East Anglia is blessed with a wonderful range of long standing, premium quality food and drink producers and a growing number of younger businesses. Robert Gunn reports on how Musks Sausages in Newmarket is working with producers across the region in a sustainable way.
The ultimate ambition of many start-ups and fledgling business owners has been to see their products displayed on supermarket shelves. Over recent years, many have tried, and some have been successful.
However, Brexit and the arrival of Covid has seen major retailers adjust their strategies to cope with changing demands and many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), seeking to grow their businesses, have had to rethink their routes to market.
During lockdown, many small businesses embraced the growing popularity of online sales. But it doesn’t work for everyone.
For example, if you have a range of three chutneys, but need to ship in packs of 12 to make it viable, customers will need to buy four jars of each flavour at a time. Customers may prefer your products, but this requirement, plus the additional cost of post and packaging, will for many force a switch back to an alternative mass-produced product that can be purchased by the jar from the local supermarket or convenience store.
There is a sweet spot for most online vendors where on purchasing a certain volume, the post and packaging costs are waived. But what about the producer of fresh meat products, that requires a chilled, insulated box and a guaranteed next day delivery service to ensure their products arrive in the best possible condition? That is a heavy additional cost for a business to absorb.
There are already many online wholesalers. Amazon is the obvious example. However, the producers using these services have to pay to deliver their products to the warehouse or depot. Warehousing – plus pick, pack, and postage costs – will also apply. Selling online for small producers, seeking to grow beyond a cottage industry style of trading, is beset with additional costs.
One Suffolk producer has created an online service that avoids many of these obstacles. Musks Ltd was founded in 1884 by James Musk and his wife, when they started making and selling sausages from their shop in Newmarket. The company gained the first of its four consecutive Royal Warrants in 1907 and has grown over the years to supply regional supermarkets plus a range of independent retailers and hospitality outlets via their weekly van delivery service.
Musks Ltd remains a family-owned company, trading from a small, modern factory on the outskirts of the town where the Newmarket Sausage, made to the recipe from 1884, is still their flagship product. Pre-Covid, Musks had some online customers via their old website shop, but it was not really cost effective.
As with many other businesses, the arrival of Covid forced a rethink. But how could a re-launched online offering work successfully? A purchase of £33 was required to avoid charging for post and packing, but would people be willing to buy £33 of fresh sausages in one go?
Musks quickly realised that to encourage online customers, they needed to offer a larger range of product choices. The answer lay in a combination of new product developments and collaborations with partner producers across East Anglia.
Every week, Musk’s vans deliver to all parts of the region. Products from fellow producers are collected, as required, on the return journey to Newmarket, avoiding additional logistical costs. The ability to collect weekly almost negates the need for inhouse storage at the Newmarket factory and allows for a wide range of fresh, chilled, short shelf-life products to be included. An area of the factory has been adapted to pick and pack online orders.
In addition, Musk’s were keen to offer all the meat elements of a ‘Full East Anglian’ breakfast. The Fruit Pig Company in Wisbech was the first producer to partner in this online venture. 95% of the black pudding made in the UK is produced using imported dried blood powder. Fruit Pig Black Pudding is made with fresh pigs blood, gathered from a Norfolk abattoir each day. Their products are top quality and are served in top restaurants up and down the country. Musks added chubs of black and white puddings, plus the Fruit Pig Haggis to their online Food Hall.
A collaboration with another local producer saw the launch of Musk’s hand-cured, air-dried bacons, made from locally bred, high welfare pigs.
Another Suffolk producer with an impressive historical pedigree is Emmett’s Hams. They have been producing in the village of Peasenhall, Suffolk since 1820. This is real ‘ham not sham’, and is still made by hand, in the same premises, using the original methods. 200g packs of their flagship Suffolk Black Ham were also added.
Marsh Pig Charcuterie is a high quality, Norfolk-based producer who believes in the highest welfare standards for British livestock. They only use free range pork and rare breed/rare breed cross British beef to produce their delicious charcuterie. A Musks delivery van passes their door every week, so the addition of a range of Marsh Pig products made perfect sense.
Stoke’s Sauces is a near neighbour of Musks. In fact. years ago, the owners of both companies used to work together. Stokes had just launched a small range of their much-loved sauces in recycled, recyclable plastic bottles. Lighter and safer than products in glass containers, these sauces were also added to the online Food Hall.
The demand for these high quality, East Anglian products has exceeded expectation. Every week new customers from Scotland, Wales, and from across England are placing mixed orders, alongside those returning to order more.
Musks intends to keep developing their ‘showcase of East Anglian products’ by adding quality seasonal and special occasion offers, introducing more new products and agreeing new collaborations with partner producers from across the region. This is a real and growing success story for East Anglian producers.
- To find out more head to musks.com