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Manly Food Co-op moves online to combat COVID-19

The COVID pandemic overwhelmed the FMCG sector in recent months and plenty of brick and mortar stores were forced to move online to save their business – Manly Food Co-Operative is one of them.

Sarah Weate, chairperson of Manly Food Co-Operative, shares how the plastic-free and organic not-for-profit navigated this latest challenge.

Inside FMCG: Tell us how Manly Food Co-operative began.

Sarah Weate: Keelah Lam and a couple of like-minded others organised a meeting with local council to gauge interest. I volunteered to support with tech, and there were graphic designers, artists, carpenters, accountants and more who all volunteered time to get the shop up and running.

Inside FMCG: How has Coronavirus affected the business? 

SW: We experienced a significant downturn in sales since March. Before we closed the doors we had exceptionally high sales because people were stockpiling. For about six weeks afterwards we had significantly lower sales as we moved to an online model and customers adjusted to our new online ordering system. Since May, we have had a slow but steady increase in sales, and whilst not yet back to pre-COVID levels, we hope to get there within the next month or so now that we’ve opened up the shop to a greater extent. 

Inside FMCG: How did the company deal with the stockpiling of certain products? 

SW: We had difficulty with consistency of deliveries of these products but were lucky to get a toilet paper delivery when there were shortages elsewhere. We then put limits on purchases of certain items like toilet paper and tinned tomatoes to try and make our stock go further. 

Inside FMCG: What are your safety protocols now that the Government has lifted restrictions? 

SW: Until recently we have not allowed customers inside the store to do their own shopping as they normally would. Instead, we’ve been operating an interim model with a combination of online orders and an old-fashioned style grocery store with staff serving customers. We have maintained strict safety precautions in-store since the beginning of COVID-19. Staff wear gloves and masks at all times, and boxes and bags are sanitised on delivery.

Now that we are allowing customers inside the store, we will maintain similar sanitisation processes – the sanitisation of hands, jars and containers on entry will be mandated. Utensils will only be used once and then washed and sanitised. We will display signs to remind people of social distancing and we are introducing a one-way system to minimise customer interaction. We are also having to rebuild our point-of-sale area to ensure staff can work in a socially-distanced way. 

Inside FMCG: How do you think the virus will affect the food sector in the future?

SW: Unfortunately, I think one of the ongoing impacts is a reduction in people reusing containers and packaging. The Co-op aims to overcome that and provide adequate sanitisation to enable reuse of packaging. We hope to see this spread throughout other businesses like takeaway food shops. We will also invest in a high-temperature [sanitation] dishwasher so that we can take customer jars for recycling. We also hope to see more people eating locally and making healthier food choices. 

Inside FMCG: How are you helping local farmers during these difficult times? 

SW: We always try to source products locally wherever possible. We were particularly focused on this during the drought and we have continued to source locally as much as possible. Some farmers have faced difficulties resulting in inconsistent deliveries but overall we have maintained our local suppliers. We also help farmers by paying on delivery where possible to help their cash flow. We also promote local products like our Australian barley that we had on promotion last week to support local farmers.

Inside FMCG: Have you sought business support during COVID-19? If so, how have these benefited you and your business?

SW: Business Australia has been a consistent and helpful resource for many of our board members during these uncharted times. We have particularly benefitted from regular updates on Stimulus and JobKeeper dates through e-newsletters, marketing advice and access to online resources. 

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