Farm shops sell 'back-up Christmas dinners' as Omicron threatens family plans

Sam Steggles with a Christmas hamper at the Goat Shed farm shop in Honingham

Sam Steggles with a Christmas hamper at the Goat Shed farm shop in Honingham - Credit: The Goat Shed

Norfolk farm shops are seizing opportunities amid the latest Covid surge - including supplying "back-up Christmas dinners" in case long-awaited family meals are cancelled.

Concerns over a growing wave of Omicron cases have sparked the cancellation of many Christmas parties and restaurant bookings.

But farm shops, which flourished during previous pandemic peaks, have taken advantage by offering alternative supplies of festive food and drink.

Sam Steggles, who runs the Goat Shed farm shop at Honingham, said one company called to order 85 hampers for its staff after cancelling its Christmas party.

And he said there was a growing number of shoppers buying reserve Christmas dinners to keep in the freezer - just in case the big family meal is cancelled.

"We have definitely seen a lot of people in the last few days whose Christmas plans have changed, or they are getting themselves prepared for a change in case someone has caught it [Covid] and cannot travel to their relatives," he said.

"We have had people phoning up asking for smaller joints of meat and smaller puddings.

"It is a case of not knowing - things are changing all the time, so everyone is unsure of what their plans may be.

"People were really looking forward to the larger family gatherings because they didn't have one last year.

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"Now they are covering all their bases, and that has been happening more in the last few days."

Rebecca Mayhew, at Old Hall Farm in Woodton, near Bungay, said Covid concerns meant the farm shop had to be more creative to satisfy customer demand - and it again proved the value of the online delivery system launched during last year's lockdown. 

"We are having to be creative, and I think customers are having to be quite flexible," she said. 

"I've had a couple of people downgrade their turkey size, but we have also sold a lot more of our own pasture-fed beef this year.

"If someone no longer wants a large turkey, we can take the legs off so they can have the drumsticks and the crown or a breast joint.

Rebecca and Stuart Mayhew at Old Hall Farm shop in Woodton, near Bungay

Rebecca and Stuart Mayhew at Old Hall Farm shop in Woodton, near Bungay - Credit: Sonya Duncan

"Some people have changed their shopping habits. We have seen a few people who had only just started coming back to the shop going back to deliveries now rather than coming in.

"We have had a few cancellations for work parties in the cafe - it is really difficult for people to plan and be confident. I suspect we will see a lot of last-minute shopping.

"But on the whole I think people are quite optimistic that they will get the Christmas they wanted."

According to research by rural insurance firm NFU Mutual, high standards of produce and service are driving a surge of visitors to farm shops this year.

The firm said 90pc of shoppers surveyed said the friendly service they receive at farm shops and other independent stores will be the biggest draw for them this Christmas, while 80pc of those planning to use farm shops said they wanted to support local businesses.

Charlie Tacon of The Tacons farm shop at Rollesby, near Great Yarmouth, with some sprouts grown on the farm

Charlie Tacon of The Tacons farm shop at Rollesby, near Great Yarmouth, with some sprouts grown on the farm - Credit: Chris Hill

Charlie Tacon of The Tacons farm shop at Rollesby, near Great Yarmouth, expects a festive rush in the week leading up to Christmas. 

"We have had a couple of cancellations for turkeys, but they still sold out quite a while ago, so we soon found other people to buy them," he said. 

"The way the shop has been, I don't think the Covid thing will affect us. If anything, whenever there is a scare it actually improves our sales.

"People want to limit where they go out to, and they much prefer to go down the farm shop than go to the town to a big supermarket with lots of people.

"With offices closing down, people are still social creatures and they want to have a chat with someone.

"Here, they have not got to queue up to be served, and they get to have a yarn with whoever is on the counter. It is more personal."