The pandemic has had major implications for hospitality, with sales for bars, restaurants and cafes dropping by around 60% on average during the first lockdown in March 2020.

The Coastal West Sussex Partnership recently visited Edgcumbes, an independent family-run coffee roaster and tea merchant near Arundel, West Sussex, which until 2019 sold the majority of its goods directly to the hospitality industry, to learn more about Covid-19’s impact on the business and how it has pivoted over the last year.

“We have completely transformed the business over the last 12 months,” says Alice Rendle, who heads up the business along with her husband Christopher. A vital change has been pivoting from a business-to-business model, which accounted for approximately 70% of sales post-pandemic, to a business-to-customer model.

At the start of the first lockdown, the business reduced, and staff were furloughed. Alice commented: “We stayed open throughout – we set up a table selling essential goods to allow us to remain open. A small team of staff kept the business going for the first two months then we gradually opened up bringing the team back.”

Within three months, Edgcumbes was up and running while its café in Littlehampton, Edge by the Sea, remained open. As well as takeaway tea and coffee, the range of goods expanded rapidly to include locally made produce such as flour, yeast, eggs, bread, cheeses, honey, pickles and more. It was a savvy business decision as, according to Deloitte, 45% of UK adults have bought more locally sourced produce over the last year.

Statistics also show that there has been a 198% increase in online grocery shopping in the UK over the past year, while an estimated 46% of people aged 16-64 used online services to order takeaway food during lockdown.

At Edgcumbes, customers have been following the trend. “Internet sales have increased rapidly over the last year and this will continue to be a growth area moving forward. We have recently appointed a new marketing manager to help drive this area of the business. It’s great to see so many coffee connoisseurs learning to make the perfect cup of coffee on their own machines at home, and we’ve seen an increase in this kind of advice online over the pandemic,” says Alice, “We have also introduced a new loyalty app, which has gained 350 users in a month. Our customers like the unique offer we have of ‘clicks and mortar’ – a real presence to complement the online offering. Around 80% of our online customers live within an hour of our roastery – they like to visit along with the convenience of online buying.”

Consumer behaviour has also been shaped by a drive for sustainability over the past year, with 61% of UK adults limiting their consumption of single use plastic. “Sustainability is very much at the heart of our business. We follow the 3 R’s principles of Reduce, Recycle and Refill – using refillable containers for the EdgeStore customers and compostable cup for our cafes.” says Alice.

The pandemic has also heavily impacted the labour market, with the hospitality industry accounting for around half of the jobs lost. Though there has been a decrease in unemployment, it remains around one percentage point higher than it was before the pandemic.

This is a trend that Edgcumbes bucked, with staffing increasing by approximately 25% to around 40 people. “We’re committed to staff training and have a City and Guilds accredited training academy, the Edge Training Academy. We also work very closely with the Chichester College Group and have just been approved to take on five young people on
the Government’s Kickstart Scheme, so we will be hiring four new baristas and one new coffee roaster.”

Caroline Wood, Director of the Coastal West Sussex Partnership, commented: “Through embracing the shifts in consumer behaviour, from online shopping to local produce and sustainability, and recognising the importance of selling direct to the consumer while hospitality businesses grapple with reduced footfall, Edgcumbe’s narrative of transformation is a successful one.

“Engaging with local colleges and the Kickstart Scheme is a fantastic way of growing a talent pipeline at very little cost, a smart move for any business looking to rebuild stronger in 2021.”