Continue to support cheese makers, says Bath Soft Cheese
Like hundreds of other small cheese makers in the UK, the Bath Soft Cheese Co was faced with an uncertain future after losing more than 50% of its business when the coronavirus crisis forced restaurants and cafes to close.
Since then, the company has managed to switch to a thriving online business. However, managing director Hugh Padfield has urged people to continue supporting artisan cheese makers, as they remain without orders from restaurants and gastro-pubs for the foreseeable future.
“When we suddenly lost trade to restaurants, cafes and pubs overnight, we had to think quickly about how we could change our offering,” he says. “Like so many small rural businesses during this crisis, we threw our resources behind efforts to help feed people self-isolating.”
Bath Soft Cheese Co created a grocery home delivery scheme from scratch for its village and the next six nearest villages, and also donated excess cheese that would have been wasted to causes including local NHS workers.
“We also created a simple home delivery cheese selection with free next day delivery for the whole of the UK and slashed the minimum online order to £20 for free next day delivery to anywhere in the UK,” said Padfield. “We’ve been inundated with orders for both the home delivery cheese selection and for the local villages grocery boxes.
“Through the increased traffic and sales on our website we’ve also formed a stronger link with many customers. Those that are buying online are reading about our organic farm and our history, they’re looking at our YouTube channel, following us on Instagram and Facebook and sending us messages of support. In some ways it feels like we’ve developed a better relationship with our customers.”
The company had to close its brand new cafe at its home at Park Farm, but has kept its shop open to sell essentials including milk from its vending machine, eggs, butter, bread and cheese. As lockdown restrictions ease, it is starting to sell more from the shop and planning to offer evening meal takeaways. Work on its farm has continued and while some shop/cafe staff have been furloughed, most have been kept on to help with online orders and local grocery deliveries.
“We haven’t furloughed any farm staff or cheese making staff,” added Padfield. “Cows still need to be milked twice a day and the cheese affinage has to be done if it’s not to ruin. However, we have split the teams into two that work on different days of the week with no overlap. We have also carried out extensive work and documentation on safe operating practice, ensuring the team can continue to work as safely as possible.”
The response to the company’s efforts to survive, plus initiatives like the British Cheese Weekender – organised to support artisan cheesemakers – has been amazing, he notes. But as lockdown restrictions ease, Bath Soft Cheese Co is already starting to notice a drop-off in orders, leading him to urge people to continue to support them and other artisan cheese makers.
“People are starting to go back to work, feeling more comfortable going back to supermarkets, and we’re already starting to see a drop off. This is worrying because the restaurant and gastro-pub orders for our cheese won’t return for some time yet. We’ve emerged from the initial crisis but it is far from over and we still need support from the public to ensure we can weather the storm.”