British-grown beans and pulses see ‘extraordinary’ leap in sales through lockdown
- Credit: Archant
Google ‘farmer purple flowers’ and you’ll be greeted with glorious images of a north Essex farmer amid a stunning array of his flowering echium crop.
But as well as producing speciality crops for the beauty and health sector, search engine sensation Andrew Fairs, of Fairking, Great Tey, also nurtures some food crops more commonly associated with warmer climes.
His quinoa crop – now maturing in the field – is grown for Beccles-based Hodmedod, which sells British-grown pulses and beans to independent retailers and distributors, the hospitality sector – and directly to the public.
MORE - Farmer’s ‘fantastic’ echium crop a sharp contrast to his wheat amid weather woesOne of Hodmedod’s customers is wholesale baker Johnny Spillings of the Penny Bun Bakehouse in Lowestoft, who uses the quinoa in one of his loaves.
These are sold via various outlets – including Hodmedod – to local customers, creating one of the shortest food supply chains possible.
Hodmedod co-founder Josiah Meldrum says lockdown has created huge demand for its beans and pulses products from consumers who were not just short of supplies – but also keen to experiment with different foods while they had time on their hands.
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Demand hasn’t abated, and he is hopeful that some of these promising lockdown trends will continue – although he is concerned about the counter-effects of a potentially very deep economic recession in the UK.
In the first week or two of lockdown, Hodmedod lost all its hospitality and catering sales, which make up a fifth of its business. The picture for its retailer customers was more mixed, with some closing down completely and some nimbly switching to home delivery.
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But at the same time, Hodmedod’s direct sales to the public went through the roof – with a 2,000% rise overnight.
“We had to close our website,” says Josiah. “It was extraordinary.”
Overall, the company’s turnover is likely to rise about 40% this year – although Josiah points out that the business was already on a 35% growth trajectory.
“Nobody could get delivery slots from the supermarkets so I think we picked up a lot there and I think what’s happening now is people are forming new habits,” he says.
“What’s interesting is as we come out of this first phase, it feels like we are holding onto those customers, and our catering customers are coming back.”
The coronavirus crisis, climate change and a move towards eating less meat have all contributed to a sea-change in attitudes, he believes.
“When we started in 2012, there was a lot of talk that there was no premium in British food,” he says. Food production had become anonymised, and could come from anywhere. Few, outside of Hodmedod and a few other local food proponents, felt there was any appetite for home-grown produce.
But the crisis has revealed a very different outlook among UK consumers, he believes.
Hodmedod has supplied Johnny Spillingss – who has a pop-up bakery in Southwold – for a number of years. Johnny produces a bread called the Hodmedod loaf, which the firm now sells, alongside other outlets such as the Fen Farm Dairy shed in Bungay.
When lockdown came, like Hodmedod, Penny Bun saw its hospitality sales fall off a cliff, so had to reposition the business to make it more consumer-facing. The strategy worked, and Johnny similarly saw a big rise in consumer demand.
“It’s amazing. The question now is what’s going to happen next. Is there going to be another lockdown? How big is the recession going to be? We are doing as much as we can to prepare for that,” says Josiah.