Provender Deli

If it's in the supermarket, you won't find it here

Provender Deli was named Deli of the Year 2014 in the Global Cheese Awards (GCAs) annual and highly competitive Deli of the Year contest. The company has also been runner-up twice. Owner Tony Bishton explains why he rates the GCA competition and why running a deli is ‘the most fun you can have with your clothes on’

How many times have you been judged as part of the Global Cheese Awards Deli of the Year competition?

We had unannounced visits from the judges in 2013, 2014 and 2015. 

Did you have an inkling when a member of the cheese committee came in and did their mystery shop?

For the first two years we had no idea who the judges were until Jessica came in 2015. We had met her the year before.

What do you think of the competition as a concept and the way it showcases delis?

It is a brilliant idea as it recognises local delis. There are many national awards that rely on how good you can fill in a questionnaire and they often don’t even generate a judges visit. The Global Cheese Award Deli Competition means much, much more than that because the judges actually visit each establishment and get to see the operation on a direct one-to-one basis. As the visits are unannounced, the judges are highly likely to catch you doing what you do every day and so nobody is able to ‘put on a show’.

Why do you feel you have been so successful in the competition?

We are just passionate about food - and in particular cheese. Our aim is to fill the deli and our cheese counter with delight that customers won’t find in any supermarket. We are passionate about tastings and talking to customers. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said: “I hate blue cheese” and have then gone home with a chunk of Beauvale in their bag - because blue cheeses are not all the same. It’s the same with goats cheese. Giving every customer a tasting of new cheeses is not something that is possible in a supermarket, but it is in a local deli.

We are also constantly looking for new products, new trends and new tastes. This is achieved by reading the general and trade press, visiting shows, talking to suppliers, talking to customers and being generally aware of the goings on in the food arena.

Tell us all about your deli and what you sell apart from cheese

We sell all types of goodies, from jars of artichokes to zout [Dutch liquorice]. We like to deal with local suppliers and also find niche international ones too. Our motto is: “If it’s in a supermarket, you’re unlikely find it in here.” This ethos means that we always have an interesting story to tell our customers when it comes to products. To list the products here would be impossible, but the start of the alphabet would be: artichokes, beer, coffee, dark chocolate, eggs, florentines, gin… and so it goes on, all the way to Z.

Detail the types of cheese you offer

Really? We generally have circa 50-60 cheeses on the counter. We always have the staples of cheddar, brie and Stilton, but then we make sure that we have things that customers can’t find in the supermarkets, such as Gjetost from Norway, red goats cheese from Pennard Ridge, Baron Bigod from Bungay, Red Wine Farmer by Affineur Walo and on the list goes. 

When did you set up Provender?

July 2012. We took over an existing cafe business, but the deli part was seriously run down.

What did you do before Provender?

Carol, my partner who does all the hard work running the deli while I do my day job, has been a buyer with M&S and Littlewoods, as well as a commercial design contract manager. Until 2012 I was a director with Littlewoods and I now work on an interim basis, running major projects for large UK retailers, currently at Argos.

How many staff do you employ?

Our total staff pool is eight, with two full time and the rest part timers.

Where are you based?

In South Petherton, just off the A303, about 10 miles from Yeovil.

What is the secret of your deli’s success?

We are passionate about food, customer service and about finding new and interesting products for our customers.

What would you say to anyone thinking of setting up a deli?

Don’t do it, not unless you are prepared to put tour heart and soul into it and work 28 hours a day for nine days every week. However, if you do do it, it’s the most fun that you can have with your clothes on.

What do you think about Thursday’s Global Cheese Awards and Saturday’s Frome Show?

The Global Cheese Awards are great in that they recognise local producers and businesses and the Frome Cheese Show is brilliant because it’s focus is on cheese. What’s not to love about an agricultural show which has so much cheese on offer?