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Virtual gourmets savour taste of website success

From his Somerset delicatessen Roger Biddle caters for discerning palates worldwide via the Internet, writes Andrew Mourant.

He's sold smoked eels to Japan and Cheddar cheese to Poland - yet a group of IT students at Buckler's Mead comprehensive school in Yeovil have helped to put him more firmly on the virtual map.

Modern languages teacher Barbara Samuel - who shops at the deli - suggested that Mr Biddle subject his website to the scrutiny of her Year 10 students. And he has been delighted with the results.

"I got 24 e-mail responses from the kids - I wouldn't have believed how interested they are in virtual shopping. They pointed out that I didn't have a telephone number on the site and didn't have a map. I've implemented almost all their ideas," he said.

Head of IT Dennis Bagnall said: "Food has become a very popular topic in the media, though I was surprised by how much the exercise captured their imagination. I was also impressed with the maturity they showed in their criticism.

"Everyone was intrigued that a small local company should convey such esoteric information."

Mr Biddle, a former marine engineer, saw the Net as an alternative to posting price lists and newsletters while trying to build up a mail-order business. His website contains village gossip, a guide to local landmarks, and trenchant views on battery farming. "You have to give the site a character, or else people won't come again," he said.

A Year 7 modern languages class at Buckler's Mead also added some colour, designing posters of cheeses and other items with a French flavour. These were scanned into the system and then e-mailed to the site.

For Mr Biddle, e-mail trading is addictive. "I'd love to spend the whole day doing it but we do have a shop to run," he said. His address is www.provender.net

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