What makes a market town shop tick...

Elaine MaslinDiane's Pantry is celebrating being a stalwart of health food and local produce in the north Norfolk market town of Reepham for 30 years this year. Elaine Maslin takes a look at what makes the shop tick… Its stacked shelves lining the walls make it an Aladdin's cave of goodies for shoppers, from cherry pies to eco-friendly washing liquid.Elaine Maslin

Diane's Pantry is celebrating being a stalwart of health food and local produce in the north Norfolk market town of Reepham for 30 years this year. Elaine Maslin takes a look at what makes the shop tick…

Its stacked shelves lining the walls make it an Aladdin's cave of goodies for shoppers, from cherry pies to eco-friendly washing liquid.


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But it is not by magic that this cornucopia of groceries is still going strong 30 years after it was first opened.

Diane Turner has made her shop, Diane's Pantry, a labour of love - both of what she sells and the customers she serves.

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When she first opened on Church Hill in Reepham in 1979, she was one of a very few selling products like bread made from stone ground flour.

Back then there were perhaps just one of two types of biscuits available for say gluten free diets and Diane's Pantry was ahead of its time stocking them.

Now there are whole ranges of products for diabetics, coeliacs, people with wheat free allergies and the list goes on.

And while supermarkets have caught up with the need for specialist health and food products, it is the independent shops who still find the best producers first and try to maintain ethical standards.

Before the likes of Green and Blacks, an organic chocolate maker, hit the high street it was on sale in shops like Diane's Pantry.

Although it has now been sold to Cadbury's, there are other independent brands still around including Booja Booja from Brooke, near Norwich.

The worrying trend, she says, is when an independent producer starts being stocked in supermarkets. For some this means they go under because they cannot sell their produce cheap enough to them.

The firm loses out and so do shop's like Diane's Pantry.

Diane, who was brought up in Reepham, opened the shop in 1979 after a thatched cottage on Reepham's Church Hill became available.

Aged 18 she had set up a new kitchen at the newly opened Cawston boy's school, but, after a stint at Bonds cafe, now John Lewis, she fancied being her own boss.

'I had always wanted to be my own boss and there wasn't really anything else like that,' she said.

'We started with health food in a part of one room, we had a kitchen in the back and a cake shop,' she said. 'It was really quite quaint.'

They were one of just a few shops selling bread made from stone ground flour, a product now available nearly everywhere.

They were also ahead of others in stocking items for special diets, like gluten free and celiac.

In 1982 the shop in Market Place was available and they had grown and needed a bigger premises so Diane's Pantry moved.

The kitchen was originally in the cellar and they set up a coffee shop in the room to the right of the store.

Health and Safety regulations have since meant the kitchen had to be moved and disability access meant the coffee shop had to go.

Over the last 30 years trends in shopping have changed, she said, as had the town, with fewer shops than before - something that needed to be changed.

While the older generations stick to their old favourites, younger shoppers want more choice.

A favourite with many is the locally famous cheese straws, something which may allude to her credentials as a former president of the Reepham WI.

But the shop also tried to stock about 80pc of what people would need for their weekly shop.

They also bake off bread every day, sell fruit and meat pies, sausage rolls and popular quiches.

The shop trumps in cereals and types of muesli, with one whole wall stacked with them. They also have a large range of rice and pulses, herbs and spices, organic produce, local where possible,

They also have a range of health, personal hygiene and cleaning products, all mostly from ethical producers, alongside drinks, sweets and frozen food.

As well as sourcing from independent producers, Diane uses two main wholesalers who are ethical, Suma, a co-operative, and Tree of Life.

And long may it last, she says: 'I really enjoy it. I should be retired but I would be lost. You show an interest in people.

'Mostly I appreciate my loyal customers. In the credit crunch that people are using you, it is a few more pennies but makes a difference.'

Diane, a councillor on Reepham Town Council, will be at an event on April 22 aimed at making sure Reepham's businesses can beat the credit crunch.

It is being held as part of the annual town meeting from 7pm at the town hall. Everyone welcome.

Diane's Pantry is at 8 Market Place, Reepham, NR10 4JJ, tel: 01603 871075.

ENDS

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