New ways to market
Many growers and producers working from rural blocks had to find different ways to sell their wares during lockdown – and they found an eager audience and new respect.
One trend to come out of the pandemic environment is a new appreciation for the resilient food supply chains we have in this country.
However, rural-based producers of food who traditionally relied on weekend farmers’ markets to sell their goods, were hamstrung when New Zealand first went into lockdown. Suddenly, their avenues to market were whipped away.
Country talked to three food-related businesses that had to put their thinking caps on to protect their income streams and discovered the rise of the conscious consumer.
Deer to their heart
Nick and Kelly Fox run their family-owned business, Basecamp Salamis, from a lifestyle block in Katikati, Bay of Plenty.
They purchased the 30-year old business in late-2018 and thought 2020 would be a time to look at new business pathways for Basecamp.
Nick is a qualified, experienced butcher offering a full meat processing service for hunters and lifestyle block owners, and producing smoked free-range venison salamis, sausages and biersticks for retail under the Basecamp brand.
“Our values revolve around respect for an animal, having a nose-to-tail philosophy and sustainability,” explains Kelly.
“We sell our products via our website, have a Waikato sales team that do fairs and markets, supply a few retail outlets and also pop-up at home shows and fieldays.”
“We had just made 350 salami for Central Districts Fieldays when it was cancelled because of COVID-19 and then Mystery Creek was called off,” says Kelly.
“That was a big chunk of our income, along with farmers’ markets and retail outlets which also had to close.”
Wanting to keep afloat, Nick and Kelly found that their own website and social media was their saviour, with lockdown specials and free delivery options marketed via Facebook.
“It was tough, and I continued working as a nurse during lockdown, but we found lots of new customers.
“They liked that all our meat is free-range, our salami products are all handmade, they’re wood-smoked and not boiled and Nick mixes his own spices so there are no fillers.”
Kelly says Basecamp now has a strong loyal base of customers making conscious decisions around what they buy and where they buy from.
“Since lockdown, we’ve also had lots of word-of-mouth referrals for our butchery services as people try to feed their whānau – which is a key value for us.”
Hamish and Suzy Hutton and their three boys live on a North Canterbury lifestyle block.
They are the founders of Maker2u.com – an online marketplace originally set-up to cater to lifestyle block owners with innovative wine and food businesses in their local area.
“We wanted to build a commercial platform for small businesses to sell their quality products direct to consumers and wholesale buyers, without all the associated costs of websites and salespeople,” says Hamish.
"We ran a ‘soft launch’ of the marketplace late last year and when COVID-19 broke, we were finalising some big improvements.
“We opted to go fully-live with the site immediately knowing there would be many people looking for new sales channels to help them survive lockdown.”
The pair recruits makers via social media and word-of-mouth and now has around 400 makers with stores set up on the site. Makers like the fact that it’s free to set up a store, Maker2u pays the credit card fees and they receive 90 percent of the price the customer pays.
“We’ve added features that allow those selling fresh produce to limit the regions they sell to and decide whether they sell to rural addresses making it more efficient” says Suzy.
“Post-lockdowns, we see the online marketplace as complementary to local farmers’ markets, helping producers diversify and reach new audiences and giving them cashflow on the days when they are not at markets.
“We’re now evolving Maker2u into a platform for cafes, bars and restaurants around New Zealand to browse and buy direct from small producers, and some top chefs are very interested.”
Hamish says the small businesses it works with are resilient, adaptive, positive and supportive of each other and there is no doubt that small business growth will be key to the country’s economic recovery.
“We also hope to add an export platform to our site which would aggregate orders from lots of small makers into one-off shipments, making it more viable for them to access more distant markets.”
Organic milk is the cream on top
The Vospers are fifth generation farmers at Cleavedale Farm near Matamata, where their pedigree Jersey cows – who they know by name – have a happy, healthy and stress-free life.
They produce multi award-winning certified organic A2 milk which is high in protein, omega 3 and calcium and has the cream on the top, under the Jersey Girl Organics brand.
Director John Vosper says there was initial shock when New Zealand went into lockdown, as a significant amount of its sales come from the farmers’ markets they regularly attend.
“We sat down as a family to work out how we could survive the lockdown,” he says.
“Around half our expenses are wages, so initially we were looking at drastically cutting staff hours, however the wage subsidy enabled us to keep everyone on.
“Lockdown did highlight Jersey Girl Organics’ reliance on farmers’ markets, so we focused on finding other outlets as our sales had dropped about 55 percent.”
John says some of their existing retail customers could still trade, and organic stores took an increased amount of milk.
“Many of our regular Parnell and Grey Lynn farmers' market customers ordered through Oooby, a home delivery grocery company, while other businesses like Bread & Butter Bakery and Cafe in Auckland, also started a home delivery service for produce sourced from farmers’ market stall holders.”
Managing director Michael Vosper says more of its customers at markets want to know where and how their food is produced and many are willing to pay a premium for sustainably produced goods.
“For us, sustainability is reflected in our farming practices and the way we package our milk, with early success of our bottle exchange scheme where customers can return glass bottles for in-store refills.
“I think most of our customers like our milk’s superior taste and the fact that it’s A2 and organic, but there is a definite sense that people are becoming more discerning about their purchase and consumption habits.”
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