The main premise for sisters Sue and Em Antrobus’s company, lovefoodmarket.com, is that despite the fact that the number of small, independent food and drink producers in Britain is growing, many can be quite difficult to track down by consumers. As many artisans sell their produce only at local food fairs or regional farmers’ markets, alternative routes to market are challenging to find. Lovefoodmarket.com offers delivery of independent food products from all across the UK, in one delivery box.
“As a family we’ve always had good food at heart,” Sue told me. “Em and I are both entrepreneurial. We’d been musing and talking about setting up a business for some time. We wanted something close to our values and to what we believed in. Essentially lovefoodmarket.com is an extension of a farmers’ market or food festival. People like the idea of supporting independent butchers and fishmongers, but often don’t have the time to go to them.”
The inspiration for the company came to Sue when she went on holiday to Cape Town, South Africa.
“We visited a grocery market there and I loved it. It was very stylish in the way it was set out, showcasing the best South African food. There was such a vibrant atmosphere – it was exciting and buzzing. We went to the beach at Camps Bay afterwards and I was talking about the market to my husband and children, saying that although we have farmers’ markets in the UK, none of them were as stylish or showcased truly what was the best of British produce. It was then the idea for the business came to me. I texted Em from the beach, telling her I had an idea in mind.”
After returning from South Africa, Sue explained to her sister her original plan for the business, which was actually a physical shopping space. Em said, “Why don’t we do it online?” And that was how the idea took shape.
The pair then had to research the market and competitive companies. When they looked at food hub websites, they were surprised to discover the high delivery costs, as food was being dispatched from many different producers, not from the hub itself. “In most cases the cost of delivery was more than the cost of the products. We both do a great deal of online shopping and knew that this was not a viable business model, so we couldn’t follow this route. It was then that we had to put our heads together, and really think about how to solve the delivery problem. To us, the style of the presentation was going to be very important, as was the branding and the box the food is delivered in. We signed up with a good delivery company, so our customers get one order at one delivery price, and a box delivered straight to their door. Our job is to bring everything together. It took us one year to move from the idea stage to actually sending out deliveries.”
The business is based in Cheshire, in a warehouse, where the ambient temperature products are stored and the chilled products from the local suppliers are sourced with each order. Sue and Em pack the boxes themselves. Customers who only order ambient products receive next-day delivery, but if fresh meat or fish is included in their order the parcel is delivered within 48 hours. Customers can pick a delivery day up to two weeks beforehand.
“We package the boxes with the ambient products at the bottom and there is a chilled package called Woolcool, inside the box. It is an insulating pouch that contains icepacks and keeps the chilled items at the correct temperature for 36 hours. If an order is placed on Monday, then we order from butcher that day, the goods arrive on Tuesday and get to the customer on Wednesday.”
The name for Sue and Em’s new business came to them while driving back from Ludlow Food Festival, which they had visited to source the best of British produce to feature on their website.
“We have tasted almost every British jam and marmalade possible and chose what we thought were the best. We source the products, try them and review them on our website, so customers get the best possible sense of what they will taste like before they buy them. We had to learn how to do food styling for the photographs, as we did most of that ourselves.”
“We launched in the middle of July 2012 and so far we’ve had good feedback. In particular, customers say they love the look of our website, how it’s not cluttered. We wanted to create a clean and clear look.”
Unlike some food hub websites, lovefoodmarket.com source their products from all over the UK. “We’re not just a regional food website,” Sue told me. “We wanted customers to have access to the best possible food from all over the UK.”
Through their website, Sue and Em hope to bring the small producers into the limelight. “During our research we noticed that often small food companies are good at producing food, but not so good at marketing and getting their products onto the online market place. We want to support independent food producers and provide UK customers access to products they won’t usually be able to find. Most small British producers have a website, but you can’t buy directly through all of them.”
On the lovefoodmarket.com website you can see a profile of each producer, read about their business and their products, from Eat 17’s bacon jam to Hada del Café’s coffee, Peter’s Yard’s crisp breads, The Bath Pig’s chorizo and Womersley’s preserves and vinegars.
Em writes the lovefoodblog on the website, which gives customers inspiration for what to do with the products they order. “We want them to understand how to use the products in different recipes. We did a bacon blog last week showcasing Anna Longthorp’s black treacle bacon from Yorkshire. The provenance of meat is very important to our customers, so with each delivery they receive a card with details of the breed, the farm and the butcher who has hand prepared the meat.”
What has been the hardest part of the business venture? “The logistics of bringing everything together – making sure the customers receive their order in one delivery at one price, and making sure the delivery is swift. It took us a while to get it right and it was a steep learning curve for us.
“The best part of setting up the business was tasting all the products at the start, selecting the ones we wanted on our website. We’ve enjoyed it – we’re a creative pair and we love food, so in our mind this is the best job.”
Follow on Twitter: @lovefoodmarket