How is Coronavirus affecting our Local Producers?

Diane Cooper, who is a key member of the PR & Communications Team, is also one of the organisers and volunteers at Ripley Farmers’ Market.  In the following article she provides an insight into how farmers’ markets and their stallholders are coping with the issues thrown up by coronavirus.

Ripley Farmers’ Market has been running now month in, month out second Saturday of the month for the last 15 years and has never been cancelled.  Until now!  There’s a core of 30 plus regular stallholders who have loyal customers coming to market each month, as well as about another 20 who come seasonally or for special events.  The Market committee are keeping in touch with them through this time and have discovered the varied ingenious ways they’ve come up with to satisfy their own customer base.

Just Because Treats, offering South American sweet pastries, have an online booking service with free delivery in their area a couple of days per week.  Jen, one of the owners, tells us a few of her coping strategies:

  • Live one day at a time as it’s difficult to plan in the current uncertainties
  • Get better at understanding customers’ new behaviours/needs
  • Find ways to promptly adapt to their needs in commercially viable ways

Café Zinho, based in the Surrey Hills in Woldingham, is a relatively new stallholder at the market.  Sidinaea Wilson’s business model is that she travels to buy raw coffee beans from plantations in her home country of Brazil twice a year and thereby cuts out the middle-man.  She then roasts the beans and sells to restaurants/cafes/farmers’ markets.  Her latest shipment is stuck in Rotterdam and although she has stock to last for a couple more weeks, she needs the supply chain to unlock to get her raw materials through.  Her business has gone down 70% in sales to restaurants etc. but her online sales have grown 500% and she needs supplies for those customers.

Many brewers/wineries/cider and spirits producers have had to cope with cancellation of orders to pubs and restaurants but most have been able to transfer their sales on-line relatively easily as this part of their business was already developed.  Spirits producers have been offering alcohol hand sanitizer with purchases, initially for the NHS but now more widely available.  Sadly, there have been films of barrels of beer being poured down the drain (literally) as it had passed its sell-by date.

Fortunately this wasn’t necessary for Godstone Brewers, who quickly diversified their cask sales into bottles, so there’s been no wastage.  Bottling is more time-consuming and their profit margins have suffered, but it’s allowed them to sell their beer more easily via their local farm shop, as well as online sales. They also have a limited supply of lager being sold with a 50p donation per bottle to the NHS.  They’re looking forward to coming back to the rural markets they normally attend.

And Good Living Brew, award-winning producer of the low alcohol wine-lover’s beer, Binary Botanical, has a similar story to tell.  Their online business was already fairly well-developed and they are very busy with free delivery of orders, with an additional offer of a free 12 pack of their no-alcohol beer according to spend.

Small nursery business, Specialist Plants, based in Ripley have found that being local and well-known to residents through their seasonal attendance at the farmers’ market, are also coping fairly well.  With people having plenty of time to nurture their gardens, perhaps start that little vegetable plot they always dreamed of and it being the right time of year, their sales are pretty stable with buyers coming to them rather than the other way round.

So this snapshot of how rural small traders have coped during the pandemic shows that most of them have found a way to adapt, reacted quickly to the lockdown and are managing to cope with reduced income so long as they can see a return to more conventional business trading soon.

Editors’ Note: As we mentioned in our regular monthly email to you, you can find a list of businesses that are providing home deliveries and other services on the website of our sister organisation, Surrey Hills Enterprises.  Our Newsletter Sponsors, Anthony Wakefield & Partners are also supporting Surrey Hills Businesses through their CIVING page on Facebook

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