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‘Our takings increased by 35 times last week’ – how farm shops are coping with lockdown sales surge

PUBLISHED: 08:18 08 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:17 08 April 2020

Sam Steggles has expanded his farm shop at Fielding Cottage in Honingham after a huge surge in food sales during the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Samantha Fairweather

Sam Steggles has expanded his farm shop at Fielding Cottage in Honingham after a huge surge in food sales during the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Samantha Fairweather

Samantha Fairweather

Norfolk’s farm shops are dealing with a spectacular surge in sales during the coronavirus lockdown – with one reporting takings 35 times higher than the previous week.

White House Farm owners Charlotte and Oliver Gurney, who have launched an online order service to keep their farm shop operating during the coronavirus crisis. Picture : ANTONY KELLYWhite House Farm owners Charlotte and Oliver Gurney, who have launched an online order service to keep their farm shop operating during the coronavirus crisis. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Fielding Cottage at Honingham, near Norwich is one of many farm shops across Norfolk which are adapting to changes in shopping habits while farmers and wholesalers seek new outlets for produce previously destined for pubs, restaurants and caterers now closed due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Owner Sam Steggles was previously selling local meat, vegetables and eggs from within a 20-mile radius from his small “Goat Shed” self-service shop.

But in response to massive customer demand, and the sudden availability of stocks from other Norfolk farms and producers, he has expanded the product range and moved the shop into a much larger building which is currently empty while waiting to become a new processing factory for his goat’s cheese business.

“We’ve seen unprecedented levels of people wanting to come and support us,” he said. “Last week we took 35 times more than we took the week before. And that is just by providing what people want – we increased the range on offer as people have requested more and more bits and pieces.

The closed cafe at White House Farm has become a retail depot for a new online order service launched during the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Oliver GurneyThe closed cafe at White House Farm has become a retail depot for a new online order service launched during the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Oliver Gurney

“We have got fresh fruit and vegetables every day from Easters of Norwich – he was supplying all the restaurants and pubs, so he was keen to have an additional outlet. The meat is from Swannington Farm to Fork [near Reepham] and they said they would love to supply us because they were doing a lot of pubs and restaurants as well. And Andy Allen’s asparagus [from Portwood Farms near Attleborough] is flying off the shelves too.

“The pub and restaurant trade are finished for now, so the farmers and suppliers really need these new outlets.”

Mr Steggles said he had also been able to source other products whose retail avenues had been closed off.

“We’ve got garden plants and 10 pallets of compost,” he said. “I sold a pallet-load of 60 bags on Saturday. People have even asked for avocados and tonic water, and we have been able to get those too.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Out-of-work leisure and hospitality staff showing “strong interest” in farm jobs

Another farm shop which has embraced the challenges of this new trading environment is White House Farm in Sprowston, which is now packing more than 100 boxes a day as part of its new online order service.

The farm acts as a community hub with a range of businesses units as well as its cafe and farm shop, which includes a traditional butcher’s counter.

Charlotte Gurney, who runs the business with her husband Oliver, said after the “bold decision” was taken to close to the general public, the farm shop changed its way of working overnight – with a family member designing an internet order service and the cafe being turned into a “retailer’s depot”, wrapping and packing boxes to be delivered to customer’s cars. Payment for this “pick and pack” service is taken over the phone and the team aims to process orders within 24 hours.

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“It’s been a rollercoaster of events,” said Mrs Gurney. “We are one of the few food businesses in Norfolk offering this ‘no social contact’ service. It was a leap of faith, and we thought our fate was sealed, but customers are appreciating the personal service, and the safety measures we’ve gone to. They order on our website, we pick their box and deliver it to 10m from their car.

“The humble farm shop has always had its place in our community, offering a personal service and fresh produce but now when faced with the nightmare that is often a supermarket visit, the idea of milk fresh from the local dairy and huge brown fresh eggs delivered out to your car is fast catching on. Perhaps people will remember the lengths local farmers went to and switch their allegiances after all this is over.”

She added: “At the moment, I am proud to have a business and some very open-minded, hard-working employees who have embraced the challenge to serve their community.”


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