More cheese please

CLA East member Jonny Crickmore discusses the Covid-19 journey for his dairy

Fen Farm Dairy in Suffolk went from a catastrophic drop in demand for its specialist cheese to an unprecedented surge in a matter of weeks during the Covid-19 crisis.

Jonny Crickmore’s family dairy farm in Suffolk is set over 900 acres of the picturesque Waveney Valley in Suffolk. Over the last nine years he has diversified his businesses from a traditional dairy to now include a specialist cheese making operation where his Brie style cheese named Baron Bigod is produced and sold.

Like many millions of businesses around the country the Covid-19 lockdown hit him hard. As a supplier of specialist cheese to the restaurant trade Jonny saw sales drop by 70 per cent overnight when the first lockdown started last year. The enforced restrictions on people movement meant that demand for his product was decimated.

When the first lockdown started this time last year we had made all the cheese for the Easter demand,” said Jonny. “We worked out that at the rate we were going we would lose around fifty five thousand pounds worth of cheese over seven weeks.

Jonny’s team was also in the process of making more cheese which – given that it is a seven week process – nobody was going to buy when it was ready.

A brainstorming session with his team led them to focus on sales of their 1kg cheese wheels. "We noticed that after the first few weeks of lockdown – when everyone was panic buying pasta and toilet rolls – people were increasingly shopping online to buy treats for themselves,” says Jonny.

Social media

Through the farm’s social media channel and website Jonny placed an advert with a discount on the 1kg cheese wheels. Within seven days he had sold 400 cheese wheels. He would normally sell five wheels a week.

A partnership with a local milk delivery firm saw free samples of Baron Bigod included in rounds which also boosted sales as people who tasted the cheese wanted to buy more.

Jamie Oliver

But it was the celebrity endorsement of Jonny’s cheese that was a real game changer. An Instagram post by Jamie Oliver to his 8.5 million followers which promoted independent cheesemakers, and included Jonny’s Baron Bigod, sent sales soaring. This, along with a mention by Nigella Lawson on her social media channels, meant that Jonny had gone from an all-time low in sales to now being in a position where demand was outstripping supply.

Jonny Crick.jpg
The cheese at Fen Farm Dairy

With furloughed staff quickly brought back into the fold production increased with his team working long hours to service the orders. It has been a rollercoaster ride for this Suffolk dairy and Jonny says the experience has changed his outlook on the business. "I have certainly become more resilient and better at reacting to changes in the market,” says Jonny. “Adapting quickly and changing the ways of selling our product has been crucial.” He concluded.