Butler’s Larder - a new food and drink delivery service for the North West
PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 June 2020
A new food delivery service has been a lifeline for food and drink producers across the region.
The Hall family are used to rising to a challenge. When Foot and Mouth hit in 2001 the family, who run the hugely successful Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses, knew they had to adapt. When the country went into lockdown in March, it was no different.
‘We were lucky to have the advice of my mum and dad who have been through challenging times before, like Foot and Mouth or those summers with little rain, which means poor grass quality has an effect on the cheese,’ said Matthew Hall, fourth generation owner at the heavyweight Lancashire brand. ‘While the current lockdown is no easy thing to overcome, I think having those previous experiences has meant we have been able to act fast.’
Their solution is Butler’s Larder, a food and drink delivery service which, for the past two months, has been keeping people fed, providing everything from cereal and milk to chocolate and gin from producers in Lancashire and beyond. As well as being a way for Butler’s Cheeses to adapt, it has also provided a vital lifeline for small food and drink businesses.
‘We had started talking to a few businesses at the beginning of March about our idea,’ says Matthew. ‘Then when coronavirus happened, we knew we had to do it right then. Rather than have months to plan, we had it all up and running in four days.’
Demand was swift. Matthew, who runs the business with brother and former Sale Sharks player, Daniel Hall, mum, Gill and grandmother Jean, would have been content with 50 orders. They are now doing 500 to 600 orders a week, sending out food and drink from across Lancashire. Demand has been so high; they have extended their delivery to across the North West and into Yorkshire with producers from these areas also getting involved. Its success has also meant they have been able to take on extra staff and help to promote and buoy the fortunes of many small businesses in times of huge uncertainty.
‘You can do your full grocery shop with us,” says Matthew. ‘There is no need to go to a supermarket, we can provide it all for you. It’s been incredibly busy; it feels like the Christmas rush every day.
‘Producers have told us that being able to supply through Butlers Larder has meant they have not had to put staff on furlough and it has helped to keep their businesses going which is wonderful to hear. I think we are helping.
‘But it’s also about making people aware of more small businesses. One person may come to us to buy coffee they love but while they are on the site, they may learn about a gin producer they might like to try, or cereals from the Lake District they have never seen before. We built the platform, which enables the producers to share their stories, helping to spread the message of the fantastic businesses that are out there and giving customers the opportunity to order from an array of artisans all in one place.’
Despite the challenges of setting up another side to the business so quickly, Matthew knows there are many positives to be taken. He hopes lockdown will not only help start new conversations on the importance of supporting local producers and eating with the seasons, but he also hopes there will be a greater appreciation of the keyworkers, working hard to keep food supply going.
‘The current climate has made it abundantly clear that it is the agility of small producers and their sheer will to continue producing product to feed a nation that keeps hungry mouths fed,’ says Matthew. ‘It’s these small companies that power local economies and we hope this site shines a lens on the amazing products they have to offer, direct to people’s door.
‘It really is important that, along with the NHS and teachers, the people keeping our food supply going are recognised and celebrated.’
As the lockdown begins to lift, Matthew and his family will be looking at ways they can transform the business to sustain its future and make sure it further boosts the hard work being done by local producers.
‘We’re not making money currently, we’re running at a loss just so we can all get through these difficult times,’ says Matthew. ‘But I think it is an exciting business and I really hope that when things start to feel easier, people will stick with us and really recognise the value of the small businesses they have on their doorstep.
‘We have long held a desire to make the amazing produce of these artisan producers more accessible, where you can experience the provenance of the producer, direct from your sofa. There is real opportunity here to create something wonderful, for people to connect with their food and appreciate it more.’