Food Drink Devon – Green Shoots Sprouting Across South West
Doom and gloom might be everywhere at present, but there are green shoots beginning to sprout across the commercial South West – if you know how and where to look for them. The organisation Food Drink Devon has launched a campaign through which its members can voice concerns and woes during the coronavirus lockdown – and the latest survey shows how many businesses are able to adapt and even develop going into the future, thanks to inventiveness and agility.
The first question in the Devon Speaks Up campaign’s latest fact-finding mission asks if business owners believe they will be able to “weather the storm” and the responses do not make promising reading.
But another query in the questionnaire asks if any “positives” have emerged during the lockdown…
Hayley Reynolds, of the South Hams based public relations company, RAW Food and Drink PR says:
“It appears that many food and drink businesses across the region have been taking steps to change the way they work. From cookery schools to distillers – from organic suppliers to jam-makers – business owners have been giving a great deal of thought to how they can both survive, and evolve.”
As Jim Fisher, co-owner and head chef at the Exeter Cookery School puts it:
“It is hard to think of many positives right now, this is such a setback to our young company. Nevertheless, we try to make the best of every situation, and the lockdown has enabled us to work more on our virtual offering of tutorial and recipe videos. This has been possible because we have had time away from running our full calendar of courses, along with increased demand from the public who have been looking for creative content to consume while on lockdown. We have been able to share our extensive expertise cooking virtually and therefore hope to have expanded our reach to prospective cookery school customers for future bookings.”
Anna Elliot, of Eversfield Organic, based near Okehampton, was perhaps the most upbeat company director to answer the questionnaire:
“We have had a huge increase in orders and new customers. This has allowed us to expand as a business and as a team. We are now able to launch new projects on the farm and work with a wider range of suppliers. When the lockdown restrictions are lifted, we will be able to continue as normal but with a high level of service, a wider range of organic, locally-made produce and a larger, stronger team behind us.”
Emma Macdonald’s company, Bay Tree Food, makes chutneys, relishes, jams and pickles in Ivybridge and she said:
“We are doing more online sales and have had wonderful emails from customers appreciating what we do. We are certainly looking at different areas of our business and how best we can adapt to what will be a change in the market, particularly in foodservice which we feel sadly may be hardest hit.”
Gemma Wakeham, director at Devon’s Two Drifters Distillery, commented:
“We have seen our social media following increase dramatically and therefore we’re able to keep telling our story, show our products and build awareness to an engaged following. Hopefully, this will result in more people talking about us once lockdown is over. And our new hand sanitiser might help us be remembered too!”
Food Drink Devon’s questionnaire asked if businesses would be doing anything differently after the lockdown had been lifted…
Lucy Hulland, who is a partner at the Huxbear Vineyard, responded:
“Absolutely. Lockdown has led to us engaging more proactively online with our local businesses and customers. Community spirit really seems to be triumphing in our area and people are really embracing local products and supporting their local businesses like never before. We’ll be hoping to keep this movement going after lockdown as it is so rewarding being part of a local community.”
At a similar business, the Lyme Bay Winery, sales and marketing manager Paul Sullivan was also responding to the question with an upbeat reply.
“We are really taking this opportunity to improve the business and our service and make it better. We’ve also seen a huge surge in English wine sales, aided by campaigns but also due to people trying new things and buying local, home-grown drinks over imported goods.”
And Howard Davies, co-owner of the Salcombe Distilling Company, commented:
“It has made us reconsider how our business operates and the business model itself – which has led to us making improvements in our internal operations as well as creating new and innovative products and services that will be of benefit both now and when the lockdown has been lifted. For example, these include the introduction of a brilliant online gin schools where clients work with one of our lead distillers via video link to collaboratively create a new gin – we develop and distil to bespoke recipe requests from clients and send them two bottles.”
Other food and drink businesses across the region have given similar upbeat replies to the one “possible silver lining” question put by the Devon Speaks Up campaign – but it must be emphasised that almost all of the respondents had plenty of negative things to say when responding to other queries about the present state of their businesses.
Pie-maker Simon Bryon-Edmond, who owns and runs Chunk of Devon based at Ottery St Mary, said he took his hat off to employees who were still coming into work:
“But is it fair on these guys to put in this much extra effort when around them their mates and neighbours have lovely furlough tans, are busy painting the house, playing badminton in the garden or learning to play the ukulele on 80 per cent salary or better? So, what should I do? Borrow £250k and shut down? Send everyone home and wait and see IF we may be able to open again to provide jobs for our 30 or so team who need to buy food, pay bills and rent? And, importantly, deprive the nation of the greatest pies.”
Mr Bryon-Edmond added:
“A massive shout-out to all those brilliant little independent corner shops, forecourts, butchers, farm shops and community shops who are doing a brilliant job. And thanks to those supporting them. It’s not just keeping my business afloat but also my veg supplier, meat supplier, the delivery company… Some of these are REALLY struggling.”
Barbara King, chair of Food Drink Devon, commented:
“Going forward we’ll all have to help each other find new ways of working to continue to promote what is good about Devon. The recovery is not going to be an easy process, especially for the hospitality industry, so please do support your local businesses.”