Farmers are helping to feed the nation during the coronavirus pandemic by setting up makeshift drive-through shops.
Ivor Robinson says the drive-through offers quality produce and a safe shopping experience © Robinson’s Drive-Thru Farmshop
Manor Farm Fruits, near Hints, Staffordshire, is growing 22ha of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants and blackberries, and is offering its first-ever “Strawberry Drive-thru”.
The farm would usually play host to thousands of visitors every year keen to pick their own fruits, visit the onsite restaurant and shop and use the play equipment. But this season called for innovative thinking.
“We knew we needed to evolve and diversify, if we were to survive the current pandemic,” said owner Elaine Clarke.
“Launching a drive-through, selling fresh strawberries and fruit, along with the key baking essentials we know people are searching for, has been the perfect solution.”
Stay in the car
The Clarke family, who have owned and run the business for three generations, worked with portable retail specialist Rapid Retail to set up a large kiosk for the drive-through shop, plus two smaller ones which will be used to take admission fees when a modified pick-your-own offering is unveiled in the coming weeks.
A one-way system allows customers to drive up to the kiosk, choose their produce and pay, without the need to leave their car. The new concept, they say, is “super safe” for customers and staff.
“The feedback we are receiving from customers has been amazing,” said Ms Clarke.
“The popularity of the drive-through has already exceeded all our expectations and we plan to build on these foundations by adding even more products. We’ll be taking the lead on this from our customers and their suggestions for what they would like us to sell.”
At Tatenhill, near Burton-upon-Trent in Staffordshire, farmer Ivor Robinson and his team have pulled out all the stops to create Robinson’s Drive-Thru Farmshop.
“It’s been a way of supporting shoppers and generating income when our farm and visitor attraction, the National Forest Adventure Farm, has been affected by the coronavirus crisis,” he said.
“We didn’t previously have a farm shop or a drive-through, but we did this to supplement the farm income and as a service to the local community.”
Mr Robinson sources meat from an award-winning butcher, Alfreton-based Owen Taylor & Sons, while most of the fruit, vegetables and salads come from Birmingham wholesale markets, meaning 4am starts for Mr Robinson. “We had to think fast and make contacts quickly,” he said.
A new marquee houses the refrigeration kit and picking lines, with lists put up daily detailing available products so shoppers can phone from their vehicles on site.
“A big selling point is the safety of the shopping experience – people don’t have to get out their cars – but we’re combining that with an offering of good quality, locally sourced produce,” Mr Robinson said.
The shop is visited by about 150 cars on the busiest days, with an average of about 90.
“We’re all enjoying doing it and people are taking the time to say thanks, which is great to hear. Their comments have been very positive,” said Mr Robinson.
“We are novices in terms of running a retail business so are on a steep learning curve, but we’re learning quickly and we’ll carry on doing this as long as the demand is there.”
According to Lord Newborough, who opened the UK’s first farm-based permanent drive-through on the Rhug Estate in 2018, more such establishments are likely to be launched as a result of the coronavirus.
Social distancing requirements and the convenience afforded by drive-throughs would make them more popular, said Lord Newborough, who opened his shop on the A5 near Corwen in north Wales to complement the estate’s bistro, takeaway and farmshop.
“Through lockdown, we’ve found we’ve been very popular with everyone providing essential services and doing essential works, including ambulance drivers and the police who have used the drive-through either as a welcome break or for a quick cup of coffee on a long day,” he said.
“Running one is not for the fainthearted, though. They need a lot of thought and you need a good plan in place to create the most streamlined operation you can offer. Good service and good product is the name of the game as far as our drive-through is concerned.”