How COVID affected SA’s restaurant suppliers

If ever there was a phrase to sum up coping with the reality of lockdown it’s “necessity is the mother of invention”. When restaurants had to close their doors for a period, this was not only devastating to them but, in turn, left another industry scrambling. With no new orders being placed with suppliers for the foreseeable future, business ground to a halt overnight. In a time where only essential food services were allowed, these suppliers had a small window to take advantage of.

Wild Peacock, purveyors of high-end products known for supplying to the top restaurants in the country, made the choice to offer directly to the “professional home chef” instead. Owner Ross Baker told us: “We had to think on our feet to cater to the home cook stuck at their house, unable to get to the shops. So we set up a small online store where we delivered directly to customers’ homes.”

CNC is another restaurant supplier that quickly made a plan when lockdown hit. Owner Charlene Shapiro said: “We were concerned about our staff being left without work and pay. Management worked very hard to keep the business alive, diving into whatever needs to be done and then some.” Which for them, also meant focusing their attention on a website that would serve customers directly.

The magic that happens when we work together

While some moved their wholesale offering to consumers, others used their platform to help. UCOOK, the successful meal-prepping service, was in a unique position in that they were able to continue operating but instead looked to use this opportunity to aid the food industry as a whole. This resulted in them setting up “market boxes” inspired by local producers and farms. CEO David Torr explains: “We felt that it was our responsibility to provide a route to market for food-producing farms and businesses to ensure that they continue to thrive – not just by choosing them as suppliers, but by choosing to support those who operate with integrity and good practice.” He continues: “The UCOOK Market Box is a collaborative effort between our city’s small-scale farms and food businesses to keep our local food economy alive during these uncertain times.”

Kind Crates, a business that sprung up as a direct result of COVID-19, also looked for ways to offer support to local producers around them. The crates are made up of specially curated fresh produce, available for delivery in Johannesburg and the surrounding area. The produce is all locally sourced from farmers and artisans. Carol Roux explains: “Kind Crates was born because of COVID, as a vehicle to support so many other suppliers and our community during these times.”

And while there’s no denying that we’d all like to forget this period of lockdown, there’s something to be said for these innovative businesses keeping these offerings. Ross says: “While our focus will always be the chefs and restaurants, we’re very keen to grow this new ‘home chef’ market too. So we’ll continue our online store.”

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