05 January 2021, 12:00 PM
  • Tougher coronavirus restrictions are being implemented across the UK, but speciality food retailers that can replicate the success of 2020’s lockdowns have an opportunity on their hands
How indies can start 2021 with a bang – despite Covid

As fine food retailers across Britain begin a new year, the government is cracking down on Covid-19 with fresh lockdown restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tightened lockdown measures across England last night, with residents now only able to leave their homes for a handful of reasons. Earlier on Monday, Nicola Sturgeon also issued a stay-at-home order for Scotland. Wales, meanwhile, has been in a national lockdown since 20th December, and all three countries have closed schools to most pupils.

Boris Johnson said the UK’s hospitals were under more pressure from Covid than at any other time since the start of the pandemic, and he added that the coming weeks will be the “hardest yet”.

For fine food retailers, this news comes as a rallying cry to replicate their hard work from the UK’s first national lockdown.

In March 2020, when Covid-19 restrictions were first announced, farm shops and delis stepped in to provide essential services to their communities. When large supermarkets had empty shelves, speciality food shops offered locals fantastic food options and safe shopping experiences. Many created new online shopping services with local delivery or click and collect.

With the return of tougher restrictions, fine food retailers must once again step up to the plate, offering customers not only brilliant food, but also something to brighten up their days in lockdown.

“What we learnt from not only Lockdown 1.0 but even more so during Lockdown 2.0 (where home deliveries simply didn’t exist) is that as a business we’re not here for essentials,” explained Mark Kacary, managing director of The Norfolk Deli. “We see ourselves then as the provider of essential luxuries. The food stuffs you need in a lockdown to feel good about yourself, things you can look forward to and indulge yourself in when you’ve nothing to do other than watch another Netflix box set.”

Mark says that while some independents are a lifeline to their communities as the only food shop in their town, those that have supermarkets to compete with should focus on the unique products and services they provide.

“We have to remember that just because it’s a lockdown people still have birthdays, they still celebrate anniversaries, and if you can’t visit a friend or loved one in person, sending them a personal food hamper filled with local food stuffs – cheese, wines, etc – is the perfect way to say, ‘We miss you and we’re still thinking of you’. So our approach is to focus on what makes us different to the essential food suppliers such as supermarkets.”

Independent retailers can also provide a more personal and friendly shopping experience than larger chains. Research by retail tech firm Ubamarket found that 50% of Brits believed their weekly shop was vital to combating the isolation they were feeling during the spring lockdown.

Will Broome, CEO and founder of Ubamarket, said lockdowns have highlighted the importance of local shops to consumers across the country. “An essential presence, our nation’s shopkeepers are constantly at the front line, providing everyone with their basic necessities. Their presence is absolutely paramount in our efforts to combat the difficulties brought about by the virus.”

Lord Newborough, owner of Rhug Estate says the business’s Denbighshire-based farm shop, take away and drive through have continued operating during Wales’ lockdown seven days a week. “Rhug remains an important part of the community, and being able to shop locally in safe surroundings is important,” he said.

“Our online business for meat and shop goods, as always, is proving increasingly popular with our customers and the convenience of having essential food products, particularly organic meat, delivered to your home is massively growing in popularity,” Lord Newborough added.

With many consumers across the UK unable to leave their home for anything other than essential medical services, exercise once per day and food shopping, cafés and foodservice businesses remain in a tough position. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced grants of up to £9,000 for businesses in hospitality, leisure and non-essential retail, and the furlough scheme has been extended until the end of April. An additional £594m will be made available to businesses outside these sectors that are affected.

While Britain remains a long way from any sense of normality, independent food shops have shown that they are more than capable of adapting to the challenges of the ‘new normal’ and grasping the opportunities that it brings.

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