The award is recognition for the gargantuan efforts of the entire Market community during the pandemic, to provide a consistent supply of healthy food to people across London and the South East when they most needed it.
When the COVID-19 lockdown dramatically brought the British hospitality industry to a grinding halt on March 21, 2020, traders across New Covent Garden Market (NCGM) were hit particularly hard.
However, wholesalers and catering suppliers at the Fruit and Vegetable Market responded quickly to the capital’s hour of need and combined to ensure that London’s food supply chain continued to function.
The swift adaptation of traditional business models allowed them to serve consumers unable to purchase food through their normal channels. Just as importantly, a whole host of charitable efforts, both by individual firms and market-wide partnerships, ensured that those in most need during the pandemic were given access to nutritious food.
The vast majority of those initiatives were undertaken without fuss or fanfare, as the generous nature of the wholesale trade shone through and people at NCGM worked tirelessly not just to keep their own businesses afloat, but also to support the changing needs of the local and regional population.
“So many people went the extra mile and this award is recognition of the incredible work ethic and the selfless and caring nature of the amazing people in our Market,” said Jo Breare, General Manager of Covent Garden Market Authority. “The award recognises our tenants, the team at CGMA, our service contractors for the Market and the work of our development partners during the pandemic. We all pulled together and emerged from a difficult period in a very positive place.”
Gary Marshall, Chairman of the Covent Garden Tenants Association, added: “I have always been proud of the generosity of spirit in this market and it’s no real surprise to me that everyone here stood up to be counted at such a difficult time. When most businesses were not and could not be sure of how they would come out at the other end of the pandemic, so many people could not have done any more. We are perceived by many to be a foodservice market these days, but in reality we cross all parts of the retail and catering sectors and we showed that again when our local and regional communities needed us most, we were there for them, as we always are.
“During my 15 years as Chairman of the CGTA, we have raised well in excess of £600,000 for our selected charities, and again we’ve shown that we are the Market that continues to give. Thank you to everyone at New Covent Garden Market for everything they did and thank you to our customers and our suppliers for their continued support and understanding over the last 18 months. It won’t be forgotten.”
Many of the initiatives that led to the Market being awarded this prize have been chronicled in the news section of newcoventgardenmarket.com – but here are a few of the highlights:
Flexible and rapid response to the needs of London
Around 80% of sales at NCGM are destined for the hospitality and foodservice sectors and every one of the tenants at the Market felt the effect, some more keenly than others. The vast majority were able to continue to trade throughout – as our products are essential – but they did so to a reduced capacity, with reduced staffing levels.
Particularly at the outset, the crisis created unforeseen gaps in supply and access to food. The just-in-time model of the nations’s supermarket chains was tested like never before, often resulting in a shortage of product both on shelves and through online channels. Although this was corrected over time, there was a prolonged period in which NCGM (and other wholesale markets across the UK) and their independent retail customers were able to trade as normal, while those around them dealt with their challenges.
Many NCGM tenants supported their retail customers as they created food hubs and delivery options for their local customers. With so many people in complete isolation and unable or unwilling to visit their local superstore due to the large volumes of people they would encounter and the socially distanced queues, these hubs became a lifeline – they also fostered a newfound community spirit and connections that proved invaluable to so many people who were stuck in their homes.
Not only that, but this new connection with local suppliers and the value they provide to their communities was being re-established in a way that will hopefully have an ongoing impact once the country fully moves out of pandemic mode. The fact that NCGM tenants en masse have survived the worst crisis to hit the world for 75 years is testament to their in-built fortitude and solidarity, as well as their unmatched experience and expertise and we believe we have once more illustrated the continuing importance of wholesale markets to the food supply chain.
Produce donated free to frontline workers
As soon as it became evident that the pandemic was causing product shortages, Kenny Marshall began organising regular deliveries of free fruit and vegetables for the frontline staff at St Georges Hospital (and later Kings College Hospital) in south London. The wide selection of fruit, veg and salad was donated by wholesalers and catering suppliers across the Market and consolidation and delivery was co-ordinated by Kenny. Bags were supplied to doctors, nurses and porters working in the ICU departments, to enable them to select the produce they wanted and take it home. Deliveries are still taking place to this day.
Another London hospital, University College Hospital London, also received free supplies for around two months from Bevington Salads – an initiative set-up and supported by former FPC President Nicholas Saphir. This has continued on an at-cost basis and the staff at this hospital are also receiving weekly deliveries to the present day.
All manner of formal and informal partnerships were formed by NCGM tenants during the lockdowns, with charities of all causes and sizes. Huge volumes of produce were donated for free, but for the purposes of this nomination, we’ll focus on one project which both served to generate much needed business for the market and protect local jobs, and supported the people on the frontline of the crisis.
From the very beginning of the pandemic, NCGM partnered with volunteers at Harvest for Heroes to provide NHS staff with fresh produce.
Everyone in the market was encouraged to play their part by providing fresh produce boxes for the cause, as Oliver Bailey and his team of volunteers at Harvest for Heroes initially aimed to raise £500,000 to give frontline NHS staff access to daily, free fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy and pasta at the end of long and difficult shifts.
Fruit and vegetable boxes sourced from NCGM were delivered to all of the major London hospitals, where staff were under unprecedented pressure and often unable to shop outside of their gruelling hours. The boxes included: broccoli, onions, potatoes, carrots, tomato, lettuce, cucumber, bananas, apples, grapes, clementines, pasta, eggs and milk.
Providing NHS staff with free boxes of fruit, vegetables, milk and other essentials, Harvest for Heroes continued to work with NCGM tenants, co-ordinated by Premier Fruits, throughout the pandemic. Their sterling efforts were recognised by The Independent's readers, who included them on their 2020 Happy List.
Here’s what the Happy List said about the work of Harvest For Heroes and NCGM. “During the panic-buying early days of the pandemic, key workers struggled to buy food after long shifts. To feed the front line, Darren Burrows and his team set up Harvest For Heroes, raising money to collect and distribute free boxes of fruit, vegetables, milk and other essentials to hospitals and care services in London, the southeast and later in the north of England. The campaign had the welcome knock-on effect of supporting wholesale suppliers in New Covent Garden Market which had been hit by restaurant closures, as well as helping to keep drivers and warehouse packing staff employed.”
Partnership with Uber Eats
Three NCGM traders partnered with the fast-expanding Uber Eats app to offer a range of nutritious produce boxes, delivered to customers’ doors at the click of a button.
Thanks to this new initiative, set up in May last year, London’s consumers could now use the Uber Eats app to order hand-picked boxes of fruit and vegetables from NCGM wholesalers Fresh Connect, Fruit for the Office and West Green Foods.
Located in the Uber Eats grocery section, the range of healthy home delivery fruit and veg boxes were available to London postcodes. All boxes included information about the provenance of the produce, plus serving suggestions to help the public gain a better understanding of their food.
Direct to consumer
Within days of the first lockdown hitting, more than 30 NCGM businesses rapidly re-calibrated their offer, moving from a business-to-business offer to directly serving consumers via home delivery boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables.
The communications team at Covent Garden Market Authority (CGMA) created a section dedicated to this home delivery service on its website and supported the promotional effort throughout. It proved extremely popular – generating more than 1000 unique user visits per day at its peak and still seeing significant traffic. There’s no doubt that demand dropped as the third lockdown ended, but the model was vital during the pandemic and will remain as part of many of several traders’ offers moving forward.