The brand, which has sites in Axminster, Plymouth and Bristol, is looking for more sites in the South West and ‘perhaps a little further into the South East’, having recently received planning permission for its proposed outlet in Winchester.
“We like what the business is doing,” said River Cottage’s director Rob Greacen. “At the moment it’s not a very big group of restaurants but we’ve been expanding steadily and we’re trading really well.
“We’ve always looked for relatively ‘special’ buildings, where we think there’s real character. It can take a while to find those buildings but we’ve certainly achieved that in Bristol and in Plymouth and we’re looking further afield now for more of those properties.
“It’s not a major, venture capital-backed rollout. We’re looking at two to three new sites a year over the next couple of years.”
A license has been secured for River Cottage Canteen Winchester, which is owned by the local council and is now set to undergo a refurbishment. The restaurant is expected to open midway through 2014, offering around 140 covers spread over two floors.
Funding for the proposed rollout will come from the profits generated by the existing sites. The first restaurant and deli under the Canteen brand opened in Axminster in 2010 after Fearnley-Whittingstall used the former pub as a base for his Chicken Out! TV campaign. A 120-cover Canteen then opened in Plymouth in September 2011after a site in Bath was sold earlier that year. And the third site opened in Bristol earlier this year.
Greacen explained that the future venues will be ‘very different in style and feel’ from each other.
“We’re not very format-based,” he said. “River Cottage is a relatively unusual business in terms of where we get our food from and how we prepare it, so we can’t be too formulaic in our approach.
“A restaurant only works if customers like what they’re eating and where they’re eating. Sustainability is of course important for us, but it’s not the only thing that’s important.”
When asked about the possibility of taking the River cottage Canteen brand into the capital, Greacen replied: “London is so vibrant; it’s a very competitive place. It’s always possible to go there in the future but it’s not in our plans at the moment.”
Yesterday it was revealed that Marriott Hotels has partnered with Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottageto revolutionise its food offering in a bid to become ‘sustainability leaders’ within the hotel industry.
New seasonal menus will be introduced at two hotels - Cardiff Marriott and Hollins Hall in west Yorkshire – in October, with a view to being rolled out across the group’s other 50 UK properties. Ingredients will be sourced from local suppliers and dishes created in collaboration with River Cottage.
Sustainability has always been high on River Cottage’s agenda. Up to 90 per cent of the produce used in the Bristol restaurant, for example, comes from within a 50-mile radius of the venue. And last year, River Cottage Canteen in Plymouth was awarded the highest rating by the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA).
"The best seasonal local produce is always at the heart of the River Cottage approach to cooking,” added Fearnley-Whittingstall.