Well 2022 has been quite a year for the Vale Grocer, it was our 4th full year of operation and the business is finally starting to look like the vision that we had when we started out. It’s quite interesting checking out our blog post in February this year of our plans!
The three main elements of the business are all now profitable, the veg boxes, the shop (including online), and the market garden.
With the lifting of Covid restrictions there was an expectation that businesses like ours would see a sustained uptick in sales, the reality though is that during the Summer of 2022 our box numbers dipped to what we were doing in February 2020. This has been replicated across the industry as many customers return to buying habits that support the big super markets. (during Covid we started 130 new customers of which only 30 have remained).
|Number of boxes
Having said that, this year we’ve done 2367 small boxes and 2789 regular boxes averaging 103 boxes a week, with a total weight of over 30 tonnes of vegetables. Given that each vegetable is lifted on average 6 times during our processes – that is a lot of lifting!!
To deliver and grow the veg for these boxes we have used 845 litres of petrol (5 litres was used by our tractor this year!) and 143 litres of diesel (the Nissan van ‘experiment’ – more on this below). This means that our average fuel per box was 0.19 litres per box – our aim for 2023 is to get this down to 0.13 litres per box. Interestingly, during the period of time when we had the Nissan is when our fuel consumption increased, even though the efficiency of the van was higher than our little Suzuki. This is the subject of a seperate blog post (yet to be written!).
Expensive van! This year ended up being expensive on the van front. Our ‘new’ (75k miles FSH, one previous owner) Nissan engine seized with a snapped con rod after only 3 months meaning that the £7000 van was converted into £200 scrap (which we donated to charity as figured something good needed to come from it). Annoyingly, we are still paying for it as we’d taken out a loan! I’m not sure what the lesson is there but we did feel a bit unlucky. After that we decided to stick with the Suzuki, which we’re hoping will keep going for a while yet. Though even that needed 3 new tyres in October due to 3 punctures caused by driving down the little lanes after the hedges had been cut!!
Productive market garden:
On our 1/3 of an acre plot we have produced the following amounts of veg, which totalled over 3 tonnes and gave us a net income of about £15000. From this we have to subtract all our costs associated with the garden. I had hoped to embed the Google sheet that details the exact amounts harvested each week but my skills have failed me and so I’ve just pulled out the detail below:
|Cavalo Nero Kale
The aim for 2023 is to increase the net income to £20,000 which we aim to do through growing more of the crops that give us best yield per bed per time in the ground. If we based our business solely on this though we would only grow salad, spinach, lettuce, turnips, kale, chard and tomatoes – which is, unsurprisingly, what many small market gardens do in the UK. However my aim with our business is also for me to learn to become self-sufficient in growing a range of veg for our family – and we are getting there! – so we’ll still try to grow a bit more variety than perhaps makes sense financially. It’s not all about the numbers 🙂 Talking of numbers….
I’ve included a link here to our management accounts (not audited) over the last 3 years, so you can see the profitability of the business: The Vale Grocer accounts. Out of this profit we have to repay the loan we took out to buy the fridge and the van. Like any farming business the profit is tiny, we need to make more.. But what excites me the most is that unlike most food producers in the UK we’ve done this with zero grants or subsidies.
The opportunities for increasing the profitability (ie. our income) are to –
- increase shop sales – both physical and online,
- increase box sales – we currently have capacity for another 20 boxes in Denbigh
- increase the amount we grow in our field
- reduce our variable expenses: compost, fuel
So, that’s it for now. Thanks for reading! It’s taken quite a long time to pull it together but a useful exercise and hopefully interesting for some of you. Let’s see how we go next year and what the numbers will look like after 2023.