Happy New Year!

It’s another New Year and a time for celebration. We hope you all enjoyed a little bit of a break over the Christmas holidays and you’re feeling refreshed.

For us, it was just as busy as ever, but as we reflect on another successful year, it’s certainly not been without lots of exciting changes – and challenges!

As ever, we would like to thank all our customers, colleagues, suppliers and community partners for all their support in 2023 – we very much look forward to seeing what 2024 has in store for you all!

Here’s a few highlights from us.

The big changeover!

Earlier this year we were very sad to see Richard and Karen Dance take a step back from the business after more than 30 years. But, we hear that they are very much enjoying the quieter life!

They are still frequent visitors to our Brockenhurst store and do a number of things to support the community. We’d again like to express our thanks and appreciation to Richard and Karen – and we wish them all the very best.

With Richard and Karen stepping back, our six shops became part of the Southern Co-op as they celebrated their 150th anniversary year.

Back then, 30 people attended a public meeting and unanimously agreed to pay one shilling to establish a local Co-operative. Back then, the Co-Operative Society was formed by dockyard workers to tackle exploitation and inequality, and 5 months later, the Portsea Island Mutual Co-operative Society’s first shop opened in Charles Street on 9 May 1873.

There was recently a special edition of the Portsmouth News, which included a pull-out section on Southern Co-op’s beginnings as part of its 150th birthday in May – you can read it here.

Want to join us? If you’re looking for a new role and you’re interested in becoming part of our Welcome store team you can read more here.

Support for Ukraine

In April, Welcome stores teamed up with New Forest for Ukraine to donate 300 disposable barbeques that were removed from our shelves two summers ago.

Disposable barbeques are a huge risk of causing wildfires. They are devastating for ground nesting birds and other animals, and the impact is felt for years. Plus, climate change also means hotter, drier periods are inevitable, and the risk of starting a deadly fire by taking a barbecue out into the woods increases.

While they were no good to us, New Forest for Ukraine said they could make use of them, and gave them to reservists on the front line in Poland and Ukraine who used them to heat their food for daily essential cooking.

You can read more about the donation here.

New Forest for Ukraine was set up to help the war efforts in Ukraine and has since filled 100 trucks with aid, including 3,000 trauma kits, 150 generators and over 10,000 bandages.

Here’s a photo of us handing over the final batch!

Solent Mind support – and thank you

We’ve been working in partnership with Solent Mind for a few years now and they do some incredible work providing mental health support across the region.  

Not only were we thrilled to announce our partnership with them for another year, in August we handed over a cheque for £3,699.71 to help fund some of their vital services.

What’s more, this year we rolled out a partnership with Solent Mind that gives all our colleagues access to mental wellness kits, so that staff can recognise symptoms of poor mental health and how they can access help if they need it.

Being well physically and mentally is so important and as you can imagine at this time of year, keeping well can feel like a tricky task sometimes.

If you need to talk to someone, you can head to the Solent Mind website to find out more about the services available in your community.

Thank you Solent Mind for everything you do, it’s a pleasure to partner with you.

Becoming Plastic-free!

As an eco-conscious business, we were absolutely thrilled that our Brockenhurst store was recognised with “Plastic Free Community” status back in June.

As an initiative of Greener Brockenhurst, the campaign started last year after the idea was put forward at a community meeting and taken forward as a way of encouraging villagers, community groups and businesses to change habits.

It is a great achievement for the village and illustrates that there is a want and a wish to do more to reduce the amount of plastic used given the right encouragement.

Bringing Christmas cheer to Brockenhurst!

While on the topic of Brockenhurst, we thought we’d share a few pics from the fantastically festive Brockenhurst Christmas Fun Evening, an annual tradition that took place this year on Friday 1st December on Brookley Road.

Welcome Stores has had a long association with the event which was jam-packed with local acts like the Brassed Toffs Band, Magic Jack the magician and the Friday Girls, as well as stalls selling a variety of treats on offer from local businesses, activites and fairground rides.

It was great fun watching everyone get into the Christmas spirit as our colleagues set up a stall outside our shop front in Brockenhurst and handed out free mulled wine and mince pies to residents and visitors who came to enjoy all the fun of the festive fayre – and we raised an amazing £200 for our chosen charity, Solent Mind, in the process.

We also teamed up with Plastic Free Brockenhurst to offer a few things for their raffle prize – another way we wanted to collaborate with such an important organisation following Brockenhurst’s plastic-free status!

We’re already looking forward to getting involved again next year – we hope to see you all there! 

Here are some of our favourite pictures from the day.

More shout-outs and thank yous

We must also give a special mention to our wonderful suppliers who create some fantastic products all made locally.

Wishing you all a very prosperous New Year – and watch this space for more exciting news coming your way in 2024!

Blackberry and plum crumble

Using granola for the topping is a brilliant crumble shortcut. Swap in whatever fruit you have to hand.

  • Feeds 4Feeds 4
  • Ready in 30 minutes
  • Vegetarian
  • Low in Saturated Fat


  • 4 Co-op Irresistible British plums, sliced
  • 125g Co-op British blackberries
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp Co-op pure Canadian maple syrup
  • 250g Co-op simple granola
  • Light custard, to serve


  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas 6
  2. Toss the fruit together with the vanilla extract, maple syrup and 4 tbsp water
  3. Tip into an ovenproof dish and cook for 15 mins
  4. Sprinkle with the granola and cook for 10 mins more, until golden and bubbling
  5. Serve with light custard.

Each serving contains

  • Energy 16%1356kj 322kcal
  • Fat Med 11% 7.6g
  • Saturates Low 5% 1.1g
  • Sugar Med 22% 20.2g
  • Salt Low 0% 0.03g

% of adult’s reference intake | Carbohydrates per serving : 52g

Supplier Spotlight: Vibrant Forest

This week, we’re hearing from a great local supplier, Vibrant Forest, which started life in a garage – and today has grown into a brand that is well-known across the South Coast.

Hopping out

The business began back in 2011 when the first brew, Summerlands IPA was created – and Vibrant Forest was born!

Its mission was to brew modern beers that were packed with flavour and at the time, the business operated from a garage and slowly grew into a thriving taproom.

(Very!) Vibrant Forest – and vegan too

You cannot miss Vibrant Forest ranges on the shelves of Welcome Stores as you will notice they are perhaps some of the brightest coloured of all.

“We are what it says on the tin” says taproom manager Ryan Dack. “Our vibrancy is what makes us stand out from the crowd and we are not afraid to push boundaries to give our customers different styles and flavours. And, with our brewery being located in the heart of the New Forest, what better way to honour such surroundings and colours the Forest brings with it – hence the name, Vibrant Forest.”

What’s more, Vibrant Forest beers are never filtered or pasteurised and there is never any lactose added to the brews. That means every beer is Vegan. 

A Welcome addition

Showcasing local businesses is something we love to do here at Welcome Stores. We have some seriously rich pickings right here on our doorstep, so why wouldn’t we want to bring those to our customers, so that they can enjoy them too? Plus, we see the benefit of supporting our local economy which in turn is vital for bringing jobs and growth to our communities. 

“We love getting our beers in front of new audiences who may be unaware of us – and Welcome Stores are a great support in helping us do that” Ryan added.

Navigating change

Vibrant Forest is proud of its beginnings and took its time to grow organically into the small team and taproom it is today. But it’s that humble beginning that gives the company strong innings and potentially makes it more resilient too.

“We are always exploring new flavours and styles, and we are proud to be a Brewery rather than a beer factory.”

What can Vibrant Forest first-timers expect?

If you’re just dipping your toe into the water (or ale!) of Vibrant Forest, PUPA is the company’s best-selling pale ale and is always a great starting point for anyone. It’s fruity and refreshing with a touch of bitterness.

For more seasoned Vibrant Forest-ers, Ryan recommends FLUIDITY for something a little bit different. “It’s a 3.8% sour beer, but it is so refreshing and something different for most people as the brew has been soured during the brewing process which gives it a unique flavour.” For more information head to www.vibrantforest.co.uk

Supplier Spotlight: Powder Monkey Brewery

If you’ve sampled our very own Welcome brew – the “Co-Hop Welcome Back” hazy pale ale, then the chances are you’ve come across our latest Supplier Spotlight already!

Set up in the wake of the pandemic on May 17th 2021, Powder Monkey Brewery has quickly “hopped” up the favourites list among our local customers – and we can see why.

Hear about all things craft, collaboration and – pigs! – from our chat with the gang. Cheers!

All in the name

We had to ask, where did the name Powder Monkey come from? It turns out, the Brewery’s co-founder, Andy Burdon, discovered the building where the brewery now operates back in 2019. Previously it was an historic naval gunpowder store in Priddy’s Hard, Gosport.

Despite the store being dark, derelict and empty for more than 50 years, Andy’s vision was bright and he wanted to create a brand that kept the building’s history alive. The name Powder Monkey was born – a name that relates to the boys who would have carried gunpowder to the guns on board ships.

Brewing success

Andy then recruited Mark Hamblin as Head Brewer, and together, they spent many hours developing the working side of the brewery and its equipment, until its first beers were brewed in 2021.

Since opening the brewery, Powder Monkey has doubled its capacity thanks to investment in more tanks for its craft beers. Today, it works as a production facility, but visitors can also make use of the new visitor’s centre, shop and tasting bar.

What was their secret to early success? Marcus Hunt from the sales team said: “The brewing world is quite collaborative, which means we can work together and share ideas through a mutual passion to make the best beers people can buy.”

Far from all at sea

It is this working together attitude that Powder Monkey also sees as ways of navigating (if you’ll pardon the nautical pun!) any rough waters (sorry!).

Marcus continues: “Of course there are challenges, like there are in any business. But, the great thing about collaborating is that you can identify problems as they come along and tackle them head-on. Usually someone else out there has dealt with a similar situation – or they warn you that something might become an issue.

“We learn as we grow, take advice from others, adapt and overcome!”

Nautical themes

The name itself is a great way of keeping the brewery’s building alive – but so too are the goods within.

“We’ve recently launched a new Pilsner called Bravo Zulu” Marcus said. “It’s an old naval term someone would say, which means ‘well done’.

“There’s also the Drunken Sailor and, our best-selling beer, Drop Anchor. That’s a great one for someone who’s just getting into craft beer and taking their first sips!”

A Welcome addition

Welcome stores sell plenty of local products to our customers so that they can sample the delights of what’s on offer right on their local doorstep. We also understand that by supporting local businesses, it brings growth to the economy and supports jobs.

Not only do we see the economic benefits of supporting local, Welcome stores see it as “doing our bit” towards reducing our carbon footprint too!

“It’s great to see Welcome stores onboard with supporting local suppliers” Marcus added. “There’s always a friendly face when we deliver and it’s great how Welcome supports not just us but so many great, local suppliers!”

Welcome stores in turn like how committed Powder Monkey is to the local community – something that is well-aligned with ourselves.

“We love being out and about in the community at different events, meeting people who may not have heard of us or tried our beers, telling our story and sharing our passion for craft beer!” Marcus added.

And, just as aligned with Welcome stores’ commitment to reducing food waste, nothing is wasted when it comes to the brewing process – as the spent grain is picked up by a local farmer who feeds it to his pigs!

So what’s next for Powder Monkey?

“Apart from the Drunken Sailor, which contains lactose,  all our beers that we make are Vegan friendly” says Marcus. “However, we’d really like to expand our Gluten-free range and there are a couple of beers being trialled soon – so watch this space!”

Check out the range of craft beers on offer from Powder Monkey brewery at your local Welcome store.

For more information, head to powdermonkeybrewing.com

Supplier Spotlight: Beaulieu Chocolate Studio turns 17!

In the latest installment of our “Supplier Spotlight” series, we caught up with Beaulieu Chocolate Studio as they celebrate 17 years in the business – and how they stop their chocolate from melting in the summer heat!

Sweet dreams!

Beaulieu Chocolate Studio opened in July 2006 after founder, Trevor Smith, opened the chocolate shop in the old village patisserie on the Beaulieu estate.

Hand-made chocolates have been a part of the village since the early 1980s but Trevor had dreams of creating artisan and luxury chocolate ranges.

Today, the studio makes a range of over 30 filled chocolates, with new flavours added all the time, and a wide range of original chocolate bars and gifts.

Trevor says: “From the smallest pocket-money chocolate rabbit to the most luxurious chocolate box gift, every chocolate wish is fulfilled.”

Trevor Smith proudly displays his handmade chocolates

Watch the chocolate-making action!

It is the long heritage of chocolate-making in Beaulieu that prompted Trevor to divide his shop into two. One half is the workshop at the back where the chocolates are made and in the front half is the shop where they are displayed and sold.

His vision was to make an original range of hand-made chocolates on the premises and in view of the public, who can watch and enjoy the chocolate-making process as it happens.

French inspiration

Trevor is from the New Forest, but he lived in France for 8 years, where he trained as a baker and chocolatier – and that is where his ideas for the chocolate shop originated.

“Over there, it is not unusual to see various artisan chocolate shops and workshop-style cafes where people can enjoy sampling local chocolates on offer – and see how it’s made” Trevor said. “It’s all part of the experience – and that was something I wanted to bring home to the New Forest!”

A Welcome addition

The Chocolate Studio produces everything by hand using fresh ingredients that are locally sourced wherever possible – and it is that shared ethos that makes Trevor’s chocolates a “Welcome” addition to our stores.

Welcome stores sell plenty of local products to our customers so that they can sample the delights of what’s on offer right on their local doorstep. We also understand that by supporting local businesses, it brings growth to the economy and supports jobs.

Not only do we see the economic benefits of supporting local, Welcome stores sees it as “doing our bit” towards reducing our carbon footprint too!

“It’s great to see Welcome stores onboard with supporting local suppliers” Trevor added. “It means that customers living further afield than our shop in other towns and villages can still enjoy our hand-crafted chocolates – but they are all made in our shop.

“Our best sellers are New Forest Bark, a speciality resembling tree bark with dark chocolate and almonds, Milk Honeycomb bars and Caramel and sea salt bars – they always seem to fly out of the shop!”

Keeping cool

As the summer months are now upon us, what is Trevor’s secret to making sure chocolates are only melting in the mouths of customers – and not spoiling beforehand?

“Hot summers can be a challenge” he says “but air conditioning has come to our rescue many times – and it’s the only way we can make sure everything stays at the right temperature!”

Welcome stores is pleased to stock Beaulieu chocolate fresh from the studio, but you can also pay them a visit at 1 High Street in Beaulieu 7 days a week from 9-5.

For more information head to beaulieuchocolatestudio.co.uk

Dropping into Brock!

On Saturday afternoon, we gave a very berry welcome to Laura from New Forest Fruit at our Brockenhurst store! Not only did customers and staff get to try a tasty new treat, but we also heard about all the environmentally friendly methods used at New Forest Fruit.

Laura from New Forest Fruit at our Brockenhurst store

Environmentally friendly business      

Based in Beaulieu, New Forest Fruit has grown strawberries on the same site for over 15 years. Sustainability and the environment are at the forefront of the decisions made. One method used is specially designed sensors placed within the strawberry crops. These sensors indicate the humidity, temperature, and moisture levels of tunnels. The information provided allows the team to adjust the conditions within the tunnels, and as a result, the plants are healthier, which helps to reduce wastage.

A brand-new healthy summer snack

The summer is officially strawberry season, and there’s nothing better than enjoying deliciously sweet berries! However, there’s also a demand for dried fruit as a healthy ‘on-the-go’ snack alternative. This is something New Forest Fruit has considered, and as a result, launched a new product – called Pulsed Dried Strawberries.

The best thing about this product is – no added sugar or preservatives, only strawberries grown on the farm. These can be crushed and sprinkled over cereal or used in baking. Plus, pulsing splits the cells of the strawberry, so the berry can rehydrate and is ideal for infusing in drinks such as sparkling water or a celebration glass of prosecco! If that wasn’t enough, the packets are 100% compostable – so you can give a little back to nature too.

Summer picnic inspiration

The summer holidays are right around the corner, and if you are planning a picnic this summer, why not add this delicious, healthy, and nutritious alternative? The new range by New Forest Fruit Snacks is available now at your Welcome store – have you tried them yet?

Aligned business goals

At Welcome Stores, we work hard to use as many eco-friendly practices as possible, which is also achieved by being involved in several local initiatives. This work also allows us to support other businesses, like New Forest Fruit, to do the same. Pop into your local branch to hear more.