Andy Lawson (pictured) is the founder of BoroughBox – the home of great food and drink on a mission to make better food & drink accessible to everyone. We sat down with Andy to find out how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the business…
Q: For people who aren’t familiar with BoroughBox, how would you describe ‘in a nutshell’ what you do?
A: We help customers who care about what they eat find incredible products in turn helping independent food and drink brands access more of the mainstream market.
Q: What were the biggest challenges that your business faced during the pandemic?
A: The first challenge was a global supply chain slowing down. Ingredients, manufacturing, packaging, logistics, distribution, retail – these are the key components needed to make sure we have goods to consume. There was no danger of the country being unable to eat (although you might not have guessed that seeing customers panic buying everything from physical and digital shelves) but you can appreciate how each link in the chain is vital for the next. Any component removed has a knock-on effect and it took a few weeks for the parties involved to adjust and catch-up.
The next challenge we had was recruiting staff to handle the increased activity, especially with government messaging around ‘staying home’. As key workers we carry on regardless and we had a few weeks working tirelessly to manage the workload while adding resources to ease the burden internally.
Q: Online food businesses were essential during lockdown – can you give us an insight into how your sales were affected during this period?
A: We saw a significant increase in sales during the lockdown period and have been working to maintain this ever since. I think one of the biggest habitual changes derived from lockdown is that customers who weren’t previously comfortable ordering online have been forced to give it a go, now realising it’s actually rather enjoyable. The trend of a wider UK audience transacting online has come forward a few years.
Q: How did you cater for corporate clients during the pandemic and were there any trends with the items they purchased?
A: The corporate and business world has been hugely engaged with their staff and clients throughout the entire pandemic and we love supporting them in a variety of off-the-shelf or more creative ways. Employees have been sent regular snacks and drinks packs. Weekly stand ups have been done online sharing a hot drink and nibbles. Physical events have moved to digital but the handout of goodies remains in place as we pre-deliver food gifts full of themed items. The list goes on. One area that’s been very popular over summer is cocktails. If you can’t share one face-to-face you can have lots of fun with cocktail kits over an online group call! With personalisation available our corporate customers have still brand built throughout, something I suspect will continue to grow. A lot of thought and consideration can come across with a well planned food and drink gesture.
Q: What are some of the key takeaways you have from operating a food and drink business during a pandemic?
A: 1. The people who make the lovely goodies we get to enjoy are nothing short of heroes. I’ve known that for a while, it’s the reason I started the business, but this pandemic highlighted the determination of producers to never let their customers down wherever possible. People worked tirelessly, day and night, to make sure the country was fed and watered.
We need to support independent brands and businesses, which is what BoroughBox represents. The pandemic quickly made people realise how valuable it is having specialist and independent brands and businesses to shop from. Local butchers, delis, farm shops, grocers, brands selling directly, and so on. Keep supporting independents, you’d miss them if they disappeared.
I’m super proud of the team we have, old and new. No matter how chaotic things got our staff pulled together and delivered. We genuinely love our sector and there’s not much more satisfying than helping people access and enjoy food and drink to suit their taste, ethics, dietary choice or other preference.
Q: Christmas is only a few months away! Do you have any insider tips on your best food and drink festive gift ideas?
A: That’s a tricky question to answer, after all food and drink is about as subjective as it gets. What one person drools over makes another wince. The good news is that never before has there been a wider array of options, from vegan gifts to keto combinations, or low/no alcohol beers to hard seltzers. The world is literally your oyster (there may even be a vegan version of that!). Do your research on the recipient, find out what they do and don’t like, and buy accordingly. It’s a lovely gesture when someone has taken the time to send you something with a bit of thought. Who needs more socks!