Business is challenging at the best of times, but never more so than in the current Covid-19 lock-down. One business who have had to re-invent themselves overnight is Harvest Fine Foods Ltd. The Company was established in 1985 by the father of current Managing Director, Richard Strongman who joined the business in June 2000. “When I joined the business we were operating out of the back of my father’s convenience store in Southbourne, Bournemouth” says Strongman. “Back then we had 4 employees along with 4 family members and turned-over about £500k per annum”
The business has grown significantly since then. In 2016, the Company relocated to new premises in Totton, Southampton. Strongman continues “The business now employs 145 people and pre-Covid, we were on course to achieve £23.5M sales in 2020. Primarily we are wholesalers supplying a wide range of fresh produce, dairy, fresh meat, dry stores and alcohol to the catering/hospitality sector, as well as schools, hospitals and care homes. When the Government announced the initial lock-down on 20th March 2020 we lost nearly 85% of our trade overnight!”
“Although our hotels, pubs and restaurants had been forced to close, we still needed to stay open to supply care homes, hospitals and some schools which had remained open to look after the children of front-line key workers. It was clear that these sales would not be sufficient to keep us afloat, and we were determined to survive, and to not make any staff redundant”
The Company decided to open their doors to the public offering a home delivery service. Strongman says “It made total sense really, we could see the problems supermarkets were having both in store and with their own home delivery services, and we could see that people were struggling to get hold of certain essential supplies which we had plentiful stock in our warehouse, and there were many vulnerable people who were self-isolating and didn’t dare go out for their shopping”
Harvest launched their home delivery service on 25th March 2020. “The response was utterly overwhelming” says Strongman. “To be perfectly honest, our e-commerce was not really set-up for retail consumers, and we were receiving over 500 registrations per day, which we were having to set up manually. It was all hands to the pumps and we were working through the night to keep up with demand”
Harvest has subsequently automated a lot of these processes and are continually investing in IT and e-commerce to give customers a better user experience.
Strongman proudly recalls “Our staff were amazing and responded incredibly positively to the crisis. They understood the desperate situation we were facing and did anything and everything they could to help us work through it. We took the view that we needed to have a completely open dialogue and that no idea was too silly to be considered”
The Company pivoted very quickly adding new products such as fresh meat boxes, veg boxes, alcohol, pet food, personal care and hygiene items and even bags of compost. Currently they have over 12,000 home delivery customers registered but still have capacity to take on more. Strongman remarks, “We are really looking forward to resuming our normal trade and getting back to trading with our wholesale customers. But, typically our vans have finished their deliveries to wholesale customers by lunchtime every day, and sit idle until we start loading them again at 0300 the following morning, so we aim to continue this home delivery service after the lock-down is released”
The Company has received rave reviews with many of their new home delivery customers eager for them to continue this new service, and many have commented that the quality of the produce and service compares very favourably with that of top-end supermarkets.