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Community Hero: Food-Ebox on sharing the locally grown love in the New Forest

16 September 2020

Food ebox vans

Homeowners at Holmwood in Brockenhurst will be no strangers to the delicious local food produce the New Forest boasts, but we all know how difficult it was to get fresh supplies during the recent lockdown. We spoke to Lawrence Camilleri about his Food-Ebox, which he started up with local Greengrocer Gavin Smith to bring all that fresh, locally sourced produce to you.

Can you tell us about the Food-Ebox, how it was established and your role there?

The Food-Ebox was born out of a partnership between my organisation Foodibox Limited and Gavin Smith of Pippins, Verwood’s greengrocer. The idea was to change the way people perceive food in relation to healthy living and ecology, and create a local business with a local identity which would eventually give a voice to its members to help improve the fresh food market by providing local consumers with fresh, local produce, delivered straight to their door. It’s an online platform of fresh, locally produced food to local households.  

Who does the Food-Ebox support?

We supported vulnerable people from the beginning, calling them to find out their requirements each week, so during these unprecedented times our focus has been on supporting shielding households with a weekly or fortnightly delivery. Our team has largely been isolating for the past six months to ensure that our vulnerable customers stay safe. Indirectly, we support the local economy, working with local farmers, bakers, cheese makers, egg farms, spice producers and butchers. 

Our ecological impact matters. Instead of 80 cars driving around to do their food shopping, we are able to deliver to 80 households with just one van. We recycle and use recyclable trays we get from our suppliers, which we encourage our customers to return for re-use. 

What other services does Food-Ebox offer?

Apart from the basic service of fresh local food delivered to your door, we are always working on new lines, like our new Spice Essential Box which we are introducing in a couple of weeks. We also offer a “likes and dislikes” option to all of our customers, which makes our service different. If there are products they do not eat or are allergic to, we replace them with other available products of the same value. We’ve also started working on phase two of the Food-Ebox project to introduce a healthy living plan. 

 How did the work of Food-Ebox change in response to lockdown?

Covid19 taught us some harsh lessons mainly due to panic buying, which resulted in a 400% increase in web sales in just one night. On paper, such growth was phenomenal. In reality, we were not prepared as our system was set to manage a 25% increase. Also, the cost of goods practically doubled overnight, and we worked around the clock establishing new systems, training and developing a new workforce. 

It was stressful and the business was running at a loss, but we wanted to help our community. The positive outcome has been reorganising the business for the long term to create stability and ensure we keep our new friends and customers. Now we are working at 50% capacity so as winter approaches, if there is a repeat, the business is prepared for a spike in growth, but we will always look after our loyal customers. We are also in the process of relocating to a new depot in The New Forest with space to quadruple our capacity. 

How can others help support service you provide?

In very simple terms, the more customers we have, the more we are able to pass on savings directly to them. We are looking into offering our customers a Food-Ebox Membership Scheme with member discounts and a say in the company’s decision and policy making.     

What do you like most about living/working in the area?

I’ve been living in the New Forest since I was “dragged” to the UK by my wife from sunny Malta 20 years ago.  This is now my home and I wouldn’t dream of living anywhere other than the New Forest.  We have fresh air, forest, beautiful beaches, historical places and an amazing friendly community.

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The New Forest is an exceptional part of world and Holmwood, which sits in the centre of Brockenhurst, is an exceptional community for the over sixties, offering a beautiful collection of 22 stylish and contemporary one and two-bedroom apartments and two semi-detached cottages just a stone’s throw away from Brockenhurst’s main High Street. Contact our friendly sales team to arrange a private viewing by calling 01590 615 288 or emailing [email protected]. Prices start from £575,000.