Food traders in Aylsham have emerged from the dark early days of the pandemic with a healthy bank account and a new fan base of food lovers. But they now face the challenge of a return to ‘old normal’ shopping habits – and ecommerce.
‘Shoppers were forced to shop on-line and explore new distribution channels’ says Andrew Fearne, Professor of Value Chain Management at the Norwich Business School at the UEA.
‘To keep customers loyal means offering great service, great choice, and competitive prices – shoppers will be inclined to stay and pay a premium but they will need constant reminding with great offers, stories and a sense of community.
‘This has to go alongside the ability to offer a wider range of products, and to reduce distribution costs.’
Crawford White, of G F White, one of two butchers in Aylsham who have had to adapt to changes in shopping habits, says: ‘I’m not a fan of the internet but the crisis has shown us the need to diversify. So we are looking at upgrading our website and providing an online service.’
To reduce distribution and transport costs as well as support traditional breeders, Crawford gets his beef from Park Farm, Blickling, owned by Tony and Emily Bambridge.
Coxford’s butchers has stopped taking online orders because ‘it was going crazy’, says Jason Gibbons, co-owner with Johnny Payne. ‘But we will look again at online ordering. We’re still taking telephone orders and, with the new customers sticking with us, we’re often working until late at night to keep up with demand.’
Their beef is also sourced locally, from Chris Blaxall of Bittern Herefords in nearby Antingham.
E-commerce for Marion involves a new, second mobile phone, which she has had to buy to meet growing demand.
Social media to promote that day’s fresh supply of her home-grown vegetables, and other produce, has attracted new customers and increased sales. ‘We’re often working six days a week now – it’s been hectic,’ she says.
Award-winning artisan bakery, Bread Source with a shop in Red Lion Street, is already expanding its retail range selling more jam and home-made granola as a result of the crisis.
Isabel Brentnall, shop area manager, says that they had weathered the flour shortage and although they lost some wholesale customers, they gained online shoppers, with Aylsham a popular pick-up point.
Slow Food Aylsham celebrates its 15th anniversary in October. Sadly this year’s food festival, again due to be held in October, has been cancelled, but watch this space for next year’s details.