A leading London food producer led by a prominent South African entrepreneur has transformed its business model in the wake of the present public health emergency. 

The Wimbledon-based producer, that normally supplies some 120 tonnes of food per month to the restaurant sector, has positioned its business operations to meet the growing demand for home deliveries and meal supplies to NHS hospital staff.

In March 2020, the UK government’s emergency legislation in response to the escalating Covid-19 pandemic ordered restaurants to close with immediate effect. Many restaurant chains looked for significant injections of capital from backers and support from landlords to survive. The impact of the shutdowns, however, have been more far reaching with the restaurant and hospitality industry’s supply chain facing cancelled orders and immense uncertainty.

“The coronavirus decimated our food production business that supplied 32 of the top high street restaurant groups. Considering the current circumstances, as a community, it is imperative that we come together to support our community, especially those on the frontline, as well as local businesses and do what we can to help one another during this time”, said James Durrant, Mustard Foods Co-Founder and Director.

The well-known Cape Town-born entrepreneur firstly harnessed his talented workforce to use their culinary creativity to produce special handmade batches of their bestselling dishes. Many of the popular dishes that had previously been supplied to some 500 restaurants are now available to the public. The meals, ranging from Thai Red Vegetable Curry to Beef Bourguignon, are quick-frozen before being delivered to homes around London

Mustard Food staff preparing meals in their south-west London kitchen for deliveries to St George's Hospital

Mr. Durrant told thesouthafrican.com news website:

“I’ve built several businesses in my career, but I’ve never had a Friday the 13th like last week: I woke up on Saturday and decided we wouldn’t face this challenge without a fight. We built ourselves an e-commerce website, created recipes, cooked the trial products, photographed them, designed labels, converted existing wholesale packaging, got on social media and launched a door-to-door flyer campaign.”

Mustard Foods have also expanded their response to support NHS staff at nearby St George’s Hospital in Tooting, a teaching hospital serving 1.3 million people across south-west London and one of the largest hospitals in Europe. In partnership with voluntary group @criticalnhs, set up in response to the corona crisis to support the critical care staff at St. Georges Hospital (and in turn support local shops and restaurants), they are now providing food to NHS employees at cost price.

By the start of April, Mustard Foods were supplying around 9,000 meals per week to St George’s and they are aiming to increase that number over the coming weeks. An email (with name omitted) posted on the Mustard Foods’ Facebook account last month from a doctor working in Accident and Emergency at St George’s expressed their appreciation for the company’s support for #FeedingTheFrontLine:

“On Saturday 28th March, we received dozens and dozens of delicious meals prepared by yourselves. The food was wonderful…People such as yourselves have played a large part in keeping morale up in this difficult time.”

Meals being delivered to the hospital staff at St George's Hospital in Tooting

The company, however, remains mindful of the changing needs of the community as the public health emergency unfolds in the UK. They would now like to extend their offer of assistance to other vulnerable groups in the community as many NHS hospitals are now receiving large amounts of donations and have limited facilities to manage fresh (and perishable) food that is being offered to them.

Elderly people at home or in care settings, hostels, places of safety (for those who are at risk in any way) and homeless communities have the opportunity to order frozen meals in individual portions or bulk quantities. As part of the company’s support for the wider #CommunityOverCorona efforts they are working to offer a delivery service for cost-price frozen meals with a shelf life of 6 to 9 months. They still have capacity to assist other NHS hospitals and organisations supplying food to vulnerable people.

Food and hospitality analysts expect the UK government’s guidance on social distancing may bring more industry players into the food delivery business. Food delivery practices have also changed fast to achieve ‘contact-free’ delivery to help keep both drivers and customers safe. Meal delivery services now have the opportunity to add groceries to their orders. It remains to be seen what long-term effects this public health crisis will have upon the global food industry and its delivery service that was estimated at the end of 2019 in a Forbes report to ‘supersize’ up to $200 billion by 2025.

Please do let us know your stories of how you are providing support and where it has helped. Email us on [email protected] Let’s share the caring and care more.

Article by Antony Shaw