Borough Market Diaries: how Ted’s Veg is surviving and thriving under lockdown

09 June 2020, 08:48 AM
  • In the third of a series of weekly columns, Darren Henaghan, managing director of Borough Market takes us behind the scenes of Ted’s Veg, a traditional family-run greengrocers that has been forced to completely rethink its business under lockdown
Borough Market Diaries: how Ted’s Veg is surviving and thriving under lockdown

For years, Ted’s Veg, one of Borough Market’s many fantastic greengrocers, had been among the most traditional and analogue of businesses, consisting of a chemical-free family farm in Lincolnshire, a stall here at the Market, and a presence at a few London farmers’ markets. Then along came Covid-19 and things “turned on a sixpence” says owner Kath Dawson, who runs Ted’s Veg with her husband and their three children.

The biggest immediate challenge was the sudden collapse in wholesale demand, as restaurants and cafes closed overnight. Thankfully, even with social distancing measures in place, sales at the Market remained reasonably stable, with our focus on providing essential groceries ensuring a steady flow of local customers. “We’ve been here at Borough every day and it’s been intense every day, with everyone queuing and maintaining their distance—but we’ve kept going,” says Kath.

The loss of wholesale needed to be addressed though, and urgently—fresh, seasonal fruit and veg can’t wait around for anyone. And with supermarket shelves empty, major food delivery services overwhelmed and the nation confined to their kitchens, a window of opportunity opened: the sudden rush of people heading to the internet in search of fruit and veg boxes.

Previously, Ted’s Veg’s online shop had been limited to a few jams and chutneys. Seizing the moment, the Dawsons embraced the digital sphere. They expanded their website, hired extra hands to help out with packing and delivering, shifted their wholesale drivers to serve domestic customers, and stretched their own working hours to the limit. “When you run your own business, you have to make sacrifices sometimes,” says Kath. “It was hard work, but we’ve got a good team.”

Within weeks, they had dramatically expanded the range of fresh and ambient produce available on their website to meet the increase in demand. As a result, Ted’s Veg has survived—thrived, even. In the long term, Kath hopes that those people who, for reasons of necessity, ended up buying more fresh produce than usual, and buying it directly from producers rather than from the usual big retailers, will continue to do so.

“Hopefully they’ll still want to cook more, not buy pre-packaged, pre-cooked stuff. I’ve certainly seen that changing, but it will be interesting to see what happens over the next six months.” She also hopes that some of those customers will have found a new respect and appreciation for farmers who care about the quality of their produce and don’t use chemicals and intensive farming techniques to increase their yields.

“I hope the public realise what farming intensively does to the environment and see the benefits of chemical-free farming, to the land and the quality of the produce.” In fact, more appreciation for food producers generally wouldn’t go amiss, she says.

“I hope the public realise what farming intensively does to the environment and see the benefits of chemical-free farming, to the land and the quality of the produce.” In fact, more appreciation for food producers generally wouldn’t go amiss, she says.

They’ve kept the nation fed through this crisis, and it was a difficult enough industry to survive in even before the pandemic hit. “It was a hot summer, a wet winter, and now this,” she says. “It’s been very hard for a long time.” That more of us might end up joining the dots between the food we eat and the people who produce it could be one small source of optimism in this most challenging of times.

This article first appeared on Great British Food

more like this
Speciality Food Daily Briefing

Stay connected and receive the latest news, analysis and insights from our industry's top commentators