10 March 2021, 09:07 AM
  • Looking back on a year of Covid-19, Mark Wiltshire, director at Diverse Fine Food, describes how his business made it through 2020, and why he believes the industry will come out of this crisis stronger
Mark Wiltshire, Diverse Fine Food: “2021 will be tough, but our industry is too”

So… 2020… Where to start… Like everyone else in our industry 2020 has been a challenging year for Diverse, however like our name we have tried to face every challenge with our own unique style and forward thinking!

2020 has thrown an awful lot of challenges at our industry – store closures, limited trading times, restrictions in store to be Covid-19 compliant, stock shortages, suppliers going out of business, and of course keeping our families, customers, and teams safe… How did we deal with this?

In March 2020 when the government sent us all into a full country lockdown, like everyone we thought, ‘Oh no! What do we do now?’ Our first thought was for our team and how we would keep them all safe, so we made the very tough decision to furlough most of our team, sending them home to limit the potential threat. We re-forecasted our sales (with a worst-case view) and looked at all our expenses and how we could cut as much of this as possible.

Our sales forecast was extremely low, and with only a small skeleton staff left in the business we knew we could cope with the predicted sales. However, thankfully something exciting happened: our amazing industry adapted! There was also a positive move from consumers to buy from their local stores and a real shift to support smaller business. Communities were actively supporting and protecting each other, it was great to witness.

Due to this our projected decline in sales was nowhere near what we had expected and was much higher – this was great, however it did mean that as a team we now had a new challenge: how do we give the service to our customers that we have always provided? With a skeleton staff, this was a challenge!

It was tough, the few of us that were left in the business all pulled together, worked seven days a week and long hours, but this is what you do in a crisis, this is what makes the difference. We had great support from our customers and suppliers that were also in the same position.

My personal job role changed from director and all things management to sales assistant, warehouse operative, operations and haulage communication. This was replicated for the other director: she was responsible for all purchasing, stock management, supplier questions, issues and carrier communication.

There was also a positive on this change, we were placed right back to basics and could see exactly what needed improving for the smooth, improved running of the company going forward. We have put many changes and processes in place following this period all aimed at driving a better customer experience.

We saw a huge shift from the historical growth areas like snacking and confectionery to an increased demand for grocery and alcohol. We worked hard with customers on orders; if a product was out of stock we did our best to find them an alternative and offer solutions, rather than missing lines on orders. It was inevitable that our fulfilment level dropped, but we tried to limit this as much as we possibly could.

We are known for sending samples to our customers and prospects, and we increased this activity on a large scale. We wanted to continue to showcase the amazing brands we work with but also wanted to show our support to all the shops teams that were also working tirelessly to keep going.

Every day we heard stories of the incredible work that teams up and down the country were doing and we wanted to put a smile on the faces and let them know we cared.

We have a strong vision for Diverse in 2021 and beyond. For us it is all about having outstanding tasting products that have eye-catching packaging; we want to have the best customer service and make it easy for anyone dealing with us. We are about consolidation of supply into the independents, (this is now more imperative than ever). We have a strong focus on the environment which guides all our decisions, and lastly, ensuring we build a happy, friendly team as this is how we can provide our customers and suppliers with the best atmosphere to work with us.

Moving into the new year, we were still filled with uncertainty, and this continues. Our 2021 plan was to make our customers lives easier from a purchasing perspective. Difficult times, less staff, less time. A good time for us to improve our technology and process. We have built a new customer-friendly website making it easy to order. We also include promotions and brand stories on the site every month and believe this is another key strength of the artisan world. We have also invested heavily in new systems, giving us improved data providing us with the tools to create an enhanced, bespoke service.

Consumers have changed in the pandemic and adaptable, trendwatching retailers are proving to be successful. 2021 will be tough, but our industry is too, and by working together we believe we can come out of this pandemic with a newfound support for each other and from consumers. Stay strong and stay safe.

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