When the COVID-19 lockdown kicked in, Whitestone Cheese in Oamaru lost over 40% of its business overnight with the closure of the nation’s restaurants, hotels and cafes. The factory was deemed an essential service and would continue manufacturing even though 30% of its staff could not work due to family commitments at home.
For Bob and Simon Berry, the father son duo who head Whitestone, the outlook was grim and it was worse for their food service customers and distributors who had to close down and were unable to claim insurance for their perishable stock, which was all about to be lost. The Berry’s and their team determined the best way forward was to support these businesses by accepting and crediting all returns. This situation was compounded by the considerable stock on hand already at the factory, with a short shelf life ranging from only 2 to 6 weeks.
They urgently needed a plan to convert this stock into cash and quickly, so donning their thinking hats again, they immediately geared up their online shop and database, upgraded their track and trace courier service and boosted their dispatch team. Following a mailout to their entire database, the plan immediately started to bear fruit with over 100 orders appearing the next day from their loyal supporters, stuck in their lockdown bubbles and happy to receive full wheels of their favorite cheese delivered to their door.
Social media posts helped spread the word and slowly but surely the entire stock was cleared.
Under lock down supermarket sales strengthened as kiwis dined at home 7 days a week boosted by a strong “buy local / buy NZ” sentiment which greatly assisted Whitestone, along with many NZ manufacturers through those difficult times.
Their severely reduced cheese making team also managed to rise to the challenge under very trying circumstances and the bleak Covid-19 fallout was slowly turned around.
Today their food service business is slowly recovering and with strong retail business, plus their vastly increased on-line sales the cheese factory has returned to full production.
On reflection Bob says “Often in adversity lies opportunity and I’m proud of our team and how they found a way to trade out of this crisis.”