Food wholesalers offer online orders to sell stock

HG Walter's website screen shotImage copyright HG Walter’s
Image caption People stuck at home have a great appetite for home deliveries from their favourite high street shops

Food wholesalers are making online home deliveries in response to Covid-19 measures.

As bars, restaurants and hotels shut due to government restrictions, the wholesalers that usually provide them with food and drink, have seen a huge drop in business.

But with stock to shift, they are determined to find new customers.

Members of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors have seen a 70% decline in trade over the past two weeks,

“Food distributors have seen their market disappear overnight,” says chief executive James Bielby. “Companies have bought in stock, and the vast majority of it is going to waste as they can’t sell it, and in a lot of cases they haven’t been paid.

“The government doesn’t recognise that this part of the supply chain has effectively shut down – wholesalers need access to support or they’re going to go bust.”

But many businesses have already taken matters into their own hands, by offering online home deliveries for individual consumers.

London-based butcher HG Walter’s usual clients include Michelin-starred restaurants, retailers like Harrods and hoteliers such as the Savoy and the Dorchester – but they’ve lost hundreds of regular orders in the past two weeks.

“Business just dropped overnight,” director Adam Heanen, explains. “At the moment, it’s not about making money, it’s about the company staying alive and keeping our staff.”

The butcher has launched an online home delivery service of ‘survival packs’ including fruit, vegetables, vacuum-packed meat and even a make-your-own Patty & Bun burger kit – it’s had thousands of orders over the past few days.

Image copyright HG Walter’s
Image caption The butcher shop had the idea of burger kits – and has had thousands of orders

“We are used to doing 350 deliveries a day, but it’s just on a much smaller scale now,” added Mr Heanen. “We were able to adapt our website and use our existing drivers and vans.”

Mauro Capellazzi, 71-year-old owner of Cafe Deli Wholesale, might be self-isolating, but he’s modernised his company and launched a website overnight.

“Online orders are a completely new thing for us but so many people need food now and we need to keep our business,” he says. “It’s our responsibility to do what we can to help people, especially those who can’t leave their homes.”

Image caption Cafe Deli has transformed its business overnight, with bulk orders for a range of goods, including salad cream

“If you’re running a food distribution business you have invested in stock, so you have to find somewhere for it to go,” Peter Backman, a food service consultant says. “Home deliveries represent a large market opportunity, but the orders are small-scale for wholesalers used to delivering 40-tonne loads.

“It works in unprecedented times like these, but won’t be sustainable in the long term for many businesses, unless they undergo large restructuring.”

Fresh Pastures usually supplies milk to local authorities, schools and businesses across the north of England. In the past 48 hours it has refocused the business, and is now serving dairy produce and bread from its website.

Image copyright Fresh Pastures
Image caption Fresh Pastures delivered to schools and businesses, and is now a community resource

“As schools have closed temporarily, so has 97% of our business,” Dawn Carney, managing director, explains. “But we recognise that we have an opportunity to redistribute our services to offer a vital resource for our communities.”

Image copyright Foodchain
Image caption Food delivery apps aimed at chefs are now giving consumers access to their services

Food delivery apps are enjoying a spike due to Covid-19 social distancing, offering groceries as well as takeaways.

Foodchain is an app developed for chefs and suppliers, catering for around 500 restaurants with produce. Recently, the platform has been adapted to give consumers access to get food boxes delivered to their homes.

“When my friend was self-isolating, I realised he couldn’t get a food delivery for weeks, so I thought we could fill that gap,” Amelia Christie-Miller, of Foodchain, says.

In the past two weeks, they’ve had 2,500 new sign-ups, almost entirely home users.

“It’s been a challenge adapting to card payments and convincing our suppliers to sell smaller amounts, but it has been really popular,” she adds.

Bringing the pub

It’s not just food that is adapting to online demand. Many pubs and breweries are offering home deliveries, including pre-mixed cocktails.

London brewer, Signature Brew, has launched a ‘Pub in a Box’, delivered to your door by recently unemployed musicians.

The bulk of its business comes from wholesaling to pubs, bars and music venues, as well as summer festivals, which have been cancelled. The box includes beer, glasses, a Spotify playlist and a music pub quiz.

Musician Josh from band The Skints, has become a delivery driver for Signature brew, after having his US tour and Glastonbury slot cancelled.

“I found myself falling on hard times, so we are just trying to keep things cracking in a place of adversity,” he says. “If Covid-19 has you locked indoors, we bring the pub to you.”

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