WHEN Sarah Guilder decided to call Bay Leaves Larder a community store it was more than just a name.

For her, being at the centre of the local community is key to why she decided to open her Chandler’s Ford business.

And as well as providing a meeting place for locals to get together for a chat and a slice of homemade cake in her coffee shop she also sells a wide selection of food from local producers.

“Life should be about helping each other,” says Sarah, who also runs a catering business under the same name.

“It’s become quite a ‘me’ society but it’s so much better if we can all try to help each other. I’m helping the local producers and vice versa. Running Bay Leaves Larder is definitely about more than just the profits.”

Sarah is a member of Hampshire Fare, which promotes local producers, and among the local products on her shelves are: Chandler’s Ford honey, Pratts Rapeseed Oil, Lyburn, Loosehanger and Rosary cheese, Hill Farm apple juice, Isle of Wight garlic, Summerdown mints, Kemptons Fine Foods, Chili Jam Company and Wessex Mill flour.

And she is hoping to expand the range soon, with New Forest venison, local pasta and Hampshire trout.

“Selling local food was important from the start,” she says. “I think it’s the way forward. I’m fed up with big supermarkets dictating what you buy. Cutting down on food miles is an important part of selling local food too.”

Despite the credit crunch, when many may be looking for the cheapest options available, Sarah says that her customers are willing to pay a bit more for good quality food and business has been doing very well.

“People coming in here for local food would rather pay a bit more for it and know it’s good quality than have something that’s cheap and has no taste to it at all,” she says.

Sales of eggs – local free range – have almost doubled since Sarah opened Bay Leaves Larder nearly two years ago and the coffee shop is often packed out with a cross section of the local community, from parents who have taken their children to the nearby schools to people holding meetings.

“Chandler’s Ford doesn’t really have a proper centre and before we opened there was only one other coffee shop,” says Sarah.

“We’re in a parade of shops here so people can come and do several things at once – one of the other shopkeepers said that they’ve definitely seen a boost to business since we opened.”

In fact business is doing so well that Sarah, who currently employs eight part-time members of staff, is expecting to take someone else on in March.

And she enjoys being able to give something back to the community. She often donates vouchers and raffle prizes to local schools, raises money through promotions for the Hiltingbury Community Association and this year she is intending to focus fundraising efforts on Southampton-based homeless charity The Society of St James.

With the business going from strength to strength, Sarah’s advice to anyone with a small business who is thinking about selling local food is to go for it.