A Darlington-based family food producer has created new opportunities during lockdown as an emphasis on shopping local has led to new partnerships with regional retailers – boosting stockist numbers by 40%.

Calder’s Kitchen launched in 2016 to supply their unique family Piccalilli recipe to hospitality outlets and via retail and food markets. The business got off to a great start, successfully securing a £5000 Virgin StartUp low-cost business loan via the business support team at TEDCO to facilitate a start to trading.

Fast forward four years and thanks to the continued success of their chilli and original Piccalilli products, Calder’s Kitchen secured private investment in early 2020 to ramp up production and ensure the range was Gluten free and Vegan friendly. With an increase in stock and refined business plan to grow retail and B2B customers in 2020, the team have had to set a new course following the Covid-19 pandemic and its tumultuous effect on businesses.

Andrew Calder, MD of Calder’s Kitchen said: “Since March of this year we have been in crisis mode trying to adapt to the impact of lockdown on not only our business but that of our customers. The reality of the interruption to trading we were facing was initially difficult and serious but utterly heart breaking for many of our long-term customers who were forced to close their cafes, shops and pubs with no idea when they could open again.

 

“We are, however, a positive team and have looked at ways to be flexible to ensure the future survival of Calder’s Kitchen but also help other businesses along the way in any way we possibly can.”

Thanks to a renewed focus on shopping local, Calder’s Kitchen have seen retail stockists jump to their highest level during lockdown. The emphasis on retail comes despite the almost complete closure of the hospitality industry and a period of collaboration supporting other retailers during such challenging times.

Andrew continues: “We have worked extensively with local businesses to ensure our products can be included in deliveries, gift boxes or other retailer offerings. As people turned to local shops for their food and speciality items, we increased our partnerships to help protect our revenue stream during lockdown, but also to make sure those local shops had unique products from North East food producers.

 

“We can’t pretend it’s been easy, a huge portion of our b2b client base has been closed. However, we managed to increase our retail stockists by 40% during lockdown – a huge increase on the target we had initially set the business at the start of the year.”

Calder’s Kitchen has also seen an eight-fold increase in direct online orders during lockdown which has helped to fill the gap left by the closures in the hospitality industry. With an increase in supporting independent food businesses, Calder’s Kitchen are hopeful that consumer activity will change long-term to support more local businesses.

With a large proportion of the sector now open or due to reopen, the team at Calder’s Kitchen have been preparing to increase stock and assist cafes and restaurants with their plans, as well as offering free stock to those who could use it.

Andrew continued: “We had some stock featuring our older branding that we’ve been happily giving away to takeaways or anyone who might need it for free to use in sandwiches or otherwise. We’ll continue that for as long as we have product available. In the meantime, we are reaching out to our B2B customer base to see how we can adapt to support their opening as well as testing out a few smaller food events to see how this might work in the current climate.

 

“it’s a long road back but we are hopeful that with a renewed focused on shopping local, we can turn this challenging time into something positive for North East food producers.”

Calder’s Kitchen were helped in their business launch by the team at TEDCO Business Support as part of the Start & Grow programme and accessed a £5000 Virgin StartUp loan. Virgin StartUp is a not-for-profit organisation offering government backed business loans to start-up businesses across the UK. Since launching in 2013, Virgin StartUp has provided over £5 million in funding to businesses in the North East supported by delivery partner TEDCO.

Mark Johnston, business advisor at TEDCO Business Support comments: “Calder’s Kitchen have been around for four years now and during that time have made a real impact thanks to their wonderful product range. This has been a difficult time for any business but those that can adapt are the ones who will see positive changes both during and following lockdown. Andrew and his team have been able to create new retail partnerships that have real value in the local marketplace and will benefit the business long-term. I wish him every success in the future.”

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