With a series of national and local lockdown restrictions reintroduced in response to an increase in Covid cases, it’s likely we are heading for another full national lockdown this winter. Some supermarkets are already putting limits on loo roll, flour and pasta in order to avoid the empty shelves we saw last time around.
In view of this, what can we do to prepare? At the beginning of this crisis, we saw resilient local food enterprises find ways to distribute food safely and effectively. So, to help share their wisdom and experience, here is a summary of everything we learnt the first time around.
Supporting vulnerable and self-isolating customers
With panic buying and sold out delivery services from all the main supermarkets, this was the first time for many of us to experience the fear there may not be enough food to buy. For vulnerable and self-isolating people, it was a relief to know they had food coming every week:
“Some people are feeling quite isolated and alone and scared and to have somebody who can turn up with food every week is really comforting and feels a lot safer”Carol from Stroudco
For this reason, it’s important to ensure your most vulnerable customers have access to food. From phone buddies to priority shopper lists, food enterprises responded in a range of imaginative ways:
“One measure we implemented is a priority list to ensure we can supply food to customers who are over 70 and those who fall into vulnerable groups. This gives those in need access to a priority shopping window for 24 hours before we open the shop to everybody… If we don’t have an order from someone on the priority list, we ring them to remind them. A lot of our more vulnerable customers are frightened and they really appreciate this personal touch.”Sara at Tamar Valley Food Hubs
A personal touch
This personal connection – which is missing from the supermarkets – places community food enterprises in a great position to support vulnerable and self-isolating people’s access to food. To help you set up priority shopper lists and collection time-slot emails for your own enterprise, please contact a member of the OFN team.
Under these circumstances, it’s also useful to consider in advance what your customers’ needs may be. Perhaps you could review who your regular customers are before the winter. For example, do you have any customers who order exactly the same thing each week? If so, it might be worth setting up subscriptions (automated orders) for these customers. This is not only convenient and reassuring for your customer, but will help you to manage stock levels as you know how many regular orders you will be getting in advance. Steps on how to set up subscriptions can be found here in the User Guide or contact one of the team for more advice.
In times of anxiety, it is extra important to offer clear communication and set realistic expectations. For example, you could work out – based on stock, time and staff resources – what the maximum number of deliveries and orders you can process each week. Be prepared to shut an order cycle early if this is exceeded and be clear in your communication of this. Make sure to reassure your customers you are working hard to get food to as many people as possible.
The superpower of adaptability
Compared to the supermarkets long complex supply chains and vulnerability in the face of crisis, community food enterprises demonstrated amazing resilience and the ability to adapt rapidly:
“Not only did we manage this massive increase in demand, but we also changed everything – and we did it really fast! It’s fortunate we are pretty flexible and we have lots of ideas about how to do things.”Doro at Glasgow Locavore
“New policies and procedures were written very quickly – in terms of how we keep our volunteers, staff and customers as safe as possible whilst still providing them with food.”Carol at Stroudco
Know the rules
This time around there are government guidelines – which come with the prospect of steep fines or being shut down for non-compliance. This is why it is vital to be aware of the rules and protect your food enterprise. For example, consider what you will do if a customer or staff member refuses to wear a mask. If someone tests positive, what happens to all the staff who worked together at the hub on that day? Create a policy document which you can circulate with your team and volunteers – here is an example from Stroudco.
Likewise, make sure to include your COVID policy in your Terms and Conditions. Did you know you can now upload these T&Cs to your shop front for your customers to view at checkout? Steps on how to do this can be found here.
If your enterprise started up in response to Covid and this is your first winter, you could also consider the following:
- Review your winter safety – for example, are there any potentially slippery pick up points?
- Do you have any rural suppliers who may not be able to deliver if it snows?
- Are your collection points accessible in bad weather? Do you need any new collection points?
Review and revise
It may also be helpful to adapt your product range with a wider selection of items. Are there any suppliers who could add household products or new items to your range? Offering a comprehensive range or ‘one-stop-shop’ could be a lifesaver to your customers who are self-isolating.
Last spring you may have needed volunteers to help your food enterprise to accommodate the unexpected growth. However, due to the furlough scheme ending, not everyone who volunteered in March will be able to do so again. Therefore, it may be a good idea to revise your volunteer lists and check-in with people you can call on for help if it’s needed.
To keep volunteers happy and healthy, make sure to plan time off for people to avoid burnout – and you could offer discounts in the shop as a reward for helping out.
We are stronger together!
One of the interesting things our hubs had to share was the lack of governance or top down structure or guidance. Hubs had to create their own rules and systems to protect their customers and workers from Covid-19:
“It’s important to realise we haven’t had any guidance or anyone telling us what to do. All our new policies and procedures were informed through what we found with our own research.”Doro at Glasgow Locavore
In other words, food enterprises were left with a lot of risk and responsibility without support from the government:
“No help, no guidance, no nothing. We have had to make it up ourselves. We are responsible for this and we have been very strict about social distancing with formal arrangements to keep people safe. It is a lot of responsibility with no guidance or support.”Carol at Stroudco
Next time around, thanks to many hubs who shared their experience and learnings, we have a wealth of shared information to help us keep our food systems running. In response to the pandemic, our whole community adapted quickly to feed their communities. Read this blog for some of the developments made which may be useful for you as well.
In addition, you can visit this page for a tonne of shared information, from how to adapt your food business hygiene procedures to a comprehensive collection of past Covid-19 support webinars.
Also, learn from other enterprises and share your own knowledge and experience by visiting our online community forum and Facebook group. If and when the next national lockdown hits, remember you are not alone and we are stronger together.
All things considered
We should prepare for a marathon rather than a sprint – especially as it appears new restrictions are going to be around for six months. Moreover, with more testing and contact tracing it is likely more people will be asked to self-isolate compared to last time. Meeting the food needs of these self-isolating able (i.e. not elderly or vulnerable) people will be an additional demand on the sector not seen in the spring.
However, forewarned is forearmed. With everything we have learned so far, a full national lockdown the 2nd time around may be more manageable. This is even more likely when we collaborate by sharing our experiences and working together.
Do you want more resources and support for your food enterprise? If so, here’s what you do next: