Covid-19, Shock wave

Initiatives that pay : Creative outreach

Reconquer. Home delivery, door-to-door… : retailers who can extend themselves beyond bricks and mortar are managing to limit the damage.


Because the client isn’t coming to you, go to him.” This is the lifeline that several cheesemongers have grabbed onto, by creating home delivery systems or even door-to-door style sales, sometimes in collaboration with other merchants. Delivery orders are rarely ‘a la carte’ but generally take the form of pre-set collections. Mons Fromager-Affineur, for example, introduced on its website a ‘Cheese at home’ section with 5 or 6 preset packages proposed to facilitate management of the program. They are promoting it on social media.

Another option involves opening new sales outlets : “We are trying to set up alternative systems, working with other producers, and to find other places to sell, asking for authorization from the local municipalities,” explains Sophie Espinosa (FNEC) (the national goat breeders’ association). Dominique Bouchait hopes to set up rolling cases in locales borrowed from the mayoralties to offer a more convenient and centralized point of sales. In Arras, Jean-François Dubois (La Finarde) opened up one of his market trucks in the parking lot of his affinage caves.

Working with other food retailers can also bear fruit. In Rambouillet, Ludovic Bisot has organized five different specialty food retailers (butcher, bakery….) and organizes home delivery. “It’s a lot of work, but it helps out our customers. We leave the packages on their doorstep, the payments have already been made by credit card,” explains the Meilleur Ouvrier de France cheesemonger-turned-driver-delivery-person.

In his factory store in Gilly-les-Cîteaux, Philippe Delin set up a partnership with a butcher and greengrocer to expand his offer and to encourage customers to return. “We’d gone to 4-5 customers coming in a day from our usual 250, but thanks to this initiative we’ve climbed back up to 120.”

This Saturday morning, 457 orders. All we have to do now is get them delivered !

“10€ or 20€ packages, delivered”

Jean-Philippe Bourgois

“The first day of confinement, due to staffing issues, some supermarkets told us they were discontinuing our products because they didn’t have staff to manage the inventory and to do cut-to-order,” recounts Jean-Philippe Bourgois, farmstead cheesemaker (200 goats) in Vendegies-sur-Ecaillon in the north of France. “Right away I thought about offering small assortments to customers, on delivery. We came up with packages at 10€ including tax –‘1 fresh cheese + 3 aged cheeses’ and at 20€ - ‘2 fresh cheeses + 6 aged cheeses’. Then I asked family members to share the idea with their friends. One of them put it up on Facebook and it took off. My cell phone and email haven’t stopped.”

To manage the orders, the mother of one of his interns created a GoogleDoc : “The cell phone message now directs callers to send an email, and the emails are responded to with a link to the GoogleDoc. People indicate their location, and we just have to sort the responses in the spreadsheet to plan our delivery routes, sector by sector. It saves us precious time. I do the deliveries myself in my refrigerated van, the roads are deserted. I take along a shoe box that I use as a cash box, and people put their money in, cash or checks, there’s no direct contact.” On a particular Saturday morning 457 orders were on the dashboard. In three days, he made his target revenues for the entire month of April.

“People are really happy to see us and to have fresh products delivered,” he continues. “They are asking us for eggs, potatoes, chicken….I’m sure I’m going to invite a strawberry grower to join us. I recommend that all farmers develop their own network and get into home delivery. I’ve been able to move all my production as usual and stay above water, and I’m especially happy being of service to my customers.”

“A drive-through on the town square”

Laurent Balmelle

Farmstead producer in Ribes in the Ardèche where he raises 100 goats, Laurent Balmelle lost all his restaurant customers at once. “In the supermarkets, the cut-to-order orders dropped off drastically, only the self-serve is still functioning. What’s been our saving grace is our local producers’ shop, which usually represents 60% of our sales. Even its revenues have fallen off by half.”

The farmer set up a drive-through in the town square with a poultry farmer, with permission from the Mayor’s office. “We can serve about thirty clients an hour, but it’s a huge amount of work. We put the word out on social medial. They send us a text with their name and their order.”

“#StayHome, we’ll come to you”

Véronique Cauvin

“We’ve set up a home delivery service, that my husband and I run,” recounts Véronique Cauvin (Véro Crèmes & Fromages), who owns a boutique in downtown Vannes and a stand in the indoor market. “This allows people to avoid going out but keep the social connection. They are happy to see us, to talk with us. We started offering the service on March 9, but people didn’t really believe in it until they were obliged to stay in confinement.” Since then, people have started to get it. “Deliveries took off starting March 24. We use social media to communicate, as well as our packaging, which has my cell phone number printed on it. We tell our clients, ‘stay home, we’ll come to you.’ We’ve got a refrigerated van, we defined five delivery zones, and we go to a different one each day. When we see our customers, we ask them to be our ambassadors, get their neighbors on board.”

Delivery is free. “We’ve even started delivering oysters, farmstead chicken, strawberries, chocolates…coming from the stallholders from the indoor market,” she adds. “It doesn’t bring us more financially, but it helps out our customers.”

“Peddling our wares”

Marc Cerbelaud

The Fromagerie des 4 Gones, which opened just 17 months ago in Saint-Pierre de Chandieu, a village of 5,200 inhabitants southwest of Lyon, has turned to peddling door-to-door in reaction to the pandemic. “Our first thought was for the elderly and the fragile,” relates Marc Cerbelaud. The cheesemonger has teamed up with a boulanger. “The town played along, they graciously lent us a refrigerated van, and we fill it with fuel. We drive 80 km a day through the town, except Sundays and Tuesday mornings.

“Customers are invited to put a red flag on their door to indicate that they want us to stop. We honk our horn,” he continues. “Some send us texts with specific orders. We even keep the van stocked with newspapers, toothpaste, soap, fruits and vegetables… We don’t charge for delivery.” By the end of March, they were stopping at about 80 homes a day. “This is how we’re keeping our business going,” says a satisfied Marc Cerbelaud.

Customers are invited to put a red flag on their door to indicate that they want us to stop. We honk our horn.

“My warehouse converted into a shop”

André Dufour

André Dufour usually works 7 markets each week. “We’ve only got two left,” he says. It was time to react. The cheesemonger decided to open his warehouse that he uses as an 8th retail point in Blacé, a small village of 800 residents. “Normally, we only open three afternoons a week there, but we’ve added two mornings and another afternoon. We use our market truck as our cheese case, and we set up parking spaces outside.” They announced the initiative on posters they put up at the closed markets. As a result, “people are coming more than usual, and we have the advantage of being on the ‘Route du Beaujolais’ which runs through a lot of wine towns. A baker and a greengrocer have joined us.”

The e-commerce site takes in more orders. They’ve substituted ‘Click and Collect’ with delivery. “The demand is greater than I expected,” he admits. “Three days after we launched, I had 70 orders a day. When you work the markets, you know how to adapt ! I hope I’ll be able to keep my numbers up.”

Sidwalk rendez-vous

Mariette Goldas-Grammont

Despite the narrowness of her boutique (‘Saisons’) located near the Beaubourg in Paris, Mariette Goldas-Grammont was not ready to give up. “Since we didn’t want to put anyone at risk, we closed the shop. But we are taking orders by mail, by telephone, and by text up through Thursday noon. We prepare the orders in the afternoon and on Friday we phone our customers for their payments online, and we added software for remote sales to our EPT (electronic payment terminal). We send a text to tell them their time slot on Saturday, which we space out to 6 customers every ten minutes. We put up a table on the sidewalk where they pick up their order. We have some sixty orders, with larger average orders, we’ve been able to keep up a third of our business income, and our customers are grateful, too !” ◼

Related articles

- Covid-19, Shock wave
- Consumption patterns upended
- A windfall for online

In the same section

Covid-19, Shock wave
Consumption patterns upended
A windfall for online