Cattle farmer aims to capitalise on huge lockdown demand for local beef
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020
A Norfolk cattle farmer says demand for his beef boxes has “shot through the roof” during lockdown – potentially fast-tracking the growth of the business by five years.
Jeremy Buxton of Eves Hill Farm at Booton, near Reepham, has seen a massive surge in demand for home-grown meat via his Norfolk Beef Company box scheme, which has helped to offset the losses from the farm’s campsite, which he hopes to reopen in July.
Mr Buxton, who left a TV presenting career with Eurosport in Paris to set up his pedigree Hereford herd, said the Covid-19 crisis proved the value of having diverse revenue streams – and has prompted him to find new ways to bolster his business model and maintain the momentum for future growth.
“There is so much positivity to be drawn from all of this,” he said. “The main positive element is the way people have been shopping.
He has started a new partnership with Sharrington Strawberries to include local fruit in his beef boxes, adding value for customers and increasing the marketing exposure for both companies. And he has even taken on a new member of staff, a 15-year-old trainee who is due to start a full-time apprenticeship in June.
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He said that has freed up more time to focus on future diversification ideas, including producing free range eggs and selling animal hides We already had the Norfolk Beef Company selling beef to people’s homes and, of course, demand has just shot through the roof. That has just been fantastic, we cannot keep up with demand. Every box is sold to new customers, so our customer base is expanding.
“It would have grown anyway but this period has been a springboard which has fast-tracked us forward by possibly five years. The big question is, when this is all over, can we retain those customers?
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“That is our responsibility as farmers and we have got to do our job well to retain their loyalty by offering them something of value and, again, it comes back to education, educating them about where their food comes from and to keep banging home all the messages around Red Tractor and things like that.
“The steps we have taken to retain those customers has also has forced out hand a little bit in terms of our business model. That is why we have started adding value to the beef boxes with Sharrington strawberries. And we are looking for other partners like that to make our boxes more attractive, make our customers feel valued.
“In times like this, I’ve almost forgotten about the farming side of things and really honed in on the business model and how we do things. You are always marketing, but when times get hard you’ve got to market even harder to push your product and get your business name out there.
“To use a sporting analogy, when protecting your business, attack is the best form of defence. We have taken an aggressive approach to it and rather than retracting everything we are going to expand and go for it.
READ MORE: Slump in lockdown beer demand leaves farmers grappling with a huge barley backlog“What the last two or three months has made me acutely aware of is that if we hadn’t had such a diverse and robust business model with different revenue streams then it would have ben a lot more difficult to us. If we had just a single diversification in the camp site, then it would have been a lot more difficult – but fortunately we have multiple diversifications and going forward that reinforces the idea that we should keep diversifying, more revenue streams.”
Future plans include pairing the livestock operation with a free-range egg venture, bringing chickens onto paddocks after they have been grazed by the cattle. Mr Buxton also hopes to extract full value from his animals by launching a hides business.
“At the moment, when our animals go to slaughter we get the meat back but there is a lot more we could take back,” he said. “There is a big market for these beautiful hides I have found a tanner in Bury St Edmunds, so we will take those back and sell those. It makes sense.”