"Twitter helped us pivot our business to deliver food to people in need"

We hear from Neil Bharadwa of Cambridge Fruit Company how he turned a precarious business situation into an opportunity to support his local community.

Delivering food to people in need

“A friend of mine owned a fruit and veg market stall and it was just a different, much more active lifestyle that really appealed to me. We were also riding the wave of Jamie Oliver’s push for healthy eating back then, so it seemed a great time to start a fruit delivery service for corporate customers.”

In fact, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit, business was booming, with more than 150 businesses in the delivery book and strong annual growth on the cards. Then, says Neil: “Our world was turned on its head almost overnight.”

With work-from-home measures implemented nationwide, Bharadwa’s deliveries were being cancelled at an alarming rate. “I had just taken on two new staff, and was heartbroken at the thought of having to consider redundancies or furloughing,” he says.

But, after reaching out on Twitter for advice on pivoting to domestic deliveries, the generosity of one follower helped Bharadwa turn a devastating business outlook into an opportunity to help his community.

“We’d only just put our new orders page live on our website when an order for five fruit and veg boxes came in from a Twitter connection of mine: Jim Osman, an investor based in New York. I tweeted him asking what was going on and he said ‘Check your Twitter feed – I’d like those boxes to go to charity.’

“Before I knew it, we started getting orders from New Zealand, the US, all over the world, all from people looking to donate to the NHS and those in need.”

The way that the small business community has stepped up and responded to the pandemic has been amazing

Neil Bharadwa
Founder at the Cambridge Fruit Company

Bharadwa was “touched beyond words” but not sure how to reach the vulnerable families these donations were intended for. So he partnered with the Red Hen Project, a small charity working with primary schools in north Cambridge, which is helping him to deliver to families in need.

Bharadwa himself is delivering donations to the wards at Cambridge’s Addenbrooke’s Hospital, with 80 to 100 boxes going to frontline workers every week. Some corporate clients have now even resumed their standing orders as donations to frontline workers.

Helping small businesses make a big difference

Bharadwa is also passionate about helping other small businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are a number of brilliant businesses in the local area that we were aware of that just didn’t have the technology behind them to be able to reach the public after their physical premises closed – and we were really keen to help them connect with customers,” he says.

One such company was Uppercrusts, a catering company that Bharadwa has teamed up with to provide their home-made baked goods for order alongside his fruit and veg boxes. “We’re also teaming up with a local butcher that usually supplies Cambridge University so has seen its business dry up, and we’re outsourcing the admin for our orders to Answer It, the company that used to process our voicemails and who had to furlough staff when the crisis hit.

“We’re lucky that our business is in such a good position, and we feel it’s so important to be able to support our fellow small businesses at this time. The way that the small business community has stepped up and responded to the pandemic has been amazing, and I hope that it means we’ll see a real boost for independent traders into the future.”

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