Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, has thanked independent food and drink sellers who have kept local supply chains flowing and supported NHS staff during the ongoing pandemic.
While many businesses – particularly cafes and restaurants – have had to stop trading during lockdown, many other businesses have responded to increased demand as self-isolating customers have changed their shopping habits.
Long-running food markets and similar businesses have taken to increasing their online sales in order to keep business going - while others have joined together to provide free meals to NHS staff and vulnerable people; including through the Feed the NHS Wales campaign.
In north east Wales, Lester’s Farm Shop in Drury, near Buckley, Flintshire, owner Lester Thompson had to close his on-site café and shop when lockdown started, shutting one of the main elements of his business.
But to make sure local people – particularly vulnerable or elderly people – still had food delivered, Lester sourced new suppliers and set up a new delivery service to get groceries – including fruit, vegetables, meat and milk - and other essentials out to the community.
He was even able to take on extra staff in order to ensure demand was met.
“With the café closed, and that income gone, in order for the business to survive, I had to adapt. Previous to this, it was hard, as fruit and veg has very tight margins and market conditions were very competitive.
“Setting up the deliveries for socially isolated and vulnerable wasn’t to do with the money - it was about helping people, and the local community, and putting Drury on the map.”
Food businesses have also joined together through Feed the NHS Wales; an initiative which brings suppliers, kitchens and other businesses together, allowing individual vendors to provide each part of the meals sent to NHS staff.
Matt Heaven, one of the owners at the Mumbles-based restaurant Môr, organises the Feed the NHS Wales campaign, and brought together a number of businesses to keep NHS staff supplied with good meals.
“We saw that there was a few, localised campaigns - at Môr, we have friends who are doctors and nurses, and we saw the need for something more organised, on a bigger scale.
“People are working in full PPE for 12 hours, and there’s a real requirement that they get good, nutritious, decent food.”
Matt noted that the campaign – as well as being backed by Welsh stars such as Alun Wyn Jones and Sian Lloyd – was being supported by a number of smaller, independent restaurants and smaller, local suppliers, who had seen a hit to their business with the closure of restaurants and cafes.
“Many staff are taking part on a volunteer basis, as they have been furloughed – so they’re doing it under their own steam.”
Matt added as well as raising nearly £100k in donations, both online and offline, fundraising efforts have also been backed by the UK-wide Feed The NHS campaign, which has agreed to fund the Wales campaign with £20,000 a week throughout May.
The team at Anglesey-based seafood restaurant Dylan’s have been hard at work getting meals out to NHS staff and vulnerable people across north Wales.
Dylan’s, which runs premises in Menai Bridge, Llandudno and Criccieth, has worked alongside the not-for-profit partnership Menter Môn and Larder Môn to distribute food parcels across Anglesey and Gwynedd – including to NHS staff at Ysbyty Gwynedd and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd.
David Evans, Managing Director at Dylan’s, said teams were getting food out to both hospitals at a rate of about 120 packed meals a day – and were looking at similar figures of about 1,000 per week for vulnerable people through work with Menter Môn.
“We knew hospital staff were struggling, and in some cases having to rely on vending machines for food, as they don’t have access to canteens.
“It’s grown very quickly – we’ll have delivered 1,000 meals between both hospitals by the end of the week, we’re delivering about 120 packed lunches and hot meals a day.”
David added the restaurant was also providing food to families eligible for free school meals, thanks to work with Gwynedd and Anglesey councils.
“It’s a very encouraging sign – it’s amazing how quickly everyone can adapt and work together during times like these.”
Also getting food out to front-line NHS staff were south-west Wales based Cwm Farm Charcuterie.
Ruth Davies, owner of Cwm Farm Charcuterie – which is based between Ystradgynlais and Rhyd-y-fro – was motivated to help hospital staff at Morriston Hospital, Swansea.
“I was brought up half an hour away from Morriston Hospital and my family have been there through the years, and I just wanted to give a little bit back.”
In a visit to the hospital, Ruth put together more than 100 sausage casseroles and 50 meals of rice with chilli for front-line staff, and drove them to the hospital herself.
“I handed the meals over, and they were so pleased. It just made me realise – what I’m doing is tiny, but it does make a difference.”
Founded by friends Becky Hood and Thea Noble, MamGu Welshcakes of Solva, near Haverfordwest, had to temporarily close their coffee shop for lockdown, and put their plans to expand the business on hold.
The company is now focusing its attention on online sales – and ways to support the community.
“The online store is keeping us alive. It has become the heartbeat of our business and has helped us to keep our seasonal staff employed.
“For £1, customers can donate a Welshcake. We have been sending boxes of Welshcakes to hospitals, specialist units, surgeries, and care homes locally and all over the UK.
“We started Welshcake donations last year, but it has become more poignant now. We are sending out two boxes a week supporting people working on the front line, and we’ve had some lovely thank you letters from staff.”
At this time of year Pizza-Ria, based at Pontyates near Llanelli and run by owners Rob and Maria Parsons, would usually be firing-up their mobile wood-fired pizza oven at events and shows across south and west Wales.
But with their usual calendar currently ‘on-hold,’ the owners have instead created their own Pizza-Ria pizza kits for people to use at home.
“With all events suspended for the foreseeable we wanted an alternative way to keep ourselves busy, and also to give families an activity they can do together at home. Many customers have been those who would perhaps usually have a takeaway at the weekend, or enjoy cooking with their kids.
“The feedback we’ve had has been absolutely great. People have been saying it is the best pizza they have eaten, and they enjoyed the process of making it too!”
To keep costs down for customers, Rob and Maria have been delivering the kits free of charge around Carmarthen, Llandeilo, Gwendraeth Valley, Kidwelly, and Llanelli.
Gower Cottage Brownies, in Reynoldston, Swansea, have also put their efforts into feeding hospital staff through Feed The NHS.
Rob Jenkins, baker at Gower Cotttage, said the company had baked and delivered about 25 kilos of brownies every other day – about 500 brownies.
They’ve also fundraised for NHS Charities Together by creating a Help the NHS wrapper for their brownies, with proceeds from sales of the wrapper going to the charity.
With the hospitality and holiday sectors in limbo, Bubbleton Farm Shop, near Tenby, has gone back to its roots, putting the emphasis on providing fresh local produce.
To meet the requirements of social distancing, Bubbleton Farm has introduced a drive -through option for its customers, with payment made remotely. They also operate a local delivery service.
Owner Tom Evans, whose family have been farming at Bubbleton Farm for five generations, said:
“It’s a simple system. People drive up, choose what they want from the display board, place their order and pay, and then wait for us to gather the items and put them in their car boot. We are now using our farm café as the picking area for orders.”
As well as a variety of local bakery, meat and dairy products, the shop has also added items such as breakfast cereals and soap.
“We are so grateful for our customers’ support, which has enabled us to keep our staff busy and to stay open. We have some wonderful, loyal customers, and hopefully, when the current situation is over, we will have gained some more.”
Owen and Tanya Morgan of Myrddin Heritage, an artisan producer of hand-made pork products from free-range pigs based near Llandysul, has had to swiftly adapt its business to meet the needs of a new world.
“Every week, we’d supply more than 40 hospitality businesses throughout South Wales, the South West and London. Then over-night around 95% of our orders stopped.
“We knew we had to move quickly – either accept the situation or do something different, so the next day we came up with Myrddin Heritage & Friends.”
The couple upgraded their website to feature breakfast and brunch boxes containing a variety of produce from local producers – including baked goods, dairy products, tea and coffee - delivered each Friday to customers in south and west Wales from Pembrokeshire to Cardiff and the Valleys.
The response from the public, Owen says, has been amazing.
“In a month we have gone from delivering one box a week to 91 deliveries! We are going through quite a lot of stock, and we are looking to launch a continental breakfast box too.”
The scheme has provided Myrddin Heritage and their fellow producers with a lifeline in these uncertain times.
“The producers are very grateful for the support, we know a few personally, and they have lost quite a lot of business because of the situation. The boxes have been really beneficial for businesses, and we have maintained our ethic of ‘keeping it local, but with a little bit of a twist’.”
Cardiff-based Scotch egg sellers Holy Yolks are also helping to support hospitals, as part of a group of nearly 30 sole traders and micro-businesses in the Cardiff and Vale area.
As well as supplying NHS staff with their own Scotch eggs, Holy Yolks owner Kev McGuckian also helps to organise deliveries of meals to hospitals in south Wales, delivering to five different hospitals every Tuesday, to about 150 to 200 staff at each hospital.
Kev added that members of the public had been “incredible” in providing donations to help the businesses involved cover the cost of ingredients.
Lesley Griffiths, Welsh Government Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, said:
“These are very difficult times for all businesses, but I am delighted to see there are those in Wales’ food and drink sector who have been able to continue trading, and have been able to adapt so they can continue to serve customers, and support the NHS.
“I want to thank all of those involved for their hard work – this has been a huge effort for many in terms of logistics, and it is very pleasing to note that as well as furloughed staff returning to volunteer their time where they can, some firms have also been able to take on extra staff.
“There are businesses throughout Wales showing the ingenuity, adaptability and dedication to local communities, for which Wales’ food sector is recognised.
“We know this isn’t an option for many businesses, but it is good to see that in many cases, there are those who haven’t had to call a complete stop to their business, and Welsh producers, restaurants and sellers can continue to serve their communities during these trying times.”
The Minister added:
“I would also ask members of the public to continue to support their local food producers, suppliers and sellers where they can – many will continue to provide services such as produce boxes or lunches through deliveries, and will welcome the support of their communities during this time.”