Consumer service to become normal for wholesaler

Foodservice wholesaler Dunsters Farm says recently launched consumer-facing services will stay live after the Covid-19 outbreak is over.

The Confex member lost 95% of its business overnight when the government closed pubs, cafes and restaurants to stem the tide of the virus and quickly adapted to sell products directly to the public.

But even though the service has added much-needed turnover for the wholesaler in the short term, Joint Managing Director Hannah Barlow says it’ll also exist post-coronavirus too.

“We’ve been looking to set up something like this for 18 months now,” said Barlow.

“We’ve had various discussions with the team [in the past] and we did start looking at putting a range together, but it’s amazing what a crisis does. Something that was bubbling along but not really getting anywhere because of our day-to-day has been turned on in two weeks – it’s unbelievable what can done when you have to.

“At the moment, we’re offering basic groceries and retail products that people can’t get hold of. Over time, as people get back to shopping in way they used to, we’d evolve.

“What we want to do is work with all our local producers in the north west and would love to offer a local delivery service of some really nice local products with great provenance. We see this is a long-term thing, not just a Covid-19 thing.”

Dunsters has acted quickly to get the new service up and running, initially pivoting to offer a safe click and collect option for consumers before launching a new website that’s better for public use.

The Bury-based wholesaler also had to adapt its range from bulk buys to something more suitable for consumers and make sure they could spread the word across Greater Manchester. And Barlow says the service has been well received.

“The majority of our enquiries are from people who have elderly relatives who aren’t able to leave for the 12-week isolation period and there are people who are very concerned about their welfare,” Barlow explained.

“We’ve been able to help in that situation because we can do home deliveries quite quickly locally.

“We’re getting loads of feedback saying thanks to offering this service because people were really struggling to get hold of things – and still are.”

Despite the success of the service, Dunsters will still struggle to achieve the same amount of sales they would have in a normal month.

After careful consideration, the wholesaler has furloughed the majority of its 50-strong team, leaving a 12-person skeleton staff to keep the wheels turning in the meantime.

“I’ve been on webinar after webinar, speaking to our legal advisors and there is still a lot of uncertainty around the [Job Retention Scheme] rules because it’s all guidance,” Barlow added.

“We’re trying to make the best decisions for the business, while looking at the guidance and then making sure we’ve got a rationale for the ways we’ve behaved and acted. Firstly, so further down the line, we’ve done the right thing from a moral point of view to be a responsible employer and also as responsible suppliers.

“We’re also looking at the bigger picture to make sure we’ve got a business for the future – we’ve been going almost 60 years and we’re not going to stop any time soon. We have to make sure we have a business coming out of Covid-19 as well as in it.

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