Food industry coronavirus support efforts swell

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

The coronavirus pandemic has prompted the industry to excel itself to support charities, the NHS, consumers and colleagues
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted the industry to excel itself to support charities, the NHS, consumers and colleagues

Related tags Supply chain hygiene & cleaning

Food industry coronavirus support initiatives continue to build momentum, with a host of firms rallying to aid the vulnerable, NHS staff and their peers in the sector.

In addition to efforts announced by 2 Sisters Food Group, Arla Foods UK, Princes Group and Alpro​, Food Manufacture​ presents a cross-section of examples of food firms going above and beyond to support the UK here.

Food producers

Staff at Briddlesford Lodge Farm's processing plant have been working around the clock since people began panic-buying ahead of the lockdown, producing IOW [Isle of Wight] Milk. Over the last month, the new local milk brand has replaced other standard milk products in Southern Co-op's convenience stores, which has freed up space in delivery vehicles for other essential products.

About 7,000 units of IOW Milk are now sold weekly in Southern Co-op's nine Isle of Wight stores, alongside cream and butter products from Briddlesford Lodge Farm. IOW Milk is a partnership between Read's Farm in Carisbrooke and Briddlesford Lodge Farm as a way to protect the island's heritage, ensure farmers get a fair price and to reduce the impact on the environment by reducing travel distances. Briddlesford's processing plant stops milk having to go off the island to be processed and ensures the highest standards with a 12-day shelf life.

Red Boat ice cream
Red Boat Ice Cream Parlour owners Tony & Lyn Green

Anglesey based Red Boat Ice Cream Parlour is keeping North Wales healthcare workers’ and patients’ spirits up during the coronavirus crisis by donating free ice cream and sorbets. The ice cream chain, which specialises in creating traditional handmade gelato ice cream has been delivering ice cream and sorbets to hospitals, hospices and care homes across Anglesey and North Wales since the lockdown.

All of its gelato is made fresh at its new production hub in Llangefni, which opened last year. There are plenty of flavours to choose from, all made with the best ingredients, said the company. They currently employ eight members of staff, whom they have had to furlough during this crisis.

Natural food company Wessanen UK, is working with Fareshare UK and NHS Trusts to donate more than £70,000 worth of healthy food and drink from its leading brands Clipper Teas, Kallø, Whole Earth and Mrs Crimble’s.

Hull-based UK Fisheries has donated 1.2 tonnes of frozen cod to FareShare Hull & Humber and Emmaus Hull and East Riding. The donation of over 7,000 standard 170g fillets was transported free of charge by Yorkshire food wholesaler Turner Price, making this a local team effort, which will help to feed hundreds of vulnerable people in the region over the weeks to come.

Through Fareshare, Wessanen UK has donated to 13 UK areas, including London, Brighton, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow to help alleviate food poverty and support the most vulnerable. Ongoing donations are also being made to five NHS Trusts nationwide, and Wessanen UK’s employees have recently sent more than 70 special food care boxes to friends and family working on the frontline for the NHS. Offering support to other areas affected by the crisis, Wessanen UK also donated stock to an animal sanctuary in Kent.

Furthermore, the business is offering employees the opportunity to take time out of work to volunteer for the NHS – assisting in delivering food parcels, transporting elderly people to and from the hospital and offering phone support to vulnerable people in isolation.

Breakfast cereal giant Kellogg UK worked with charity partners, including national charity FareShare, enabling the distribution of a minimum of three million servings of food, which equates to 90,000kg, to food banks, schools, charities and NHS staff.

Coronavirus Kellogg campaign
Kellogg's #RaiseYourBowl campaign to recognise the work of NHS staff

Kellogg UK also launched #RaiseYourBowl, a social media campaign to support the NHS and key workers across the UK. The campaign raises awareness of the company’s pledge to distribute 500,000 servings of food direct to frontline staff in NHS hospitals and medical facilities. It encouraged key workers to visit​ to request a donation for their own staff or break rooms.

The Coca-Cola Company, its bottling partner Coca-Cola European Partners and The Coca-Cola Foundation is supporting FareShare, the UK’s national network of charitable food redistributors. The company said its efforts would provide the equivalent of almost 2 million healthy meals and one million drinks as part of its global commitment to donate US$120m to support global COVID-19 relief efforts.

To meet customer demand during the current COVID-19 pandemic, Fleming Howden launched small-scale packing of both flour and cake mixes directly from its Newbridge site.

Fatherson Bakery, which won Small Bakery Manufacturing Company of the Year​ at the Food Manufacture Excellence Awards 2020​, launched a campaign via its Butterfly Vanilla Cakes, donating 10p to the NHS with every pack sold. The Cakes were rolled out nationally from 20 April. 

The baker has also launched a consumer delivery website to help ease shopper challenges during COVID-19. The site focuses on offering a select range of award-winning cakes and other foods, such as fruit and vegetable boxes and non-perishable essentials. 

Heinz UK launched direct-to-consumer deliveries​, while Danone changed its payment systems to ensure swifter and smoother payments to suppliers​.

Budweiser Brewing Group UK & Ireland and its Magor Brewery began producing hand sanitiser and disinfectant for distribution to local health services. Magor Brewery, which brews more than one billion pints each year, has provided hand sanitiser to Gwent Police, Chepstow Doctors' Surgery, Monmouthshire Community Support and Appletree Day Nursery, plus a host of other local businesses and services. 

Shropshire-based artisan biscuit producers Original Biscuit Bakers – creators of high-quality, hand-decorated and award-winning gingerbread novelties and gifts – donated thousands of gingerbread biscuits to NHS workers, the homeless and those in food poverty. They were sent out via food re-distributors City Harvest in London, and the Market Drayton Foodbank. Original Biscuit Bakers also donated to staff and patients at the Royal Stoke University Hospital via the University Hospital of North Midlands Charity.

Timed to support the Clap for our Carers campaign, Roberts Bakery turns its Rudheath bakery blue at 8pm every Thursday to thank NHS workers for their continued amazing efforts.

Hensol Castle Distillery makes hand sanitiser
Hensol Castle Distillery began producing hand sanitiser

Hensol Castle Distillery, based in the Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales, took up the challenge to support key frontline workers by converting newly-opened production lines into making much-needed hand sanitiser. The distillery, which is based in the cellars of a 400-year-old castle, typically distils Benjamin Hall and Crawshay gins. However, it diverted its operations to produce hand sanitiser to help meet the national shortage that occurred as a result of coronavirus. 

Gloucestershire firm Severn & Wye Smokery, which is situated on the edge of the Forest of Dean, launched a telephone and online supermarket and nationwide delivery service to keep supplying retailers and consumers, incorporating a click-and-collect service. The company is supplying fresh and smoked fish and other grocery and deli products.

Lupa Foods donated a pallet of pasta to the London Ambulance Service.

Stod Fold Brewing Company introduced its Phoenix Project in support of the pub trade. It converted its own bar, Stod Fold Dean Clough in Halifax, into a drive-through bag-in-box beer service for customers’ home consumption, which is billed as a 100% contactless purchase process.

Under the terms of the initiative, for every litre customers buy, the firm credits £1 to a pub of their choice, usually their local. When the pub doors open again, the landlords can use this credit to restock empty cellars, helping them get up and running.

Moy Park’s culinary team in Craigavon turned its new product development kitchen into a production line, creating 1,000 healthy, nutritious meals a week to be distributed by The Resource Centre Derry (RCD) during the pandemic.  

Local companies donating produce for the meals included Kerry Foods Portadown, Wilson’s Country, The Flavour Works, Irwin’s Bakery and Daily Fresh. JMC Packaging donated all the food containers and installed a special tray-sealing machine at Moy Park to ensure all meals arrived safe and fresh. 

Morrisons delivery boxes
Morrisons' delivery boxes for vulnerable and self-isolating consumers

Morrisons dramatically increased production and delivery of food boxes for next-day delivery aimed at vulnerable and self-isolating people from four production facilities, with the aim of building capacity to more than 200,000.

UK egg supplier Noble Foods introduced its foodservice Whole Liquid Egg products into the grocery retail channel to help feed the nation and meet the exceptional demand for eggs. The 100% British Great British Egg Co. range was launched in two variants: Free Range and Colony.

Beef processor Pickstock Telford diverted meat sales to the retail and home delivery sectors.

UK dried fruits, nuts and seeds supplier Whitworths supplied staff at NHS Trusts across the UK, ambulance drivers, key workers and the elderly with free healthy snacking and recipe bundles.

Family-run bakery chain Cooplands started providing local deliveries to communities across Yorkshire and the north east, with the support of Lloyds Bank.

The 135-year-old business operates a network of 172 bakery shops and cafés across the north, with more than two-thirds of those that support residential communities remaining open during the lockdown. To ensure local residents could receive food items – including essential items not typically stocked by Cooplands – the business began distributing food packages to customers within 10-15 miles of its three main production sites in Durham, Hull and Scarborough.

Weetabix has worked with foodservice partners and the Government to provide products for weekly food care packages to the homes of vulnerable consumers. It has supported many charity requests, including providing product where possible for local NHS hubs and other local organisations helping vulnerable people, and increasing the amount of product it provides to existing charity partner Fareshare.

Helped with food donations from Fresh Direct & Solent Butchers, Quattro Foods distributed porridge, pasta and vegetable curry to homeless people in the Portsmouth area. The initiative was coordinated by HIVE Portsmouth and distributed by Pompey In The Community.

In just 24 hours, Dorset-based food manufacturer and shop Olives Et Al launched its online store Loaf & Larder, moved by a desire to protect jobs and serve the local community. The business was responding to customers’ concerns at having to self-isolate and the need to adapt to survive following a 98% reduction in business.

Food distribution services

Wild and Game, the not-for-profit company working to boost game consumption in the UK, launched isolation packs of game-based frozen meals for individuals and families.

Suresh Patel set up food redistribution service Food Trolley in six days, which has been described as ‘like eBay for food’. The service gives small farmers and food producers a national platform to sell direct and supplies parcels direct to consumers.  

East of England regional food group Local Flavours has set up a support service called The Flavours Connexion, aimed at matching suppliers with buyers. The COVID-19 situation has disrupted, considerably, the usual food supply chain channels, for most. Supported by New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership the group has added free listings to its website to help trade buyers and consumers secure local produce.

Online resource Farms to Feed Us has been launched to connect growers, producers and fishers with their local communities. The service enables shoppers to source nearby fresh produce, while supporting those on the frontline working harder than ever to keep Britain fed. The volunteer-run resource already lists more than 200 businesses from the country’s nimble and resilient food and farming network.

Farms to Feed Us
Farms to Feed Us connects farmers with local consumers

The Farms to Feed Us database is growing every day and can be shared, used and printed off for neighbours or relatives who aren’t regularly online. Delivering meat boxes, veg boxes, freshly caught fish and much more to people’s doors, or local hubs where they can be collected safely, this ground-breaking initiative is giving consumers the power to protect the nation’s food security and reach out to small-scale farmers before it’s too late.

In Scotland, as farmers markets were hit, NeighbourFood launched an online market platform connecting suppliers directly with consumers via locally run hubs in Killin, Peebles, Stirling, Blairgowrie and Balfron, with more markets preparing to launch in Errol and Falkland. Since the coronavirus outbreak, NeighbourFood markets has reported a sales increase of between 300-400%.

Hounslow-based start-up FruPro has worked on a communications and trading platform connecting the fresh fruit and vegetable growers with retailers. The aim was to eventually take commission from these trades, but the firm launched a not-for-profit version of the service in the wake of the pandemic.

Foodens Foundation launched online marketplace​ to help local food suppliers in Somerset list and sell boxes of goods. Alongside supplying consumers with local produce and supporting independent businesses, Foodens aimed to reduce the stress on British supermarkets caused by panic buying. 

Providing they work in accordance with the Food Standards Agency regulations, all food businesses were invited to register with the marketplace and sell their goods directly to local consumers. These included farm shops, butchers, patisseries, fruit & vegetable wholesalers, ready-meal companies and restaurants. Retailers were charged no fees for listing their products, just a 10% commission on any orders taken. This covered the cost of card payment fees and operational costs, with any remaining profits reinvested into the online marketplace or used to support other food initiatives.

Foodservice and wholesale

Watford-based vegan and vegetarian food distributor to the catering industry Vegetarian Express began delivering its extensive plant-based meat alternatives and ingredients range directly to households.

The company offers a range of more than 700 products to the public. They include plant-based proteins like tofu, seitan and tempeh, staples such as flour, pulses and grains, rare and hard-to-find world ingredients, and challenger brands such as Vivera, Sambazon Açai, Gold&Green and Biffs Kitchen.

Dunster's Farm
Dunster's Farm revisits its roots, launching a door-to-door service

Bury-based Dunster’s Farm, a family-run foodservice business which originated as a milk round, has revisited its roots as a door-to-door delivery service within two weeks to feed north west families during lockdown. 

For almost 60 years the £10m-turnover company has supplied customers including hotels and restaurants, catering and hospitality businesses, schools, colleges and hospitals. Now, Dunster’s Farm has turned to Manchester-based full-service eCommerce consultancy PushON to work out how to make its services available to the public in the north of England.

Wholesaler JJ Foodservice switched its model completely to fielding orders from consumers across the UK directly via its website, then launching a same-day delivery service for the London area.

Spar wholesaler for the north of England James Hall & Co donated £250,000 to the Royal Preston Hospital in Lancashire. The donation will be spent on building a relaxation and recuperation centre for NHS staff at Royal Preston Hospital to unwind and catch up on much-needed sleep.

Service providers

Best known as suppliers of lorry tension curtains for brands and retailers’ national fleets, Structure-Flex has developed a reusable PPE visor, which is being used by businesses including Hotel Chocolat and Crown Imperial. The large flexible visor covers the entire face and helps protect the wearer from airborne particle entering the eyes or mouth from coughs, sneezes and breath. 

Forth Engineering in Cumbria responded to the fight against COVID-19 by inventing a remotely-operated robot for disinfecting industrial facilities. "I took it to one of our sites and it disinfected 68,000 square feet in just 20 minutes,”​ said company managing director Mark Telford. “We’ve put together our tracked robot, vapour cannon, camera and lights, and developed the first one in a matter of days."

Parry Healthcare
Workers at Parry Healthcare unite to supply healthcare equipment

Derby catering equipment specialist Parry Healthcare adapted its manufacturing operations to produce vital healthcare equipment to support the fight against COVID-19. Parry, which employs 65 people at its factory on Town End Road in Draycott, has responded to the national call to support key workers by increasing its output of stainless steel mobile wash basins, glove/mask dispensing units and knee-operated sinks.

The decision was taken after discussions with its workforce and staff. who had been working over the Easter period to produce orders for NHS Nightingale in Manchester, care homes, prisons and supermarkets.

Family-run carton manufacturers Tams Packaging began producing disposable visors to help protect staff and customers.

Advice & funding

The Institute of Food Science & Technology has published a COVID-19 hub for food businesses​, covering essential guidance on best practice, hygiene and cleaning and food safety.

Innovation Funding Solutions (IFS) has just been launched in order to help businesses in the food manufacturing sector claim tax benefits. The company is owned by four people with a range of experience in the food and associated arenas.

The business will specialise in the Patent Box as well as Research and Development Tax Credits. The Patent Box element will focus on UK-based companies owning or exclusively managing patents on their food products. Here, tax breaks will be executed by IFS on behalf of its clients under the HMRC Patent Box initiative.

The UK and Scottish Governments have launched schemes offering millions of pounds in funding​ to food redistribution organisations and charities.

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