Christmas is coming, carefully, amid coronavirus crisis

It’s fair to say that the Covid-19 pandemic has made 2020 a miserable year for everyone.

Myers Deli in Horncastle is preparing for an uncertain Christmas.

But now farmers and food and drink producers are seeing their Christmas preparations turned upside down as well, due to lockdown 2.0 and uncertainty over what social distancing rules will be in place in December.

Last week, it was announced that travel rules were being relaxed for people arriving in England to work on poultry farms to ensure there is enough turkey available for Christmas dinners, and transport secretary Grant Schapps said the new measures will ensure food producers can keep up with the Christmas demand.

NFU chief poultry adviser Aimee Mahony said that around half of the people required in this profession were coming from other European countries:

From left: Joe, Laura, Ross, Mary, and Michael Davenport, owners of Cote Hill Cheese, with one of their Christmas hampers.

“We estimate around 8,500 skilled seasonal poultry workers are needed to get the nation’s favourite Christmas dinner centrepiece on our tables.

“The food and farming sector has overcome many challenges since the start of the pandemic and we will do all we can to ensure a happy and turkey-filled Christmas for all.”

On a local scale, one business who has had to change the way they operate in these uncertain times is Ovens Farm Vineyard, near Spilsby, as owners Simon and Bridget White had been forced to limit numbers of their land army volunteers this year because of social distancing restrictions.

Simon said: “The harvesting was a bit more difficult this year because we were obviously using lesser numbers.

TH Clements managing director Chris Gedney.

“Our online sales have gone through the roof but on the back of this latest lockdown, we’ve lost a lot of our trade customers such as pubs and restaurants which have had to shut, so we’ve just about broken even.”

The Bottomley Distillery in Louth, co-founded by Alan Bottomley and Amy Conyard, produces world-renowned PinGin and has also seen their Christmas takings take a hit due to the closure of pubs and restaurants.

Amy said: “We’ve lost all our pub trade in lockdown which is around 70 percent of our business, which is massive, but on the flip side the sales through retailers are much higher.

“We normally hold our gin schools here and we’ve lost that revenue too, so this week we’ve launched our Stay In In gift experience to offer online gin tasting.

L-R Emma Deakin, Kevin Cottam and Jess Bell of G.Simpsons Butchers in Heckington.

“But we’re still busy but in a different way, we’ve had to adapt to that, we can’t do anything about what’s going on, we’ve just got to get on with it.”

Amy said that the usual uplift in sales they tend to get in the run up to Christmas usually starts in October, but this year simply hasn’t happened as they have been unable to attend the usual food and drink fairs.

Similarly, another business who has sincerely missed the presence of food and drink fairs is Cote Hill Cheeses in Market Rasen, run by the Davenport family.

Michael Davenport said: “Obviously this year there’s the absence of traditional food fairs and Christmas markets, these normally give us a bit of a kick start with our festive sales and we normally do very well at the Festive Food and Drink Fayre at Newark Showground, which was obviously cancelled.”

Bottomley Distilleries co-founders Amy Conyard and Alan Bottomley.

Back in September, the business started operating out of the Cheese Shed, allowing their customers to pick up raw cheese and milk from the shed located near the farm’s front gate.

Michael added: “We’ve been moving at 100mph to keep up with all the changes in the rules and the challenges that come with lower milk prices, it’s been a very interesting few months.

“The Cheese Shed has been very well supported throughout lockdown with our customers, and our sales increased throughout April and May.”

Whether or not the coronavirus pandemic has an impact on their Christmas sales remains to be seen, as Michael said sales usually start to pick up with festive orders in the latter part of November and early December.

Myers Bakery, Cafe and Deli, run by the Myers family in Horncastle, are also looking at an uncertain festive period as customers have been reluctant to order their Christmas fare, including their traditional Christmas cakes and Christmas puddings, just yet.

Marie Myers said: “A lot of our stockists are saying the same thing, that it’s so unpredictable at the moment and we don’t know what to expect in December.

Amy Conyard, Alan Bottomley and Dean McKechnie of Bottomley Distilleries.

“We’re trying to carry on as normal but we don’t know how long this is going to last for and we’re losing these weeks in November, as this is the time of year that people normally start to plan and buy their Christmas presents.

“People are saying they don’t know how much to order because they don’t know if they’ll be allowed to see their families over Christmas.

“Until this lockdown is over, we don’t think people will start preparing for Christmas yet and that there will end up being a last minute rush.”

T H Clements, based in Benington, has been producing high quality vegetables for over 50 years, grown in their 12,000 acres of fields and then packaged and delivered to supermarkets across the country.

Managing director Chris Gedney said that the amount of sprouts that will be harvested between now and Christmas stretches 5,500 miles, that’s from here to Sri Lanka.

“We’ve had a huge uplift in sales since March, running at around 20 percent higher than usual and we’re looking at our busiest year ever," he said.

“The growing conditions have been great this year for quality and yield, and with no-one going away for Christmas this year, we’re expecting that people will be putting plenty of Brussels sprouts on tables so there will be lots of pressure on our staff and machines, but we’re well prepared for that.”

Chris said one of their biggest challenges has been keeping their 1,000 employees safe during the pandemic.

“Everyone has a responsibility for the welfare and safety of themselves and others, so we’ve had procedures in place to keep everyone safe - everyone is temperature checked before they enter the premises and everyone wears gloves and masks.”

Butcher Gary Simpson, who has six stores across Lincolnshire including Sleaford and Heckington, said that so far, a lot of their customers are also not ordering Christmas fayre yet:

“We’ve had an unbelievable year and of course, our online and phone orders and delivery services have been the busiest across the board.

“We’ve not had much in terms of Christmas orders as I think a lot of people are holding off until they know whether they’ll be able to see their families for Christmas or not so don’t want to order anything yet.”

Mr Simpson is one of dozens of local businesses who have joined Yummy.co.uk, a new business venue which allows customers to shop at all their favourite local businesses on one simple website.

Yummy, the brainchild of Lincolnshire businessman Julian Wilkinson, allows customers to select their items from their favourite stores and create one online ‘basket’, which then Yummy picks up from all of the shops, packages and delivers all of the items together in one order direct to customer's door.

For further information, visit www.yummy.co.uk