Dairy Farming During Lockdown

Jackie Maxwell is a  Director of Doddington Dairy who produce artisan farmhouse cheeses, luxury ice cream and yogurt on their family farm in North Northumberland. The farm is also a supplier to the Local Heroes North East a Virtual Market helping to safeguard regional food and drink businesses in the North East of England. We spoke to her about the crisis in the British cheese industry caused by Covid-19, her plans for survival and hopes for the future.

How did the lockdown announcement affect you and your business?

The lockdown has had a fairly dramatic effect on our business. We closed our Doddington Dairy Milk Bar in Wooler on the 20th March and are still reviewing the news, on a daily basis, to decide when and how we can reopen.  Our ice cream, yogurt and cheese sales dramatically ‘fell off a cliff’ too at that stage, as so many of our customers closed (hotels, cafes, restaurants, visitor centres, theatres, arenas etc).  We decided the best course of action was to furlough many of our staff members to protect them and our business, in the short term.  Then over recent weeks we have brought several people back to work as we identified what was needed.

Thankfully, our online sales of cheese have increased doddingtoncheese.co.uk and we found that many independent food shops were actually very busy as they worked to support their local communities.  We found there was a bit of a run on take home cartons of ice cream with 500ml and 1 litre cartons suddenly dominating our deliveries, as well as a greater demand for yogurt as people enjoyed their food shop.

What motivated you to take positive action?

Without a doubt, our staff and customers, have motivated us to keep going.  They are all so supportive and really depend on the business.  We live in a rural community where there isn’t a lot of employers, so keeping jobs going in the area supports families.  We also know that our dairy products contribute to the food and tourism culture of the North East and we want that to continue.

What support have you got from other chefs / the hospitality industry?

The effect of chefs like Jamie Oliver, who worked with cheesemongers Neal’s Yard Dairy and the Courtyard Dairy to flag up on social media what was happening to artisan cheese businesses, has been key to the survival of many cheesemakers.

Food writer Jenny Linford has also highlighted how British cheesemakers were struggling and if unsupported wouldn’t survive and be there in the long term.  We saw the effects of this personally, via the Courtyard Dairy, who buy our cheeses and were sending them out in food boxes recommended by Jamie Oliver.

What are your hopes for your future?

We hope to evolve the parts of our businesses that are working successfully, particularly our online sales as well as developing our yogurt range.

We noted how more people were shopping in independent shops and sampling some new and local products.  We are hopeful this will continue after the pandemic.  As a farmer producer we also hope that people will think more carefully about where their food comes from and value their food, making sustainable decisions.

Do you have a message to share with other women in the food industry?

I think many women are skilled at multi-tasking, valuable in day to day life, but particularly at times like this. Over the past few weeks I have done many things I don’t do normally, simply because it needed doing, both on the farm and in our ice cream and cheesemaking businesses.  As you ride the roller-coaster of not knowing what tomorrow will bring I think you have to remain positive and just keep moving forward, with every situation there will be opportunities and it’s having the determination and resilience to pick yourself up, and identify those opportunities.

Look out for more good news stories as we cover how women are coping with the many challenges during the lockdown and their hopes for recovery. Be the first to hear by signing up to our newsletter.

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