Direct sales instead of super­mar­ket

Dur­ing the coro­na cri­sis, farm­ers are seiz­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty to open up new busi­ness areas. We have col­lect­ed three exam­ples from three coun­tries.

As of mid-March 2020, many city, and indeed coun­try, dwellers have found them­selves in a sit­u­a­tion that is both unusu­al and unprece­dent­ed as a result of the Covid-19 virus. Peo­ple have had to change their rou­tines from one day to the next as they are often only per­mit­ted to leave the house with good rea­son. A good rea­son: Buy­ing gro­ceries.

It is pre­cise­ly in this area that con­sumer behav­iour is chang­ing quite sig­nif­i­cant­ly, and in many west­ern coun­tries, the demand for local pro­duce is grow­ing. For farm­ers, this is an excel­lent oppor­tu­ni­ty to reach con­sumers direct­ly.

We talked to Dr. Hans-Dieter Stal­lknecht of the Ger­man Farm­ers’ Asso­ci­a­tion, who told us: “It is still too ear­ly to iden­ti­fy a clear trend. One thing is cer­tain though: Con­sump­tion pat­terns are going crazy. If you have space and capac­i­ty, you can posi­tion your­self in the mar­ket very well at the moment.”

There is talk of adapt­ing both farm­ing and sales towards direct mar­ket­ing, to pro­vide a safe alter­na­tive to super­mar­kets. The Fur­row has been vis­it­ing farms in Ger­many, France and Eng­land, all of which are try­ing to make the best of the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.

 

Ger­many, Vai­hin­gen an der Enz:
Organ­ic crates from the Braun farm

Michael Braun notices a sig­nif­i­cant increase in demand in his organ­ic farm in times of Coro­na.

“It’s total­ly nuts. Because of coro­na, every­one is buy­ing Ger­man pro­duce now, espe­cial­ly organ­ic,” says Michael Braun. He took over the Braun organ­ic farm in Vai­hin­gen an der Enz from his par­ents 34 years ago. Today, a vari­ety of sal­ads, veg­eta­bles and herbs, as well as grain, pump­kins and sweet corn, grow on 65ha of arable land and in 5000m² of green­house.

Since 1988, the com­pa­ny has been sup­ply­ing pri­vate cus­tomers, com­pa­nies, schools and kinder­gartens with food crates. When the Covid-19 virus arrived in Ger­many in March, more and more peo­ple ordered the organ­ic crates. Since then, the pack­ing sta­tion has been in a state of emer­gency. The employ­ees were rapid­ly unable to keep up with orders. On 9 March 2019, one week before schools in Baden-Würt­tem­berg closed, the com­pa­ny con­se­quent­ly stopped accept­ing new cus­tomers. “This has nev­er hap­pened before in my entire career,” says Mr Braun, still sur­prised.

3,500 organ­ic crates a week

Today, the organ­ic farm sup­plies up to 3500 cus­tomers a week. This is 10% to 15% more than usu­al. Sales have risen by 50%. In order to process the addi­tion­al orders, crate pack­ing now runs on a two-shift basis three days a week. It’s now pos­si­ble to pack for 12 to 14 hours a day. 50 per­ma­nent employ­ees are sup­port­ed by stu­dents and school chil­dren.

Hygiene mea­sures are also imple­ment­ed and main­tained in the pack­ing line.

The dri­vers deliv­er the crates with­out cus­tomer con­tact. Clients have been real­ly recep­tive to this new approach. Most of them are not at home when the goods are deliv­ered any­way. “We have very spe­cif­ic park­ing agree­ments. Many have giv­en us a latchkey so that we can leave the deliv­ery in the hall­way,” explains Mr Braun. Cus­tomers can pur­chase insu­la­tion box­es so that the food stays fresh in front of the house. And while con­tact is avoid­ed dur­ing the deliv­ery, it is unex­pect­ed­ly added else­where: Many cus­tomers write cards and let­ters, even paint­ing pic­tures to thank the organ­ic farm for its work. That’s encour­ag­ing.

A lot of work dur­ing Coro­na

Mr Braun want­ed to thank his employ­ees, so he paid them a  Coro­na bonus as ear­ly as March: More than €2.50 (£2.23) an hour. “This is to com­pen­sate for all the hard work they’ve done. We have a great team of employ­ees,” he explains.

There is some uncer­tain­ty despite ris­ing sales. Although the com­pa­ny has enjoyed sta­ble growth of between 7% and 10% in recent years, if the sit­u­a­tion con­tin­ues, cus­tomers could drift away. “I realise that our prod­ucts can be replaced by cheap­er ones,” explains Mr Braun. He has planned a ware­house exten­sion for new offices, pack­ing lines and cold stores. Approval was grant­ed three weeks ago, and every­thing is ready for con­struc­tion to begin. “We’re look­ing at it pos­i­tive­ly at the minute and I think we’ll build. Invest­ments are always a risk. You just hope it will go well.”

Addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion can be found here:


 

France, Grigneu­seville:
Busi­ness is boom­ing for the Blondel butch­ery

Sophie and Olivi­er Blondel cur­rent­ly process 50 orders per day instead of the usu­al ten.

In Grigneu­seville in Nor­mandy, Sophie and Olivi­er Blondel keep 3000 pigs, most of which are fed on the farm’s cere­al crops. Since 2015, they have expand­ed their pro­cess­ing plant so as to offer pork by direct sale. Under the brand “J’adore le cochon” (I love pork), the Blondels sell fresh, smoked and some processed meats – pies and stews, for exam­ple.

We have seen the demand for our prod­ucts increase by almost 50% since the begin­ning of the coro­na cri­sis.

Olivi­er Blondel

“We have seen the demand for our prod­ucts increase by almost 50% since the begin­ning of the coro­na cri­sis,” says Mr Blondel. “A third is sold on site at the farm shop, the rest in local farm­ers’ shops. At present we only sell to indi­vid­u­als, because since 16 March and the start of the lock­down in France, vis­its to restau­rants are no longer pos­si­ble.  Part of the peo­ple now buy direct­ly from the pro­duc­er. Here they can shop with­out hav­ing to stand in line at the super­mar­ket,” he adds.  “We’ve hired an extra per­son for our pro­cess­ing plant and a temp for our store so we can process 50 orders a day instead of 10.” 

Pro­tec­tion for cus­tomers and employ­ees

Since 2015, the Blondels have expand­ed their pro­cess­ing plant to be able to offer the pork by direct sale.

Pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures were easy to put in place: The check­out area is now pro­tect­ed by Plex­i­glas and hand dis­in­fec­tant is avail­able for cus­tomers and used in the butcher’s shop as well. “Since we’ve been lucky with the weath­er this spring, the shop door is open all the time so that cus­tomers do not have to touch the door han­dle,” says Mr Blondel. “At one metre wide, our meat counter is per­fect for main­tain­ing the min­i­mum dis­tance between cus­tomer and sell­er. In the future, we want to sell masks in the store as well.”

The cou­ple cur­rent­ly slaugh­ter and process an aver­age of 45 pigs per week. The pigs are main­ly fed with the grain from their own farm, sup­ple­ment­ed by rape­seed, peas, broad beans and soy­beans. “I’m a farmer and have gained prac­ti­cal knowl­edge of butch­ery at a sec­ondary school for the dairy and meat trades in Auril­lac,” says Mr Blondel. “After­wards, I was able to acquire in-depth knowl­edge in about twen­ty dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies before final­ly start­ing my own busi­ness.”

With over 100 prod­ucts, the “J’adore le cochon” range is quite ver­sa­tile. “Our man­u­fac­tur­ing prin­ci­ples revolve around three pil­lars: Trace­abil­i­ty, fresh­ness and fla­vor. For us it’s very impor­tant that no dyes, preser­v­a­tives, fla­vor­ings or yield enhancers are used in our process­es. Here you get the authen­tic taste of char­cu­terie.” 

Addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion can be found here:


 

Great Britain, North York­shire:
“Dri­ve-in” at the Bert’s Bar­row Farm Shop

Even in Coro­na times the farm shop Bert’s Bar­row sup­plies its cus­tomers with fresh prod­ucts.

As a result of the imposed cur­few, rur­al busi­ness­es across the UK are restruc­tur­ing their activ­i­ties – but the best ideas often emerge in times of cri­sis. One farm shop in North York­shire has adapt­ed to pro­vide a safe alter­na­tive to the super­mar­ket.

Bert’s Bar­row Farm Shop, Hillam, near Sel­by is providing vital sup­port to the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ty with the suc­cess­ful launch of a dri­ve-through shop­ping ser­vice, giv­ing cus­tomers access to afford­able, local pro­duce with­out hav­ing to leave their cars.

Since April 2020, busi­ness own­ers Jason and Char­lotte Wells-Thomp­son have been oper­at­ing their dri­ve-in shop­ping ser­vice, togeth­er with a team that selects, packs and receives pay­ments from 50 cus­tomers per hour. 

Con­tact­less shop­ping

“Dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions can real­ly force you to get cre­ative and be resource­ful,” says Mrs Wells-Thomp­son. “The week­end before the lock­down was announced, we had a surge of cus­tomers. It was chaos and we soon realised it wasn’t pos­si­ble to remain open as a shop observ­ing the cor­rect dis­tanc­ing rules,” she explains.

“Oth­er com­pa­nies offered deliv­ery ser­vices, but we lacked both the trans­porta­tion and the time. We still need­ed the cus­tomers to come to us, and the dri­ve-through allowed us to do that while min­imis­ing social risk.” In only three days, the cou­ple put the plan into action.

The cus­tomers thank for the ser­vice in times of cri­sis – con­tact­less of course.

So how do they run this new busi­ness for­mat? “With a com­plet­ed shop­ping list, cus­tomers dri­ve their vehi­cle to our farm shop, signs instruct them what to do to keep us all safe,” explains Wells-Thomp­son. Orders are tak­en at the till through the closed car win­dow, the team pick out the pro­duce and take pay­ment using a con­tact­less receiv­er. “We can keep the car win­dow up and take mul­ti­ple pay­ments for orders over the £45 trans­ac­tion lim­it.”

Final­ly, the team load the shop­ping into the customer’s boot, pre-opened by the cus­tomer before reach­ing the ser­vice area to reduce the risk of cross-con­t­a­m­i­na­tion. The fam­i­ly have also main­tained a front-of-house by using the old pota­to store as a shop front and ser­vice area.

Blogs entries for inspi­ra­tion

Mrs Wells-Thomp­son explains: “We can’t have peo­ple in the farm shop, but we still want to pro­vide a visu­al shop­ping expe­ri­ence. After all, there aren’t that many oppor­tu­ni­ties for them to leave the house at the moment. So why not make a change for once?” Bert’s also pro­vides vari­ety with recipe blog entries tai­lored to the veg­e­tar­i­an crates.

Due to boom­ing busi­ness, the cou­ple increased their team from three full-time employ­ees to 12 full- and part-time employ­ees and some vol­un­teers. “One of our staff mem­bers would usu­al­ly be sup­ply­ing events with enter­tain­ment equip­ment, while anoth­er is a pro­fes­sion­al fal­con­er – both lost their income because of the cur­rent cri­sis,” explains Mrs Wells-Thomp­son. “It’s very much a team effort – every­body is val­ued, and we couldn’t do it with­out them.”

Addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion can be found here: