Transforming their business models ensured local food and drink producers and hospitality venues survived the Coronavirus lockdown.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the most challenging periods in the country’s history, but it has also led to a sea change in attitudes and innovation.
Driven by community concern and health and safety requirements, firms across rural towns and villages adapted their normal working hours and processes to meet demand and support customers when they needed it most.
From home deliveries to takeaway services and e-commerce, there have been myriad approaches to supplying the public with fresh, artisan and homegrown items.
Supported by Taste North East Wales – which takes place virtually this year – these companies hope people will continue to support them in the months ahead and centre their weekly shop around local shops and farm stores.
Among them is Aballu Artisan Chocolatier, based in Rossett, near Wrexham, whose owner Jo Edwards was able to continue producing truffles and other sweet treats behind closed doors at a crucial time.
“When lockdown was first announced I wondered whether I could work at all,” said Jo.
“But because I can operate alone and live close to the unit where the chocolate is produced, I was able to keep going, which was a huge relief.
“The response from customers was amazing, they’ve been so supportive and continued to buy our chocolate; we started carrying out free deliveries locally, sending via mail order and people came to collect – it helped us to survive.
She added: “I only really had to cancel one order due to lockdown, which was for around 300 truffles. To ensure they didn’t go to waste I donated them to staff at our local grocers, to thank those on the frontline for everything they’ve done.”
And one of the key points in the calendar for Aballu was more hectic than ever.
“It was coming up to Easter when the Coronavirus outbreak took hold in the UK so that was a tough time,” said Jo.
“I had to enlist the help of family and was even out on Easter Sunday myself delivering chocolate eggs because I didn’t want to let anyone down.
“In past weeks the mail order and deliveries have slowed down but our suppliers have increased their orders, particularly the farm shops who say our chocolate has become part of people’s weekly shopping list, which is just brilliant and provides a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Jo now has her sights set on the Christmas period, which she expects to predominately consist of online sales.
Another looking ahead to the festive season is Janet Costidell, who runs the Cross Foxes in Nannerch with husband Tim.
She admits to the unrealistic chances of them having a traditional pub Christmas because of the Coronavirus and hopes the ‘new normal’ will enable them to reopen fully in the months ahead.
“The pandemic and subsequent lockdown came as a complete shock to all of us,” she said.
“We quickly formed a team to deliver meals and provide a takeaway service so we could remain operational, and as the Cross Foxes is central to the community, we collected prescriptions for the vulnerable and elderly.
“We reopened at the end of July but only outside, and also set up a little village shop with milk and all of the essentials for local residents, which was open for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon every day.
“It kept us busy at what was a challenging time. We all really came together, and the support has been amazing – one morning we even came out to find people had put bunting up for us to say how much they love us! They have been incredible.”
The second annual Taste North East Wales is taking place online this year after organisers Clwydian Range Food and Drink and Llangollen and Dee Valley Food and Drink, with the support of Cadwyn Clwyd, the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB and the local authorities of Flintshire, Wrexham and Denbighshire, decided to host a virtual celebration to ensure the health and safety of participants.
This project has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.
Coordinator Jane Clough said loyalty to the local businesses that supported concerned communities in their hours of need has never been more apparent.
“The way producers, hospitality businesses and local shops adapted to survive and help people, especially those shielding and self-isolating, will hopefully not be forgotten,” she said.
“We are already hearing how people are planning their weekly shop to continue supporting local businesses by maintaining home deliveries, pick-ups and a socially-distanced visit to their nearby farm shop or delicatessen.
“It’s wonderful to see and highlights the unity displayed in so many of our towns and villages in north east Wales. Long may that continue.”