IT has been open for less than 18 months but already The Real Food Store has made it through to the finals of a prestigious national competition.
It has just been announced that the store has made it into the final three of BBC Radio 4's Food and Farming Awards 2012 – and everyone involved in the community project is delighted.
The news was announced on BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme in an interview with David Mezzetti, one of five voluntary directors of the store.
He said: "We are incredibly excited and pleased to have got into the final three. The Real Food Store is probably unique in being owned by so many people in a city the size of Exeter.
"In these challenging economic times, providing a place where people can buy affordable fresh food is of vital importance.
"Our central location means you can walk, catch the bus or get here by bike as many people do. Our staff provide a warm welcome to all customers and each of them knows and cares about where our food comes from."
Another popular aspect of the store is Emma's Bread, an award-winning bakery where bread is prepared and baked daily from scratch providing the shop and Real Food Café with a range of baked products.
Baker Emma Parkin said: "We are thrilled to have got through to the final three. People had to nominate us, which makes it all the more exciting.
"We are really pleased with the way things have gone over the past 18 months.
"We offer a different way to shop and I think people like that. They can come in and see all our fresh local food and be inspired.
"We are like a daily version of a farmer's market. It is a very personal way of shopping."
Emma bakes her bread every day on the premises.
"Real bread is increasingly hard to find nowadays and we felt this was the most transparent way of providing such important food," she said. "I think people love to see us working in the bakery and we've had a great response from so many people."
Almost 300 shareholders collectively funded the launch of the Real Food Store, Paris Street, in March last year. In its first year the store has generated around £250,000 of business for producers in Devon and across the region.
The outlet, which also has a café, aims to promote the variety and affordability of locally produced food and drink.
"I think we are one of the first to do what we have done," said Emma. "There are quite a few community food shops in villages and small towns, but I believe we are the only one in the centre of a city of this size."
David Mezzetti added: "We wanted to make it easy for people who work or live in the town centre to have access to this sort of produce six days a week without having to drive a car. All our staff know where the products come from, what's in season – and most importantly – how to cook it."
The Real Food Store is a social enterprise, a not-for-profit business that aims to benefit the wider community and environment. Supplier Martyn Bragg, an organic farmer from Shillingford Abbot, said the extra business it has helped to generate has been a major boost.
He said: "As a small producer shortening the route to market means better prices for us and for the customer. We grow more than 80 different sorts of vegetables, salad crops and fruit throughout the year, and have our own laying hens too. Supplying the Real Food Store gives us a good, consistent market for our seasonal produce.
"This gives us confidence to grow a greater variety and quantity with the highest quality. We are delighted to supply this genuinely local business."
The store stocks almost 2,000 lines of food and drink including a wide range from more than 50 Devon producers and a further 25 from other Westcountry suppliers.
Emma said: "The response from our customers has been exceptional. There is a genuine commitment and interest from people wanting to buy local food for all sorts of reasons and our city-centre location has been critical for that reason. We want to extend a warm welcome to anyone interested in having a look round."
The judges in the Food and Farming Awards will be visiting the Real Food Store over the next few weeks with the final results announced at a ceremony at the National Exhibition Centre on November 28.
The Real Food Store, Bakery and Café is at 11-13 Paris Street, Exeter EX1 2JB, and is open Monday to Saturday. Visit: www.realfoodstoreexeter.co.uk for more information.