Grocer is thinking inside the box as fruit and veg business branches out
- Credit: Ian Burt
A grocer and florist has attracted blue chip clients after finding a fruitful way to diversify her business.
Starlings of Swaffham branched out to deliver luxury fruit boxes across the UK four years ago, and has since received orders from across the world – including from computer game giant Electronic Arts (EA), pharmaceutical group GlaxoSmithKline and insurer Aviva.
With competition from supermarkets as stiff as ever, it has proved a reliable way to bring in extra revenue for owner Kim Starling, who has also capitalised on a growing number of people looking for alternatives to chocolates and flowers as gifts.
She said: 'Three years ago I decided that trying to supply restaurants and caterers was difficult when there are so many big competitors. The baskets were a creative alternative to sending flowers, which it has not been so popular to send to hospitals recently.'
Originally Miss Starling aimed to sell 60 boxes a year but the business has flourished and she now sells that many every month.
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Now the baskets make up around 25% of the business's turnover and, with sales expected to top 800 units this year, Starlings is planning to find new premises to expand the venture into. She said a highlight had been when an EA representative had come to look around the shop before putting in an order for 50 baskets.
Miss Startling attributes some of her success to embracing the digital world through search engine optimisation (SEO) - a modern twist on the grocer's traditional call to advertise their wares.
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The SEO has paid off, increasing traffic to the website from 1,000 visitors between December 2015 and April 2016 to more than 7,000 a year later, with around one in 12 becoming customers.
'Investing in our online presence was one of the best decisions I made,' she said. 'We have had customers from New York and Canada. It is a way for people across the world to send a nice gift to someone back home.'
The entire business is run by six part-time workers, including Miss Starling, but the expansion is expected to create more jobs.
While running a business can be tricky enough, Miss Starling has also had to contend with rapid onset alopecia, and has donated baskets to Alopecia UK as thanks for the charity's support.