|We’d like to let you know a bit about what has been happening here, how we have been managing changes caused by the pandemic, and some exciting plans.|
The year got off to a good start, with a number of new online customers joining us in January and February, as well as an increase in people using the shop. It felt very much that the general public’s growing awareness of issues around food and the environment was creating opportunities for us and we were making plans for a busy Spring. In February we recruited a new assistant grower, Rikke, who brings with her experiences of organic growing in Iceland and Central America.
In early March we began to see some changes in buying patterns, as people were becoming aware of the impending crisis. We were gaining new customers, and orders were getting bigger, but this was manageable until the middle of the month when demand suddenly spiked, and we found ourselves close to being overwhelmed. Our suppliers were also experiencing the same, and we were finding it very hard to get our usual deliveries, never mind the larger quantities we needed to fulfil our customers’ orders. We quickly closed the website to new customers, and put some buying restrictions in place. We also recruited several new staff members, who stepped in at very short notice, and have been absolutely brilliant. It was a tricky few weeks, but things have more or less stabilised now. Some key items are still in very short supply, although we do have toilet roll again! We now have nine vanloads going out every week, as opposed to the five we were sending out in February, which gives you an idea of the scale of the changes we’ve been managing – we have doubled the number of households we deliver to, from around 200 per week in February to over 400 by April.
We now have a waiting list of several hundred people, who we will contact as gaps appear in the delivery schedule. Although it’s been a very challenging time, it’s also a unique opportunity for us to grow our business, and we hope we have dealt with the challenges in a positive way. Generally, this crisis has exposed the fragility of a centralised food supply chain, and many more people are switching their allegiances to the local producers who have kept going when the supermarket shelves were bare. It’s certainly an interesting time to be in our line of work. It’s impossible to predict what will happen in the coming months, but we hope to sustain a good part of the increased business, and will be active in trying to do so.
New developments at Growing with Grace
At the start of the year we began hatching plans to open our own artisan bakery onsite, in the container where Elephant & Camel café was based last year. The plan was to develop our own, unique range of loaves, including speciality sourdoughs. There are no other organic bread bakers in our area and, to date, we have had to ship in third party bread to sell on in the shop and box scheme. We thought this was a fantastic opportunity to do something on site and plug a gap in the market. Once the bread had proved successful, we planned to then complement this with a seasonal café, which would also showcase our own produce.
It looked for a while as if this whole plan would have to be put on hold as the Coronavirus crisis deepened, especially as the new bread oven was on order from Belgium! But by some miracle it arrived, and we are delighted to now be selling our very own freshly-made bread in the shop and online, as of the week commencing May 11th. Ellie from the farm shop was a trained baker in a former existence, and is now focussing on making bread full time. Obviously the café plans are still mothballed for now, but we are very pleased to have got this far in the circumstances. We will focus our energy for now on developing our reputation as makers of the best quality organic artisan bread. So far the feedback has been very enthusiastic, and we plan to add a range of specials to our standard loaves in time.
We have also been planning the redevelopment of our website to give us a much better platform from which to promote our business and sell more produce. The website at the moment needs updating – we are managing with it but it could do so much more for us. Before Coronovirus hit, we had got to the point of putting a brief out to interested companies to work with us on its revamp, and are also taking free advice from a marketing professional who is guiding us through the process. Unfortunately, our ability to proceed with this project has not been limited by the web companies’ ability to work with us as, of course, they are all working from home. It’s been our time and our very limited bandwith – all of which has been taken up by the enormous demand for veg boxes – which has prevented us from moving this forward. We are hopeful that we will be able to progress the website development project very soon.
Looking to the future.
2020 should have been a big celebratory year for us, as it’s the 20th anniversary of Growing with Grace. Sadly now isn’t the time for a party, but we’ll be keeping an eye on the situation and if it feels appropriate to celebrate later in the year, we’ll start putting plans together.
We are due to hold a shareholder AGM in June, and are looking into the feasibility of holding a virtual AGM via Zoom or similar.
So, in summary, in these unprecedented times, we wanted to thank you for your support to date and say how much we appreciate the contribution you have made to our success so far. The next 12 months are going to be both challenging and exciting for us, and we look forward to keeping you informed about new developments and how you can get involved.
Please don’t forget, if you are based locally, to come into the shop and try our new bread range – or perhaps add it to your next online order. We would love to hear your feedback about this new initiative.