BAKERS in Scotland have been baking for generations and their place on our high streets, in our lunch boxes and at our dining tables has been assured for many years, constantly changing with the times yet staying true to their traditions of using fresh, quality ingredients from the best suppliers to make bread, biscuits, pies and pastries fresh daily.
But the way we buy food has changed dramatically in recent decades, including online ordering for home delivery becoming a simple click away for more and more of us.
The onset of the Coronavirus, however, has tested the way we shop for and consume our food more than ever before, first with shop shelves cleared of toilet roll and pasta overnight, to the government’s lockdown which saw all but essential food retail shut down overnight changing the way we live and work, quite possibly for many years to come.
Today, the weekly shop often involves a long queue, controlled numbers, two-metre floor spacing signs and an one-way system – not to mention gloves, masks and hand sanitiser.
Through history, businesses have re-invented themselves to adapt to changing circumstances and find new ways to thrive. And our high street bakers are no different.
In recent years, many bakery businesses have combatted the changing world of retail and the decline of traditional high street shopping by opening cafes and offering food-on-the-go, to draw in trade. This has seen a move back toward the community spirit of old as regulars pop in for a coffee and a sumptuous cake over a chat whilst picking up a fresh sandwich for lunch and a succulent pie for supper.
However, the Covid-19 lockdown has forced all cafes and serveries to close, so bakeries are finding new ways not just to engage with customers but to reach out to them and ensure they are looked after during the lockdown.
In the land of Scotch pies and morning rolls, Scottish bakers have innovated by reaching out to customers via online ‘click & collect’ services and local, community-led delivery services.
But being predominantly small businesses offering high-volume goods at competitive prices, how can the cost of delivery be made economic?
One baker has done just that:
Long-established JB Christie Bakery, which operates in Airdrie and Coatbridge, has two shops as well as a bakery employing about 50 staff in the area.
As fears over the COVID-19 virus spread, Andrew Chisholm, the owner of JB Christie, decided this would be the ideal time to set up an online ordering system so the much-loved local business could continue to serve its local customers, many of whom would have to isolate in order to stay safe.
On 20th March, just before the lockdown was announced, the bakery owner had no idea if anyone would use the service, so Christie’s set up a very low-cost option with just the basics, creating a shopping page with six products and a checkout.
Using social media to promote that the online shop was available for pickups and local, next-day delivery,, within minutes the first order had pinged through.
Immediately after the government announced the lockdown, with only nine orders and high street shop sales plummeting, along with fears over social distancing, Andrew decided to close down the bakery, both the high street shops and the online store, and take stock. This break lasted seven days.
Bakery owner, Andrew Chisholm, picks up the story: “Never ones to give up, we saw how the lockdown was affecting our community and how difficult those who were isolated were finding things, so we decided to re-open JB Christie’s online and to try and make a go of it despite the challenges.
“We re-opened the online store in the evening of the 30th and again announced the re-opening of the online store offering delivery only. This was the start of an avalanche of orders. On day one of the re-opening, we took 73 orders. In the first day-and-a-half, we took 310 orders. Seventy-three on Monday and 236 on Tuesday.”
At the end of a full week’s trading, the online shop’s takings almost matched the takings of JB Christie’s two shops pre COVID-19 and takings on one day at least exceeded normal high street shop levels by approximately 20 per cent.
“This run of orders has not slowed down and it has created its own pressures in terms of baking in a safe way and ensuring deliveries were made on time and safely socially distanced. It’s been a huge learning curve but we are delighted to have been able to pull it off for the good of our isolated and vulnerable customers.
“But it’s important to recognise the hard work and dedication of the team at JB Christie. They have worked extremely hard and adapted to a continually changing landscape without complaint. Without them and their desire and willingness to work during these unsettled times, we would not have been able to achieve what we have.”
But sometimes back to basics works best, as the Breadalbane Bakery found:
When a family from Norfolk moved to Scotland in 2009 to take over the Breadalbane Bakery, they had big plans to transform this small single shop bakery, based in Aberfeldy, in the heart of Scotland.
Over ten years, the family has built the business, gaining locals’ trust and custom as well as that of seasonal visitors. With two skilled bakers – the son and daughter of the owner, Lynda – Breadalbane has diversified over the past few years, building up the product range, and quality, even winning some awards for products, at the Scottish Bakers Awards and opening a tea room to provide a community hub for people to meet up, grab a coffee and a cake and have chat.
But Covid-19 changed all that!
Hannah Curston, at Breadlabane, said: “Whilst we had so shut our tearoom under the government’s restrictions, we were quick to make use of the space to help the community.
“So we transformed it into a pantry and green grocers, supplying a wide range of pantry items, including essential baking items (flour, sugar, yeast) plus lots of pasta, tinned goods and toilet toll.
“We also started a small selection of fruit and veg but this quickly grew and we now offer a huge range of fresh and loose fruit and veg from our suppliers Les Turiff in Dundee. We stock local eggs, milk, cheese and much more as well as continuing to bake six nights a week to keep the community going with fresh bread and cakes.
“We have had to change almost every aspect of what we do in a such a short time, but it’s all just to keep us going and the community fed.
“As for the future, we have decided to turn our tearoom into a full-time green grocers and pantry and we want to compile a list of local food producers whose produce we can sell. We’re looking to our community to help us source for everything from local fruit and veg, jams, honey, tablet, cheese, chocolates.”
The day of the baker’s boy pushing his laden bike up cobbled hills has faded into the mists of time along with the milkman and many daily deliveries of household goods. The modern age demands online access and instant delivery.
But Scottish bakeries have been responding to the needs of their customers and communities for generations and the current crisis has seen our members make safe their bakeries and retail premises so they can stay open and bake in a way that keeps staff and customers protected, delivers thousands of much-needed freshly baked items to our NHS and key workers as a mark of respect, and open up online and telephone ordering services for those who are unable to make it out to the shops.
And that is the key, bakers really are well placed to reach out within their communities providing brilliant bakes but also the knowledge that someone cares and perhaps that is a model for the ‘new retail normal’ as we begin to ease out of this crisis.
Let’s remember the small acts of kindness made by many bakers in Scotland through this crisis and build a business on the back of being good citizens.
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