Posted: 18/03/2020

Sales and orders increasing as indie food retailers press on despite coronavirus

As the government introduces more stringent social distancing measures, the independent food retail sector continues to trade through the coronavirus outbreak – with many businesses across the supply chain reporting upswings in sales and orders.
Sales continue at independents as people begin to self-isolate in reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak

Butchery sales up 100%

Robert Copley
Robert Copley

Rob Copley, director of Farmer Copleys Farm Shop in Pontefract, Yorkshire, said he remained positive about the situation.

“I really hope our farm shop stays open because it will thrive, and if people are not going out to pubs and restaurants, we will,” said Copley, who is also the chairman of the Farm Retail Association.

Copley said sales on his butchery counter were up 100% last Saturday compared to the same day last year. His takings last week across retail operations were up 35% on the previous year.

He told FFD that the FRA was still working on guidance material for its members but said that farm shops that were purely retail should be in a good position.

Copley himself is working on a number of measures to maintain sales and offset expected losses from the café side of the business. These include free local deliveries (for orders over £35), click and collect for customers that don’t want to enter the shop, and he is working on a drive-thru concept to keep the kitchen going.

“It is changing so fast at the moment but you need to plan it, don’t panic.”

Business as usual

Paul Hargreaves
Paul Hargreaves

Paul Hargeaves, MD of distributor Cotswold Fayre, said it was very much business as usual despite the government’s social distancing advice, and also reported an uplift in orders. “We’re 80% up this week on the same one last year.”

Hargreaves said items like tinned tomatoes, pasta and bread flour had all been selling very well. Cotswold Fayre was due to receive 12 pallets of flour this week and they had already all been sold. He added that even Italian companies were still sending goods to the UK despite transport challenges.

When FFD spoke with Hargreaves, he had been having positive conversations to a number of customers, including garden centres, farm shops and convenience stores, who were all reporting record sales.

“I think it’s a big opportunity for independent retailers,” he told FFD, and outlined three main factors.

“Many are a local shop for people and lots of them are in a position to offer something to those who are self-isolating,” he said, adding that he had heard of several instances of retailers starting up local delivery services.

Tell us about your experiences during the coronavirus outbreak here. Fine Food Digest and the Guild are committed to helping independent food retailers pull through.

Hargreaves said that less crowded farm shops and smaller independents would become preferential destinations for consumers looking to buy essentials. In addition, he said that the speciality food supply chain was better than supermarkets.

“Pubs and restaurants closing is going to drive more retail buying because people will still want to cheer themselves up with better food,” he said.

Even in the event of a nationwide lockdown, Hargreaves said he expected Cotswold Fayre to continue to serve its customers

“The food and drink supply chain has got to stay open. There would be riots if people couldn’t get food.”

Stocking up for isolation

Ros Windsor

“Higher end retailers have seen an increase in footfall because people are wanting to buy the nicer items as they’ll all be thinking that they’re going to be at home,” said Nicki Stewart, director at distributor Diverse Fine Food, adding that even new customers and lapsed retail accounts were now getting in touch.

Stewart said that the London lorry would be heading out from Diverse’s Somerset warehouse as usual and much of that stock is going to retailer customers, including department stores and delis, in the capital.

Ros Windsor, managing director at Paxton & Whitfield, said that the cheese retailer and wholesaler was monitoring the virus situation and government updates on a day-to-day basis. 

“Through all our sales channels we’re focussed on maintaining the high quality of our offer, the excellent service and standards that we are known for,” she said. “It’s as important now, as it is at any time. 

“Our shops are still open and so customers can visit us and purchase their products, but we’re also encouraging them to visit our website, and if they want to minimise their interaction with people to make use of click & collect. 

“Of course we’re reviewing our range to ensure we can continue to support the fantastic artisan cheesemakers who make our cheese. 

“We are trying to ensure our customers understand that in continuing to buy artisan cheese, they are supporting small businesses throughout the whole supply chain.” 

People supporting local shops

The Cress Co’s marketing manager Joanne Gibson told FFD: “We’re still here and it’s very much business as usual until the Government tells us it’s not.

“At the moment, people are supporting local shops and we will continue to provide products and services to all our customers but we are monitoring the situation daily.”

Gibson added that if a lockdown on movement was announced that the distributor would have to assess its plans but hoped that it would be able to trade during this period.

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