Direct sales to the public are helping food and drink producers to stay in business and enabling customers to stock up on a few of their favourite things, to make the lockdown more bearable.
Several members of regional food and drink sector membership organisation Cotswold Taste are reporting increased interest in home deliveries since the outbreak of Coronavirus.
Among them is Severn Brewing, which turned around its business model to sell direct to the public after pubs and clubs were ordered to close.
Previously the Tortworth-based company’s entire business had revolved around the hospitality industry.
“We were facing the prospect of pouring 28,000 litres of beer down the drain,” explains managing director Iain Crockett.
“In a short time we had turned this around to selling our products direct to the public, even though we weren’t experienced in selling to the off-trade.
“Our five litre kegs are proving especially popular, and we’re getting quite a few orders for our 10 and 20 litre boxes too.”
Iain credits the turnaround in trade to ‘fast thinking and a lot of hard work and flexibility’ from his seven-strong team. He’s also thankful for one or two ‘lucky breaks’ early on.
“We put out a post on Facebook asking if people wanted to buy any of our beer and it went viral with 10,000 shares,” explains Iain, who started the business in 2017. “Within a few hours we had 400 missed calls and there were hundreds of emails. Very quickly we managed to put a new order form on our website to get people onto our system.
“A further break came when Radio Gloucestershire called us to talk about wasted beer: our story went onto the BBC web site and became the most ‘loved’ item and brought us more business.”
Customers buying beer from Severn Brewing can also opt to add a wide range of ciders and wines from West Country-based producers and importers to their orders, all of which are being delivered to homes by Gloucester-based Voyager Logistics.
Owner Jacqui Cowper-Smith has introduced trays of slices alongside the packs of four that her company usually sells. Popular online products include the ‘isolation hamper’, which contains best sellers such as carrot cake, chocolate fudge cake and Beau’s family fruit cake.
“We’re seeing a lot of these hampers being ordered by customers to send to their friends and family,” she says.
Social distancing requirements mean that Beau’s Bakehouse is operating with two bakers and a packer at its premises in Frampton-on-Severn – half of the usual team – and the company has had to reduce its range of products on offer so that everything runs smoothly.
“We have always had an online shop but I have never developed it to its full potential, although before the lockdown I had started to see an upturn in interest and also in sales,” explains Jacqui, who uses the Royal Mail and APC Overnight for deliveries. “These are trying times for everyone, but I’m lucky enough to have great staff who are keen to try and make things work.
“The closure of Gloucester Services has left a huge void, but we have recently started supplying Midcounties Co-op on a small scale, which is helping, along with a few community shops such as The Green Shop in Frampton-on-Severn, Primrose Vale in Shurdington, Eastington Farm Shop, Holbrook Garage in Bisley and Oakridge Post Office.”
Protective products added to gin offering
Sibling Distillery is offering free deliveries of its gin within eight miles of its Cheltenham base, complete with hand-written greetings cards designed by a Bristol-based illustrator for customers wishing to send bottles as gifts to friends and family.
These online sales are going some way to make up for the loss of business from the high end shops they usually supply, almost all of which have had to close as a result of the lockdown.
At the same time, owners Cicely, Clarice, Felix and Digby Elliott-Berry have turned their hands to producing industrial strength ethanol for alcohol-based hand sanitisers and cleaning products for organisations such as the Gloucestershire Constabulary, care homes, NHS hospital trusts, hospices and GP practices, together with a factory making protective products.
“We’ve changed our production from just making gins and spirits to working with high strength ethanol for the time being,” explains Cicely.
“We’re also trying to do whatever we can so that people can have nice things to make the lockdown more bearable. We’re noticing how a lot of customers are asking us to write messages to the effect that they’re sending a bottle while they’re unable to take friends and family out to dinner.
“We’ve always had an online shop – we’ve simply added a gifting service to our neighbour Battledown Brewery’s online shop.
“Up until now we’ve sold our spirits through shops, almost all of which have had to close during the Coronavirus crisis, which has had a big knock-on effect. Another large part of our business was from farmers’ markets, food festivals and distillery tours, which has fallen away.
“Nevertheless we’re glad to be able to continue running the distillery, although some of our 10-strong team have had to be furloughed due to the dip in sales and events.”
Sibling Distillery was founded six years ago by the Elliott-Berry family, three of whom were still teenagers when they started.