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- Coronavirus: Carruthers & Sons sees future opportunities for the independent food sector
Coronavirus: Carruthers & Sons sees future opportunities for the independent food sector
“People have probably appreciated that shorter and more local supply chains have been more resilient."
- In the early days of lockdown, George Carruthers & Sons redistributed excess produce to food banks and charities to ensure no food was wasted.
- Hospitality businesses who started offering their customers fresh produce boxes have provided a lifeline for the Glasgow-based fruit and veg supplier.
- General Manager Alex Fairfull hopes that the public will continue to buy local produce directly from independent businesses once the crisis has passed.
Image: George Carruthers & Sons supply fresh fruit and vegetables to several Food for Life Served Here local authority award holders, including Scottish Borders Council.
As the coronavirus crisis sent the UK into lockdown in mid-March, the effects were felt along the whole food supply chain. For Glasgow-based fruit and vegetable supplier George Carruthers & Sons Ltd, their business with local authorities and the hospitality sector disappeared almost overnight. While there are still opportunities to supply produce for local authority food packages and to care homes, the business’s school supply has ended.
“We’ve had to adapt,” says General Manager Alex Fairfull. His first step was to quickly speak to growers, to discuss pre-programs and contracts that would need to change. “Everybody was accommodating, and everyone knew it wasn’t anyone’s fault,” he says. “But with something like baking potatoes, we used to use six, seven pallets at week on that program. Now it’s one pallet a week. It’s been challenging to adapt those programs to what we need.”
Redistributing surplus produce
In the early days of the lockdown, Alex says they had surplus produce that they needed to shift. They contacted the major supermarkets, to offer produce to fill empty shelves, but no one took up their offer. “I think with the supermarkets, when you're not talking to them on a constant basis, you can only throw it out there and see what happens,” says Alex.
“That was the main route we thought would be good to try and use a reasonable volume of that surplus. In the end, though, we gave it to food banks and charities that we give to anyway in Glasgow, Ayrshire and Falkirk. They were all quite game to take bigger volume. And then we managed to control what was coming in and get the correct quantities. Nothing’s been wasted.”
New opportunities with direct sales
With the consumer shift towards direct sales, Alex says they have been able to adapt to new opportunities. “Retail is a bit busier than normal because more people are shopping independently,” says Alex, “but the big change we've seen is a lot of the restaurants we supply are now offering a fruit or vegetable box delivery scheme direct to the public. That model has popped up all over the place, which has kept a bit of business coming our way. We’re still trading and still managing to work.”
The coronavirus crisis has led people to consider where their food comes from – perhaps for the first time. The consumer trend back towards local produce is an opportunity for independent businesses like Carruthers to get back on their feet once the crisis is over.
Alex says he hopes this trend will continue. “Perhaps it won't continue at the pace it’s at the moment, but even if it continues at 40 or 50 percent, it would be pretty positive for the independent sector for sure,” he says. “People have probably appreciated that shorter and more local supply chains have been more resilient. Speaking to my customers, they're all certainly keen to continue to use them.”
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