It may be the new kid on the block, but Mole Country Stores has a whole network of friends to back it up.
Started in 1960 as a farmers’ cooperative in the south west, Mole Valley Farmers (MVF) has seen strong growth over the past 56 years, with organic expansion matched in recent years by a series of well-judged acquisitions.
One of those acquisitions saw the group establish a foothold in the South East by taking over the retail stores operated by SCATS in 2002, but until recently the company continued to trade under the old name and brand.
A major rebranding exercise has seen the old SCATS transformed in to the new-look Mole Country Stores as MVF seeks to develop its offer to the region’s farmers, smallholders and equestrian enthusiasts.
While the country stores are the public face of the £420m turnover business, there is a huge amount of other support available to farmers in the South East.
From fuel purchasing to fertiliser supplies and from ruminant nutrition to forage advice, the Mole Valley Farmers organisation is designed to offer a comprehensive, joined up and fully professional service to farmers.
“While the Mole Country Stores act as our shop window for members of the public as well as for the farmers and country dwellers, the retail side is only a fraction of what we offer,” said head of agricultural retail Ed Land.
“We have moved ahead with innovations in manufacturing, procurement, logistics, feed ingredients and supplements, animal nutrition and health, veterinary services and grassland production and we continue to expand our research and development operation.
“Critically, while Mole Valley Farmers is a wide-ranging operation employing more than 2,000 staff, our teams all work closely together, which brings added benefits to our farming customers.
“Our feed specialists won’t just sell feed without looking at the forage available to livestock – and if he or she thinks that improving the forage would help reduce the overall feed bill, then they will talk to one of the company’s forage specialists to make sure that the farmer is given the whole picture.
“As a farmer-owned business that follows cooperative principles, our goal is to use our combined scale to leverage greater value and benefits for our customers and provide them with quality products at competitive prices.”
With no city shareholders demanding ever-higher dividends, the company can take a longer view on building up a strong customer base and supporting the industry for the longer term.
As red meat specialist Rebecca Moore pointed out: “We want to support the farmers and be able to respond to market signals, particularly through difficult times, because that’s the only way we can protect our business for the future.
“Our approach is always to offer products and services at a competitive price backed up by top quality customer care.”
It’s an approach that sees quality advice provided by members of the team as part of the package. Ruminant nutrition expert David Balls, who supports the feed sales team in the South East, provides herd health advice as “part of the package”.
He explained: “Yes, we are there to sell feed but we also want to ensure that the farmer gets the best value from the feed, and that might come down to making sure the accommodation isn’t over stocked, or checking every animal has access to enough water.
“We do expect the farmer to be buying some feed from us, but as long as that is the case, the advice and support is just part of the package. The network also means that colleagues with more specialist skills, experience or qualifications are never far away.
The 22 grassland crop nutritionists who work under the Mole Valley Forage Services brand all study 30 different modules designed to give them a comprehensive knowledge of their field, while every member of the red meat team is a Suitably Qualified Person (SQP) for prescribing animal medicines.
The company has more SQPs than any other agricultural company in the UK – around 350 in total – and recently opened the first new feed mill to be commissioned in the UK for many years.
With 53 retail stores across the country, nine manufacturing plants and a focus on continuing to grow and develop in partnership with the farmers it supports, the rebranded Mole Country Stores are just the tip of an iceberg that the South East’s farmers would do well to explore.
Making the most of precision technology is another important part of the company’s approach and its focus on renewable energy is also set to see it continue to play a part in the future of farming for many years to come.