Prior to March 2020 Granny Mary’s was focused on the foodservice market – supplying our pâtés and potted meats to restaurants, hotels, caterers and the like. We only worked with retailers on a small scale. Then Covid hit and everybody knows what that did to the hospitality sector. We lost a lot of business.

However, back in 2019 I’d been invited to a ‘buy local day’ at Morrisons. Once a year they invite a number of smaller suppliers to this event and also bring along a number of customers.

Customers get to try the products and rate them. Suppliers get to meet the buyers to talk about their products. It’s a once-a-year thing. Essentially, they want to see whether your products are a good fit for Morrisons. One of the things we quickly realised was that our pricing was quite different to who people regarded as our competitors. So when Morrison’s decided they were interested in stocking some of our product we thought it was the time to play around a bit with the retail price – to see if we could get significantly more people buying our potted meats and pâtés.

There was a personal aspect too. The long-term success of Sutherland’s, what had been the family business, was built on selling through shops. We wanted to get back to that again.

The Morrisons event went well. Customers liked Granny Mary’s and so did the Morrison’s people. They decided to give us a trial in their Bolsover store to see how we’d go. From there things developed and a bit later we got into the Chesterfield store – an outlet that, admittedly, we’d fancied for a long time. We work closely with Ben, the store manager, who is great. We did a few sample days there and within a couple of weeks it had taken off; we were selling hundreds of pots out of that one Chesterfield store.

Then Covid hit, which meant no more sample days at the store for us. Understandable.

Morrisons have been great. They then gave Granny Mary’s space in their Staveley and Sheffield Meadowhead stores. Morrisons’ reporting systems gave us the opportunity to see sales figures every day. And the figures were encouraging. At the start of the pandemic when foodservice pretty much dried-up, the Morrisons trade gave us all a real lift. They’re very supportive in a number of ways. Retail income is important, but equally, it was reassuring to know that people wanted our products.

Now, at the start of 2021 we have the four Morrisons stores, a Co-op and well over 50 independent shops that we supply. It’s interesting because this is pretty much the way our MD Will’s great-grandfather built the Sutherland’s potted meats business nearly a hundred years ago.

Despite the obvious difficulties in the time of Covid we’re actually excited at the moment. There’s a lot of negativity around, but we want to buck that trend, that kind of thinking. Growing this retail element of our business has been hard work and challenging but it’s also been a lot of fun. We have learnt so much. And we have met some great people along the way.

We’re really excited about these opportunities that are coming up and how 2021 is going to unfold.