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: