When lockdowns, tiered restrictions and shielding were introduced in the fight against Coronavirus, we saw our business change overnight. However, with a mixture of quick thinking and calm resolve, we continue to navigate numerous threats presented by the global pandemic.
In March 2020, we lost 45% of our business within a matter of days. Whilst we were swift to support retail butchers the public saw thrive, the cancellation of events, festivals, sporting fixtures and closure of restaurants, hotels and cruise ships meant that usual orders from catering clients evaporated.
We urgently met and immediately implemented the Government furlough scheme to protect staff, reduced operations and centralised the majority of our logistics from our facility in Banbury.
‘After the initial shock and reaction to it, we took a breath and started to plan’, says Chief Executive, Gary Smith. ‘The team that had been focussing on our preparations for Brexit had to suddenly shift focus to a potentially more damaging issue no one had foreseen’.
By cutting costs in our operations and responding to the increased demand from high street butchers, we managed to negotiate the next six months successfully.
‘Customers were telling us how much they valued our service and a reliable supply of produce’, says Sales Director, George Holliday. ‘We received a lot of referrals and were running to keep up with demand’.
It was during this time that we began to see the business in a new light.
‘With an increasing number of enquiries from across the UK, we realised the central location of our Banbury warehouses gave us the best national reach’, explains George. ‘We also saw very clearly what our retail customers value from us – response, service and straightforward wholesale product that they can prepare for themselves. The most common question was not ‘how much?’ but ‘when?’.
‘You do not expect people to understand all the transport, warehousing and administrative logistics that goes into getting the meat to their door, but for the first time, we received a lot of gratitude for allowing our butchers to meet the needs of their customers’.
By the autumn, we felt we could not wait for the Government decision on furlough and began redundancies. Despite great sadness, we were proud to retain 80% of our staff from the start of the year. ‘We did our very best to keep everyone we could, and I think everyone across the business appreciated our efforts’, says Gary.
Now during a third lockdown where the public are not ‘panic-buying’ and schools and airlines are joining the organisations halting their orders, we have a simple and focussed strategy for 2021.
‘It is a cliché, but we are focussed on ‘giving people what they want’, explains Gary. ‘That alone is easier said than done as we embark on business without membership to the European Union, but we have made the conscious decision to separate the production areas of our business in order to allow our enviable reputation in meat wholesale to shine’.
‘We have been receiving enquiries from other companies about use of our chilled warehouses and transport division, and have been delighted to provide productive partnerships any way we can’.
Whilst there is a long way to go, and catering could be one of the last industries to regain its strength in the marketplace, Gary is philosophical and optimistic for the future.
‘Despite the instant loss of income, which is inevitable when dealing with product that cannot be stored away for future use, the pandemic has highlighted our strengths as a company, clarified how best to make use of them, and even shown us the way forward. At least we have been able to take that away from a hugely stressful year’.