23 December 2020, 08:30 AM
  • Lizzie Slee of Enterprise Nation discovers how three small food businesses have adapted their sales to the Covid-19 era

How 3 SMEs are boosting sales despite Covid

While it’s been difficult for fledgling food firms to plan, let alone launch a new product to the world this year, some have found new routes to market that have helped raise awareness and boost sales over the over the pandemic.

Small business support network Enterprise Nation, which has more than 60,000 SME members in the UK, says digital uptake and online sales, coupled with the British consumer’s pledge to spend more with small firms this year, has helped keep small food businesses afloat and in some cases, buoyant.

Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, said: “While many of the usual routes to market such as Christmas markets and high street independents have been curtailed, we’ve seen the majority of small businesses confront their own worst digital fears and pivot their sales online. 

“And while it’s taken some adaptation; they have still been able to take advantage of the broader consumer pledge to spend a higher percentage of their Christmas budget with small businesses.

“Having found this new outlet, most now see also digital playing an increasing role in their future business model into 2021.”

Enterprise Nation did its own independent research amongst shoppers earlier this month, and found there was a real determination to spend more of their Christmas shopping budget with small firms this year because they felt it was more beneficial to the economy. Shoppers pledged to spend an extra £272m with independents this Christmas. It also found:

    • 53% of shoppers feel spending with small firms is better for the economy than shopping with larger companies
    • 61% feel independents offer something unique
    • 37% say they will spend more with small shops, rising to 50% amongst 18 - 34 year-olds

We spoke to three brands that have adapted their sales in different ways over the pandemic and are seeing results.

Ayesha Grover, founder of start-up gluten-free flour producer STRP’D, was ready to launch a new range of tiger nut drinks in independent London cafes in March. Her plan had been to test her new products and gain feedback before launching far and wide.

That was put on hold, but it gave the entrepreneur time to re-think her idea, and she quickly developed tiger nut flour, a gluten-free, nutrient-rich, nut and allergen-free and sustainable flour.

She launched in August, selling online via her own e-commerce website and then moved her products onto Amazon in order to gain the kind of traction she couldn’t access via the high street.

Ayesha said: “We had hoped to gain consumer insight for our drinks range through sampling in hipster cafes, speciality stores and things like Boots Meal Deals.

“But when Covid hit, we shelved the plan. As the pandemic went on, we spotted the trend for baking and the huge shortage for allergen-free and gluten-free flour. We developed STRP’D and got it straight out to market by August. The tiger nut is little known but it’s great for your gut health – another increasing health and wellness trend we were seeing.”

The company invested in SEO, studied best seller practice via Amazon’s Small Business Accelerator and found a unique way to gather sampling feedback via fitness app Sweatcoin. Sweatcoin is an app that measures and rewards your steps, and people redeemed their coins against her product.

Kate Saunders, founder of cake and Christmas pudding company Blackberry Cottage would normally have been selling at seasonal Christmas markets in the run up to the festive period, but has instead worked on her e-commerce via her own website and selling via virtual markets, and online on the Amazon marketplace. She has developed her digital capability to make up for the shortfall – and enjoyed the learning element – she also used the free the Amazon Small Business Accelerator.

“I’ve lost in one way but gained in another,” Kate said.

Michael Thompson, founder of Northern Ireland-based alcohol-infused biscuit firm Boozy Biccies went full-time on his side hustle over the pandemic after losing his full-time job.

He now sells online via independent off-licenses and gift shops, and while he still has not been stocked in any physical outlet, production is already at full capacity. He also sells via his own website and Amazon.

He said: “My own sales have always been online, but my retailers’ sales have exploded online, with orders more than tripling. I had plans to expand my sales to retailers for Christmas, but their new volume of orders for their online sales, means I still don’t have a product on a shelf and I’m almost at production capacity again, after expanding in August. 

“As I sell through off licenses and gift shops, my retail sales plans won’t change, but I am modifying my packaging. Instead of focusing purely on attractive products that utilise the shelf space, the same product must be adaptable to being sold online by the retailer. Before, these would have been two different designs for two different markets.

“I like my own website, but the back end of any site needs regular updates, user experience checks and security audits. With Amazon I can list my products and focus on shipping the product, leaving all the technical worries to someone else.”

Despite the challenges 2020 has posed for small brands and retailers, their knack for innovation and agility has proven to be a lifeline, standing them in good stead as they head into 2021.

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