This is a Guest Post by my lovely partner Des, who stepped in for me whilst I was away at Turing Festival.
On Yorkshire Day this year (the 1st of August for those not in the know!) the Marks and Spencer Vanguard store at Monk’s Cross held an event for local York food bloggers.
We were mainly invited along to hear more about their local supply and community links, alongside getting an exclusive opportunity to sample their Yorkshire-produced food and drink range.
Eat Locally, Think Nationally
In what was an unusually formal and interview-like blogger event, we found out a lot about the ethos and practices of the company whilst we ate dozens of mini sausage rolls. (I was obviously in my element here.)
For the last few years M&S has been focussing on developing strong links with local food producers, and stocking local produce in its stores.
In Yorkshire this means we get sausage rolls from Malton, liquorice fromPontefract, and cheese and beer from around the county.
The staff we spoke to were particularly enthusiastic about their Malton supplier, describing it as ‘more of a kitchen than a factory’.
We learned in great detail about the hand-finished pastry, which is folded a thousand times to achieve the perfect consistency, a process which apparently takes three days.
There are a variety of Malton-produced sausage rolls available in store, both on the shelf and at the deli counter. The deli rolls pictured below were genuinely delicious, in fact I couldn't stop helping myself as the staff explained more...
The consumer demand for these locally produced products is apparently voracious, and growing, which can only be a good thing for the local food industry.
I can’t help wondering however whether this demand is there in part because of the gradual undercutting and edging out of small local producers by chain stores and supermarkets.
Marks and Spencers might be thinking locally, but their ambition is definitely national. Their goal, according to Vanguard store manager Paul Campbell, is for there to be a Marks and Spencer’s store within 30 minutes drive of everyone in the UK.
Plan A and Sustainability
The staff we spoke to were keen to present the store as an active player within the community, rather than the agent of a vast company whisking profits away from the local economy.
The cafe in particular was singled out as a community hub – it is a bookable space, and recently hosted a 90th birthday party for one of its regular customers.
They also seemed enthusiastic about their involvement in community events: last year the staff at Vanguard raised eleven thousand pounds for York Mind, and contributed a substantial amount of volunteer time to the redevelopment of the York Mind building at Clifton Green here in York
This is a powerful force for good, but one wonders how much credit a company should really get for the volunteer efforts of its staff.
In another link with the local community, any food in danger of going out of date is donated to a local charities and schools. This commitment to responsible resource management is echoed in the company’s ambitious waste policy: to produce zero landfill waste from their UK operations.
They admit that this is a long way from being achieved, but this policy is definitely a step in the right direction, especially as M and S invites accountability by publically providing detailed documentation of its current and future waste management practices
The Vanguard store itself is part of the Vanguard retail park, an ambitious development which aims to meet verifiable environmental impact and sustainability targets across all of its stores.
The array of local products was impressive and delicious. Particular highlights for me were the Malton sausage rolls mentioned above, Shepherd’s Purse Yorkshire Blue cheese, and Wald Top Brewery’s Scarborough Fair IPA.