Macknade celebrates 40 years by looking to the future
Macknade Fine Foods chief Stefano Cuomo celebrates the 40th anniversary of the renowned farm shop and talks about the future
It’s your 40th Anniversary this year! Congratulations.
Macknade Fine Foods has come such a long way! What would you note as your personal highlights or milestones in the business?
My family have been trading here at Macknade since 1847 and so we always look generationally at how we can drive the business forward. Back then, the business was a family farm and it was not until 1979 that we began retailing with a small PYO farm shop, which has grown to the 10,000sqft food hall we operate today.
To think we have reached 40 years as retailers, knowing the blood, sweat and tears my folks put in back in the early days, is incredible; and I am hugely proud to be part of that legacy.
Macknade is a family business and it will always have the family ethos at its core, but my personal highlight has been watching it grow to how we operate now in 2019. We are creating jobs and a meaningful place at the heart of our community and it is wonderful for me to see Macknade being driven by the team as a whole and not just a couple of family members. Succession and scaling can be tricky paths to navigate and my highlight is that, as a collective, we are heading in the right direction!
We know how progressive Macknade is and we have seen the opening of the deck already this year, can we expect more developments in the next 12 months?
Ever the ‘cup spilling over type’, I certainly hope so!! As some may know, we achieved significant planning on our site several years ago, which was part of a rationalisation of the use of the site and supported a step up in the structure of the business.
We will not be knocking down buildings in the next year, but have extensions, new areas and partnerships in the pipeline which will build on the community we have at Macknade. These I hope will be an example of how interactive spaces can deliver on the aspirations of everyone involved – as a work place, for down time and even as places of learning. The world is in a dynamic place and I believe businesses like Macknade should be part of shaping what a sustainable and engaging future should look like.
How important has it been to have the cafe as part of the business? Has it changed the clientele who use the space?
Food service is massively important for our sector and has been for the past ten years, as customers have looked to pass time and spend their money differently.
It has broadened our appeal, allowed us to showcase some of the fantastic produce we have in-store and engage with customers in a way we were previously unable to.
To be honest, we have always had a broad client base and we talk a lot about creating a ‘favourite place’ for all our customers - somewhere where they can come in, breathe out and just feel a little lighter!!
I think that is relevant to everyone, and so whilst different parts of Macknade will appeal to different people, and for different occasions, fundamentally we aim to make people feel good - be it in the café, in the shop, outside on our new deck or at one of our events.
Macknade has a huge reputation across East Kent, are you also having customers coming from further afield now?
That’s very kind. As a business, we have always been very ‘British’ and a little coy at recognizing what we have all achieved over the past 40 years, but we are getting better at shouting about it!
This is particularly relevant because we do have people coming to us from across Kent, the South East and further afield… so we realise that we must be doing something right! Our locals, who have been with us since we were a tent in a field 40 years ago, are the life blood of the business, but we have an increasing number of new customers discovering us. To hear customers say they have travelled out of London to get the produce we offer because they can’t find in the city is pretty special.
How can more traditional food purchasing businesses engage with a new generation of consumers?
I do think we need to be aware and proud of what we do in our sector. Too often businesses still feel embarrassed to shout out about how good they are, but people want to know where they can find unique experiences like ours. They want to hear about it, hunt it out and see if the experience really does match up to the hype.
For me, it is also about sticking to what you are good at and believing in yourself. Get others involved in sharing the magic through traditional word of mouth or digitally over your social platforms. The key is the absolute consistent integrity of your offer and this is the strength that the traditional businesses have over & above the new entrants to the market place.
As humans, we all want to be part of something that makes us feel valued, and you can’t beat top quality craftsmanship & old fashioned service to make someone feel special!
Why do you think it has become so important for businesses to be able to tell their story and the story of their products?
For me it is about integrity. We work closely with the University of Kent and the students once described us as ‘earnest’. At first, I thought this was an underwhelming adjective, but now I love it and it is absolutely true. We put everything into Macknade, not to create some contrived, ‘flat pack’ offer, but because we know the people behind our products and we have seen what goes into creating them. It is our role to pass that on and let the end user feel the same energy and love. Too many businesses are out there creating stories simply to make sales.
How proud are you that Macknade has remained in the family and become what it has today?
I often share a morning coffee with my parents, wife and children sat around the table in our café and I know how blessed I am to be able to do that. I am the sixth generation to run the business and I want it to be here for many generations to come.
This brings a certain level of responsibility for me. However, the joy of being part of such a special business that interacts with so many wonderful and skilled individuals - be they customers, suppliers or the team here - is an honour that outweighs this.
I want Macknade to deliver for more and more people as every year passes and central to that is our unwavering family ethos.