The coronavirus has brought unprecedented challenges to local businesses. Here Anne Marie Clarke, managing director of Devon Fresh - the Torbay-based home delivery service for fresh fruit, vegetables, salads and now bread, milk, meat and other essential goods too - tells of how her business has had to dramatically change its focus.
“It’s been a challenge” says Anne-Marie. “We’ve been building the business steadily over the last six years or so, serving households and restaurants with their weekly fresh food requirements, and then literally overnight we went from tens of orders per day to hundreds, more than our systems were designed to cope with.
“But our staff have been incredible, especially in those early days of the crisis when we were determined that no-one would go without their essential healthy foods.”
Like many businesses, Devon Fresh found itself at the eye of the storm when the Government’s Covid-19 lockdown came into operation overnight in March.
With supermarket shelves empty and home delivery slots disappearing weeks in advance, Devon Fresh - with its core offer of healthy fresh foods, much of it locally grown or produced - was naturally in high demand.
“Many of our long-standing customers are elderly or young families,” said Anne-Marie. “We couldn’t let them down, even when we had hundreds of new orders pouring in.”
So with husband Richard on deliveries, and both their sons drafted in to help, together with the rest of the staff, on packing orders through the night, all the orders were fulfilled and sent out.
Devon Fresh has something of a head start when it comes to supplying the fresh vegetables that are at the root of its offer.
Its parent company, Frank H Mann (Torquay) Ltd, has been the Bay’s leading wholesale supplier of fresh fruit and vegetables to the tourism and hospitality industry for more than 70 years, and their fleet of vehicles will be a familiar sight to local residents as they go about their daily deliveries to the hotels, pubs and restaurants of the English Riviera.
“It’s so sad, overnight all those hard-working hoteliers, restaurateurs, pubs, bars, cafes, and their staff, everyone just seeing the business fall off a cliff,” said Anne-Marie.
“We just hope they’re all going to manage to see this out and start afresh once the lockdown ends.”
In the meanwhile, Devon Fresh has fortunately been able to re-deploy some of FHM’s wholesale staff onto packing and home delivery, saving the need for possible redundancies.
“In many ways we’ve been fantastically lucky,” Anne-Marie added.
“We’ve been able to keep our staff busy, make sure that those who needed us have had fresh food every week without having to risk their health by going out and pick up some new business to replace what’s temporarily been lost elsewhere. But we’d love to see everything start to return to normal, it’s what the Bay and the tourism industry here deserves.”
With business a little calmer, and extra staff now permanently in place, Devon Fresh has also been able to do its bit for local charities like Plot, Punk Pantry and Dawlish Christian Fellowship, donating and delivering produce to help them to continue to supply the most vulnerable people in our area.
And from next week onwards Devon Fresh customers will also be seeing a bonus item in their deliveries of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Orders will soon be accompanied by copies of the new Torbay Weekly!
“It feels as though our community has come together more strongly than ever,” said Anne-Marie, “And we’re absolutely delighted to be able to work with our new local newspaper to get their important message out to a wider audience.”