The Sussex Produce Company – where quality food and culture mix
ingénu/e meets Steyning’s award-winning greengrocer, food shop and café
It’s summer 2014, we are turning the spotlight on Steyning and highlight one of the major success stories of its bustling High Street. The Sussex Produce Company is run by Nick and Nina Hempleman and we met up with them at their café at the rear of their fabulous shop in the High Street.
Nick was born in Steyning and after studying politics, philosophy and history at the University of Lancaster, worked in the Fair Trade division of the Coop at their headquarters in Manchester for over five years and it was there he met Nina.
In 2007 Nick returned to his home town and opened the first shop and although it was just 320 square feet in size it was named ‘Sussex Food Shop of the Year’ in the 2008/2009 Sussex Food and Drink Awards. In 2010 the Coop and Fairfield in the town merged and what had been the Coop store became empty. The space was thirteen times larger than his current shop but Nick took the plunge and created the current store and café, with Nina joining him full time in 2011. Downstairs is a fabulous array of high quality, locally sourced produce which now boasts not only all the fruit and veg you can imagine but also everything from pies and fresh bread to alcohol and flowers, while the first floor is given over to production.
Nick tells us, “We looked at many high streets before deciding on Steyning; it has a thriving high street and the rents are not so high, with great footfall where a small business can succeed, and very few chain shops. Not many high streets can boast that.” He goes on, “A lot of our customers were interested in where their food was coming from. We have started building a reputation for supporting local growers and producers and have 170 local suppliers; in fact sometimes our customers know the farmers personally. But if something isn’t available, leafy lemons or oranges for instance, we will go abroad to source them. We will work with good suppliers wherever they are.”
What comes across when talking to Nick is his passion for good quality food and his desire to support the local community. He certainly has his head around the economics of the high street, telling us that 70p in the pound from high street shopping goes back into the community, compared to a miniscule amount from shopping in supermarkets. He refers to Steyning High Street as a ‘supermarket without a roof’, with two butchers, three bakers, a deli, a fishmonger, a sweet shop, an array of tea and coffee shops and many others. He says, “There is no huge supermarket on the outskirts and the town has three free car parks. There is live music and a farmers market and all this has social implications; people actually talk to each other while shopping and money goes back into the community.”
And from those ‘humble’ beginnings the Sussex Produce Company’s reputation has continued to grow. They won the Sussex Food Shop of the Year for the second time and last year were voted Best Food Shop in the South by the Observer Food Awards. This year, 2014, they won ‘National Greengrocer of the Year’ and ‘Best Independent Retailer’ in London and the South East in the Deli and Farm Shop Awards!
Some of the innovations currently in the shop are prepared foodstuffs, ready meals made with no preservatives and freshly squeezed juices in bottles for the increasing number of people on the move who are short of time.
The café at the rear of the shop acts as a showcase for the shop and, despite being a bustling hive of activity and chat, has a laid back bohemian feel, showcasing local artists on its walls and giving customers time to relax and reflect on life. Nick liaises with the Steyning Arts membership officer who helps source local artists to exhibit in the café. Nick likes oils and acrylics and textural works and a recent exhibition by Brighton artist Sue Haseltine featuring scenes from the Downs was well received.
As part of the Steyning Arts Summer Art Trail, which coincided with the town’s festival in May and June, three artists exhibited in the café. There were oil paintings by Sarah Duffield, Lorraine Gordon’s pastel, watercolour and mixed media originals and Alison Milner-Gulland’s oils on canvas.
As a further innovation the café hosts various cultural events such as ‘An evening with Kirsty Wark’, a ‘St. George’s Day Opera Extravaganza’, and a dinner and jazz evening hosted by local charity ‘Headway’, all of which took place earlier this summer.
At the end of our conversation Nick tells us, “Steyning has a reputation of being a walkers’ destination but now it can also be thought of as also a foodie destination. This is our sixth year of trading and we are very grateful for all the support we receive from our customers.”
For further info visit the website www.thesussexproducecompany.co.uk or pop into the shop and café at 88 High Street, Steyning BN44 3RD and take advantage of their outdoor seating while the weather is still warm – it is well worth the visit!