Farm's new butchery sparked local demand - and a lockdown career change
- Credit: Danielle Booden
A former travel manager who switched careers to run a specialist butchery at her family's farm says the lockdown venture is still satisfying an unexpected surge in local demand.
The £400,000 new rare breeds butchery at Intwood Farm, south of Norwich, celebrated its first birthday this week after an extraordinary first year which has seen it fulfil more than 3,500 orders from new customers.
The project launched last April, hoping to capitalise on the rising demand for home-grown food during the first weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. It was originally planned as a meat box company, shipping produce from the farm's rare native cattle, pigs and sheep nationwide.
But the business has changed its focus as the demand has been much more local and loyal than anticipated, with 70pc of buyers becoming repeat customers.
It now delivers locally three days per week, with a daily collection for national orders, and a Click and Collect service launched for the meat and other locally-sourced products which have been added to stock, ranging from smoked fish to confectionary.
And the instinct to adapt is shared by Intwood Farm's business development manager Camilla Darling, who was previously working as a corporate travel account manager before the pandemic struck.
As the global travel and hospitality industries used by her clients collapsed, she was initially furloughed and then chose to take redundancy in September after recognising the opportunities at the family farm run by her father Nigel.
Now she is looking ahead to further growth opportunities for the burgeoning butchery business.
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"I realised straight away that this has massive scope," she said. "It is nice to get involved in a growing business, and to help the family out.
"There are several different avenues we can still explore, so it gives me a lot of opportunities to go and try new things, both on the retail and trade side.
"It is very different to Dad's original vision, but it is about moving with the opportunities. In the last 12 months everybody's grand plans have changed, but I would like to think we are opportunistic and we know how to look after our customers.
"Dad's vision was selling meat boxes around the UK. But as the pandemic continued, butchers and farm shops started going online as well. It made the market quite competitive.
"At the same time there were a lot of people who didn't want to go to the supermarket. So we definitely rode the crest of that wave. Now we have got a really good customer base close to the farm, and around Norfolk and Suffolk."
Miss Darling said the recent easing of lockdown restrictions has not affected demand.
"Last week I was concerned that people would get excited and go back to the shops, but people are still ordering," she said. "Now is the test, but it is looking promising.
"You only need to see our testimonial pages to see that people will keep coming back."
Intwood Farm's products are stocked by four local retailers and a contract was recently secured to supply Harry’s restaurant on Chapelfield Gardens. Talks are ongoing with two more restaurants.
The butchery's workforce is also growing. Butcher Andrew Platten was joined a month ago by a second butcher, George Davies, and next week the firm will be interviewing for an administrative worker.
Nigel Darling, who manages the farm, said while the butchery's launch coincided with the lockdown local food boom, the key factor in its success was the quality, taste and animal welfare credentials of the meat from its Welsh black, traditional Hereford and Highland cattle, poll Dorset sheep, and British lop and saddleback pigs.
"The butchery was not driven by Covid, it was purely coincidental," he said. "I think we have benefited from that, but because everyone had to go into online sales the model I originally looked at would not work. The model now is predominantly online sales that we deliver locally.
"Some people have been forced away from the supermarkets and have realised the difference in the quality. But some people have come to us because they understand they are buying a better product with a better taste and higher animal welfare."