25 February, 2003, 13:28 GMT
On the shelf
Sausage packet
The sausages sell under the Keebles' own name
For many small food producers, the difference between serving a local market and making it nationally can be colossal.

Selling vegetables or meat from a farm shop is one thing, but once a supermarket says yes, it's a whole new world of mass production, packaging and, above all, funding.

Anyone who's been listening to the Archers on BBC Radio 4 will know the problems.

Tom Archer and the supermarket argued about whose label his sausages should sell under.

Eager

And he's faced with stepping up production to a massive 300 kilos a week.

Sausage maker
Manor Born produces eight tonnes a week
But at least these days it's not so much of an uphill struggle, with supermarkets eager to promote local produce on their shelves.

Tom Archer would do well to seek some advice from Manor Born, a Yorkshire-based sausage maker which now sells its products in Asda, Tesco and to major rail operators.

The company began three years ago to help struggling pig farmers find a market for their meat.

Fresh ingredients

Husband and wife team Andrew and Debbie Keeble started off with a range of bacon and hams but gradually focused on just the sausages.

Using fresh ingredients, Manor Born came up with products such as the Acapulco (mint, spring onions, chillies, lemon zest and garlic) and the Neapolitan (plum tomatoes, pecorino cheese, black olives and marjoram).

Debbie and Andrew Keeble
Debbie and Andrew: Speedy process
The business thrived, but shortage of capital was preventing real expansion.

However, the Home-Grown Cereals Authority weighed in with an enterprise grant of 7,500 to help develop new products and produce promotional material and packaging.

And once they started knocking on the supermarkets' door, the Keebles were impressed by how quickly it opened.

"From them saying yes to getting a packet on the shelves was just a very few weeks," says Andrew.

"Once we got the barcoding organised, the invoicing and deliveries, it was very simple."

Campaigned

Organisations such as the Council for the Protection of Rural England have long campaigned for people to support farming by buying local produce.

Asda's Richard Baker
Richard Baker: Local products are best sellers
That has been helped by the growth of farmers' markets around the country, but supermarkets are also starting to play their part.

"We've got examples of products we've put into local stores which are outselling the national brand in that store," says Asda's Richard Baker.

"That clearly shows that those items are the most important to the customers in that area."

Manor Born has now spent 250,000 on a new factory, but made sure it would meet the supermarkets' demands.

This was especially important where health and hygiene were concerned. The company has also spent 20,000 on packaging - a big investment for such a small business.

The factory's six staff now turn out eight tonnes of sausages a week, but there's plenty of room for growth.

Turnover last year was 600,000 - the Keebles hope to hit 1m in 2003.

Learning curve

They're well on the road, but it's been a steep learning curve for the Keebles.

"In a business like this there's a very high capital input. You have to be prepared to suffer unless you've got wads of money," says Andrew.

"It isn't easy, but the doors are opening in the supermarkets with regional sourcing. It's a driving force now."

And Debbie adds: "If you really want to do it, anything's possible."

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