Remember March? February even? The good old days…
My family have been growing vegetables and a bit of fruit for the foodservice sector for over 70 years. Our core products have been destined, via wholesalers, for the kitchens of Chinese restaurants across the UK. The chances are if you have eaten in a Chinese restaurant in the UK, you will have enjoyed some of our vegetables. Alongside our fruit juice business Cotchel, and spirits brand Reliquum, we also have a smaller project trialling and growing niche products for some of the best restaurants in the UK.
From the turn of the year, we noticed sales sliding as people stayed away from Chinese restaurants and we all know what happened next: Covid 19 hit the UK and lockdown ensued. Restaurants shut and our sales collapsed. Some of our customers shut, others shed teams and we furloughed staff.
Turning our business around
As a farm we have crops in the ground for the next 6 months. They need looking after and if we stop drilling or planting we will have no crops later in the year. We needed to keep working to have a business later in the year. However, with no sales the future looked bleak.
We scrambled to turn our business model around and to look for different outlets, in particular selling our greens and rhubarb to the greengrocers enjoying a renaissance. We have sent big volumes of produce to food waste redistribution charity, Fareshare, and veg box schemes like Oddbox.
Delivering these, much smaller, volumes to our wholesalers in New Spitalfields Market, we realised we could bring a few boxes of produce back to Essex. Having made some boxes up for staff, we offered them to our local community in and around the village of Great Oakley and were overwhelmed by people’s enthusiasm and support.
Three weeks later we are delivering across the Tendring District and Colchester Borough. We have a new website, built from scratch in a week by KAT Marketing. It has meant a great deal and it is helping us keep the business afloat and preserving people’s jobs. We hope it is also allowing some of those isolated and stuck at home access to fresh fruit & vegetables. We are operating this fruit & veg box scheme as a cost neutral exercise for that reason.
Holt Farm - the future
While most people are ordering the fruit & veg boxes, many are also taking the opportunity to add some of our Cotchel apple juice or our Reliquum Spirits Gin or Apple Brandy. We are also working hard to add other locally sourced products for you and as the season progresses we will add more of our own produce. We added wild garlic from Wrabness earlier this week and our spring onions will start next week and summer will see many more. Watch this space!
We couldn’t have done it without
Finally a huge thanks must go to Super-Sam, who returned from furlough to be the driving force setting this project up. Many of you will have spoken to her or chatted on email; she never loses her sense of humour and has worked day and night to ensure we keep our customers happy. Sam has enjoyed valuable support from her team Andy and Jamie, Polly and Lyubo here at the farm. We have all learnt lots of new things but we will continue to learn and keep improving to offer you as good a service as we possibly can.