Food and drink businesses have faced enormous challenges this year, but with hard work and imagination, Northamptonshire’s makers, suppliers and hospitality outlets have found innovative ways of serving their customers.
And as we come to the end of this unexpectedly tough year, their achievements will be celebrated at the Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards this month, which is headline sponsored for the first time by Weetabix.
When lockdown initially came, food suddenly became something we couldn’t take for granted, with supermarket online delivery slots getting booked up fast, and shelves in the stores looking decidedly empty at times. At that point, many of us turned to our local suppliers and discovered what wonderful quality and service is right here on our doorsteps.
But these businesses didn’t just sit back and rest on their laurels, they found new ways of working.
Take Waterloo Cottage Farm at Great Oxendon. They have been selling meat from sustainably-farmed cattle, sheep and pigs for 10 years and have won many an NFDA award in the process. When everything changed, they started a ready-made meal service, that customers could collect or have delivered.
Meanwhile, award-winning gluten-free baker Vicky Robertson, of The Little Bakery of Happiness in Wellingborough, made sure people didn’t miss out on her sweet and savoury treats by getting behind the wheel herself to create a delivery service.
Cafés had to be particularly innovative when lockdown meant they were unable to open. The Good Loaf, on Overstone Road, in Northampton, started up its own next-day grocery click and collect and delivery services.
Chief Executive of the social enterprise, Suzy Van Rooyen said: “It is clear people have taken buying local to heart and I hope that that will continue when all this is over.”
Helping the community was also important, and previous Booker Young Chef runner-up, Kenny Markham, from Northampton, signed up as a volunteer chef for the Northamptonshire Emergency Food Aid Alliance. It was set up in April to provide up to 1,000 meals a day to feed the county’s most vulnerable, poor and disadvantaged people through the crisis.
However, while innovative ideas sprang up all over the county, it’s fair to say that it has not been an easy year and many food businesses found things challenging, even as restrictions started to ease.
NFDA headline sponsor Weetabix certainly recognises how hard businesses are still working to give excellent service in these circumstances. Marketing Director Francesca Theokli said: “When we took on the headline sponsorship this year, we could little have imagined the challenges that we would now be facing. We are thrilled though, to be able to celebrate some of the tireless work that is being done. Proof of the agility and dynamism of our food and drink sector.
“We’re delighted to help shine a deserved spotlight on those who, despite their own trading difficulties, are still managing to play a vital role in local life and beyond.”
That sentiment is echoed by Awards Director Rachel Mallows, who wants the event to be a real tribute to the efforts people have made this year. She said: “Our food and drink providers have adapted and developed to make sure they serve their customers, as well as making the most of new sales opportunities, even in these unusual times.
“We hope all the awards finalists really enjoy being part of the 2020 event, relish their success, and make the most of it to promote their businesses.
“Whether they are award winners or not, everyone working in this sector deserves a big thank you from all of us for the efforts they’ve made this year. We know it has not been easy.”
The Awards, now in their 12th year, will take place on November 12 from 6.30pm. The event will take place online so keep an eye on social media for details on how to watch.