INTERNET shopping is one of the fastest growth areas of the UK economy, with more than half of all shoppers using online supermarket delivery services.

Another growth area is local food from small independent shops and now three Oxford entrepreneurs are hoping to put the two together.

IT experts Mark Knowles, James Lawton and Al McNicholl have joined forces to launch Silverfork, which will allow shoppers to order goods online from retailers in Oxford’s Covered Market and elsewhere.

It is the second start-up for Mr McNicholl and Mr Lawton, founders of Oxford IT consultancy Integritec, which they have been running for four years in the Cowley Road. Mr Knowles works in software design.

Mr McNicholl said: “We were working on a project together and talking about how customers needed more choice when it comes to online food shopping. It was Mark’s idea, and we have worked on the website.

“We have Haymans Fisheries, McCarthy Bros fruit and veg, Greek deli Manos, Summertown butchers Alcocks, the Oxford Coffee Roastery, and so on.

“Each day the driver will pick up the orders. The shops will provide the products. Our involvement is putting them on the website, getting the orders out to the shops, collecting them and delivering them.”

Mr Knowles added: “I was conscious there are some really wonderful independent shops in Oxford that I didn't have time to visit. I thought there was a business gap there. We chose McCarthy Bros, for example, because they have an incredible range and offer customers things they can’t get elsewhere.

“We have had a lot of interest from shops and we expect to add more. Initially we can only collect from 10 to 12 shops, but we are hoping to expand.”

Silverfork will deliver to OX1, OX2, OX3 and OX4 postcodes at first but may expand the area later. Retailers are contributing “a certain amount” towards the cost of the service, but not the whole cost, with customers being charged £5 + VAT.

“That is comparable to some of the supermarkets,” said Mr McNicholl. “It’s a simple idea.You buy high quality food, the shops prepare it and we deliver it.”

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