Britain Short Read

How has COVID-19 affected local food businesses?

Coronavirus has had a vast impact on the food market, in a few different ways. Supermarkets have been the first choice for most shoppers for many years when it comes to buying essentials and more, but as times have changed, so has the way people shop. By this I mean the increased usage of farm shops and similar small independent businesses. The farm shop used to be a niche market only appealing to those willing to pay more for higher quality items, however, this has all changed since the corona virus has struck.

People want easy, close to home solutions to obtain their essentials, and although farm shops drive a higher price, people are willing to pay if it means they can decrease the amount of people they risk coming into contact with. Farm shops are often localised to relatively small communities and so at the best of times have limited amount of people shopping at one time. This means that they are now in high demand. The increased activity will still be manageable however, as people living in very close proximity to supermarkets will still use those. 79% of UK Farm shops are also catering for their customers’ needs by introducing click and collect services. As well as home deliveries to local customers, of which 69% of UK farm shops have done and there has been 1.4 million+ home deliveries since government lockdown measures began. This tailored service is highly desirable to individuals who wish to minimise their social interactions in these times or who usually get home deliveries but have to wait too long now. Instead they can be guaranteed some essentials from their local farm shop, as the farm shop will only deliver to local customers. Farm shops are often far less busy then the larger supermarkets, and so waiting times are much lower when it comes to queueing.

Vulnerable and generally cautious people in our society may not risk going to large public spaces such as supermarkets due to COVID-19. So, what are their options? Home deliveries seem to be the most ideal solution. However, home deliveries are in extremely high demand. An example of this is Ocado, one of the leading home delivery companies for groceries in England and Wales. It has seen a vast increase in demand from its customers since COVID has struck. In 2019, it had 800,000 semi-regular users who now all want to place orders weekly. In addition to that new customers are also trying to use the service. Web traffic on their website has increased by 100 times and they’ve seen a 500% increase in calls to their contact centre. They also report that there is a 50% increase in the average delivery size meaning each van cannot deliver to as many households per trip. All of these factors combined have meant not only an increase in waiting times for orders to be processed and delivered, but a refusal to take on new customers since March.  Similar situations have arisen for other companies who offer home deliveries such as Tesco or Waitrose. So, people have no choice but to go out to buy essentials. For those living in more rural areas, this means going to a farm shop or an independent village shop to buy what they need for the week. This creates new customers for these shops and hence they are doing great trade.

Many people have had to cancel holidays abroad due to fears of corona virus and boarders being shut in holiday destinations. Now they have the opportunity to spend this money in other ways in order to make the quarantine lifestyle more enjoyable. People have hence chosen to spend money on more high-quality foods in order to try to recreate the experience of going out to a restaurant. Butchers saw record breaking sales in the week before lockdown and are still enjoying very high sales now, with steaks being at the top of the high demand list. The meat market across the UK saw a 91% increase in March, and although this does include supermarkets, butchers play a larger part in this trade for many communities and hence are prospering from the COVID lockdown. Currently Pubs and restaurants are closed, or at least to eat in services, and so trying to recreate a Sunday lunch meal from the pub or maybe a date night means trying to source higher quality and probably local produce which pubs and sustainably minded restaurants would try to use. Farm shops often provide fresh veg and other ingredients to perfectly accompany such meals which the butchers provide the meat for, and so both businesses are prospering off of people’s desire to recreate what their missing out on.

There are two farm shops local to me that I have used in the past and the change has been very noticeable. Queues stretch out the door throughout the day, but they are always shorter than those you will find at the supermarkets. To boost their appeal, Perry Hill farm shop have a café as part of their shop which serves hot drinks and snacks while the customers queue. Also cyclists and walkers can stop by to have a break while they’re out and about. This makes the experience of visiting the farm shop far more pleasant and makes customers want to return, increasing sales. Farm shops in general also profited from the lack of flour and other baking supplies that occurred at the start of lockdown. Each day most farm shops will make their own fresh bread and hence had plenty of flour etc. in store. So they simply bagged it up and people flocked to be able to get some in order to fulfil their baking needs. Falconhurst farm shop, which only opened 8 months ago, prioritises sustainability and promotes the local community. They sell fresh cheese as well as much of their other produce from local farmers , and sell plants and flowers from local nursery’s, as well as more luxury items such as honeycomb from our local town, Forest Rowe. These fresh and well sourced items are guaranteed at Falconhurst, with complete transparency as to where the produce came from, create the feeling that the customer is doing some form of good for the environment and the community by shopping there and so they return.

Moving on from COVID, now that people have had a taste for the easiness of farm shops, the tailored services and the efficient experience, they may be tempted to carry on using them, even if in a less dependent way, as life goes back to normal. People may start to value supporting their local economy and local businesses instead of using the supermarkets, where sometimes it is hard to know where the produce was sourced and quite how environmentally friendly the process was. And as the support increases and the farm shops are able to provide better services and more items to sell, an important relationship can be formed to promote local industry and to help each other in our local communities.

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