Dromore’s Krazi Baker Mark Douglas was busy loading up his car with freshly baked bread when I rang him earlier in the week.
The Covid-19 outbreak ended his prime sources of income by shutting outdoor food markets, such as Newtownards, Carrickfergus and Comber, and social distancing rules made it impossible to hold baking classes.
Best known for his griddle- baked breads, Mark decided to tackle the problem of not being able to sell directly at markets by switching to a doorstep delivery service.
He’s still griddle baking, now in the garage at home which he has kitted out as a small bakery, but is now delivering fresh breads to orders from customers received through social media. And it’s working well.
“I really didn’t know where to turn when the plug was suddenly pulled on all the markets, my main source of cash flow,” he says.
“We sat down as a family for a brainstorming session and came up with the idea of taking the freshly baked breads out to customers. So, we announced it on facebook and were encouraged by the response.”
Wife Karen and their two sons, Anton and Brandon, were enthusiastic about the new venture.
“It was quite a risk and we weren’t sure about the logistics of griddle baking and then delivering breads fresh to customers.
“We had to limit our delivery range to the Dromore, Hillsborough Lisburn, Lurgan, Newtownards and Comber areas.
“We’re covering a lot of ground and adding new customers on a daily basis,” he adds. “Our aim is to keep the bread as fresh as possible at all times.”
The popularity of the innovative service has enabled him to introduce different breads such as sourdough, which he now also delivers to Quail’s Deli in Banbridge, brioche baps and focaccia bread featuring homemade pesto. Anton and Brandon look after delivery.
Mark has added another local neighbouring artisan producer, Abernethy Butter of Dromara, to his delivery service. “It makes good sense to include the world’s best butter for a bit of extra enjoyment of our breads,” adds Mark.
Krazi Baker and many other companies are unlikely to qualify for funding under current Government support schemes.
Another market focused artisan producer, Mervyn Kennedy of Kennedy Bacon in Omagh, responded swiftly by launching a doorstep delivery service of his award-winning dry-cure bacon and gammon as well as sausages.
“The closure of food markets in Dungannon, Omagh and Coleraine was a serious blow to my business,” says Mervyn, who runs an extensive pig farm.
He continues: “I was also looking forward to Balmoral Show but that’s now gone.
“The virus came at a particularly bad time because I was making inroads with some independent retailers. The markets kept the cash flowing while the discussions were going on. Decisions are now on hold until the virus has gone.
“I just couldn’t sit back and decided to take control by launching a Province-wide delivery service for orders lodged over my website or by phone.”
Over in Tandragee, Dean Wright of Ballylisk Dairies was loading vans for the farm to doorstep fresh milk delivery service he launched in response to the outbreak.
Sales of his award-winning Triple Rose cheeses, especially to top restaurants and hotels, dried up. Exports of the cheeses to Britain, the Irish Republic, the United Arab Emirates and Portugal were also halted.
“It left us with limited sales to delis and other stores here,” says Dean. “The situation meant I had to find a way of using our milk, safeguarding our dairy business and maintaining the jobs of our people.
“I was also keen to do whatever I could to help the local community at such a scary time for us all.”
His smart idea was to revive farm to doorstep fresh milk delivery, the type of daily service which had once been a feature in this predominantly rural part of Armagh but had largely disappeared with the growth of supermarkets.
It’s proving to be an outstanding success. He’s since added other local food products, such as potatoes from Wilson’s Country, biscuits from Holmes Bakery and eggs to his service.
The range of artisan products now available for home delivery is growing steadily. It’s now possible to order tasty Mediterranean mezze dishes, including pesto, tapenade, olives and hummus for delivery virtually everywhere in Northern Ireland and Donegal from Tom & Ollie in Belfast.
And Glastry Farm in Kircubbin is delivering its award-winning luxury ice cream to many parts of north Down.
Rory McLaughlin, Glastry’s sales manager, explains: “All our business in foodservice was halted by the virus and we had to keep cash flowing.
“The delivery service means it’s now possible to order ice cream fresh from our farm for home delivery.”
Award-winning jams, relishes and chutneys from Erin Grove Preserves in Enniskillen are being delivered as also are bacon ketchup and jam from Erne Larder Preserves.
In Downpatrick, Castlescreen Farm is delivering its Dexter beef and other meats.
And the Meat Merchant in Moira is also delivering its award-winning Glenarm salt-aged shorthorn beef and sugar pit cured pork products.
Contributing hugely to the initiatives is Food NI, which is now promoting and providing details of the firms involved in the call and collect and delivery on its website.