Groceries from the dry cleaner? UK firms turn to food delivery in bid to survive

Available slots for supermarket deliveries may be rarer than hens’ teeth, but an army of small firms are finding new ways to feed and water the nation – and keep themselves in business in the process.

Some entrepreneurs who have never dabbled in food and drink before are now doing so.

The London-based company I Hate Ironing, a dry-cleaning delivery service, which has drawn on its fleet of 60 vans to offer “essentials” boxes, including fruit and vegetables, and a lucky dip of staples such as eggs, bread and milk.

Owing to reduced demand for laundry from busy office workers only 15 of its drivers were on the road, but another nine are now working again, dropping off groceries instead.

Small business owners can seek safety in numbers, thanks to resources that pool information about local suppliers that may be off the beaten track. YourLocalDelivered is one such website, listing grocers, restaurants and pubs that allow home orders, in every part of the country.

Sainsbury’s to ease shopping limits, but allow only one adult per household

In South Wales, Cardiff Delivers offers a lengthy and growing list of the city’s options, while a Liverpool chef, Dave Critchley, has launched a food delivery service called LIDS to help keep household shelves stocked.

Beer Is Here, set up by a coalition of industry firms, connects beer lovers with a local brewery, helping the industry survive the loss of its custom from pubs, restaurants and bars.

John Willetts, a director of Simply Hops, said the scheme was appealing to the nation’s “beer patriotism” to help small brewers survive. Real ale enthusiasts’ group CAMRA has set up a similar scheme called Pulling Together.

One brewer, Reece Hugill, of the Hartlepool-based brewery Donzoko, has brought together artisanal producers of charcuterie, coffee and tea, offering nationwide delivery under the banner Donzoko & Friends.

This “adapt to survive” mentality has taken hold across all types of business, produce and in every part of the country.

How you can help food banks in the Covid-19 pandemic

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 40 million Americans relied on food banks to get enough to eat. Now, the demand for emergency food aid is growing exponentially as millions of people lose their jobs. 

As this demand grows, food banks are receiving far fewer donations from retailers as people are buying in bulk, so stocks are low. This means food banks must buy more supplies to make sure they have enough to feed every hungry American asking for help.

The Feeding America network of 200 food banks secures and distributes 4.3 billion meals each year through 60,000 food pantries and meal programs. They help vulnerable communities including the elderly and disabled, as well as providing free nutritional lunches for school children from low-income families.

If you want to help, find your local food bank, and go to their website to donate. You can also donate to Feeding America’s Covid-19 response fund.

Food banks rely on volunteers, and Feeding America and food pantries across the US urgently need help as most regular volunteers are senior citizens who are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19. If you are interested in becoming a new volunteer, use Feeding America’s tool to find your local food bank or pantry but please get in touch with them first before showing up. Remember, if you’re worried about your own health or the risk to a family member, “stay home” is the advice.

Feeding America also says you can help in small ways like following your local food bank on social media and sharing what they are doing online, or by becoming an advocate for the fight to end hunger in America.

Hundreds of restaurants have introduced or increased delivery services. One restaurateur, Will Lander, says the Quality Chop House, one of four in his Woodhead restaurant group, has had to rethink how its chefs work.

“Rental is expensive, so kitchens are usually pretty small. You might have six chefs within two metres of each other, which works fine in a pre-Covid world but you can’t do that now.”

The restaurant’s chefs have moved into the kitchen of its neighbouring shop, and wine stock that was destined for tables has been rerouted to a delivery service.

“If we can do all of that, it’ll give us the best chance of emerging as strong as possible,” he said. “And people seem to be drinking a lot of wine.”

Suppliers are reinventing themselves too. Owen Taylor & Sons, an East Midlands catering butcher, is offering retail delivery and pop-up shops, including at NHS sites.

And a Hertfordshire seafood firm, Marrfish, which has lost wholesale custom, is delivering direct to homes.

Another business, Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses, based in Lancashire, has become Butlers Larder, bringing together local producers of a much larger range of foods in the north-west.

Cheese addicts elsewhere in the country should look to the Cheese Tasting Company for a list of cheesemongers who will come to the door.

Ned Palmer, who runs the site, literally wrote a book on cheese in a pandemic. His work, A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles, contains a chapter on how the industry fared during the Black Death.

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