On the 23rd March Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared the UK was now in lockdown. Then on the 24th March the UK government instructed all non essential shops, bars and restaurants to close.(1) At the same time the District Councils also shut their open air markets across the nation in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which had now become a global pandemic.
Tony and Tony Fruits also known as T&T Fruits provide fruit and vegetables to the community and have had a stall in Chichester market for around 40 years. The whole family is involved with the business, which like many others across the country cannot survive without its customers.
Husband and wife Tony and Marie Coward own the company and spoke of how “we know many people rely on us and we couldn’t let them down.”(2)
The stakes were also high because the company’s heritage goes back generations. Tony Coward describes how “working on the markets runs in my blood. I put my heart and soul into delivering the best service and produce possible.” Tony and Marie Coward worked along side and then inherited the business from Tony’s late father Big Tony and his wife Sylvia.
Big Tony and Sylvia had previously taken over the running of the company from Big Tony’s parents Alfie and Louise Coward, who originally started their fruit and vegetable stall in Croydon in the 1930’s.
It is the latest generation that are key to the recent transformation of this grocery retailer. As the lockdown became imminent Tony and Marie’s sons Mitchell and Sam, along with Sam’s partner Nina, all starting rethinking their whole sales process and how they might be able to continue to operate under the new restrictions.
Together they developed the idea of virtual selling and invented a new range of products consisting of individual food boxes and bags. Impressively within 24 hours of launching a successful Facebook page they were ready to open their new virtual store’s website and they started taking orders.
Like millions of people across the country Sam Coward is currently on the furlough scheme. Sam works with Wickes in Chichester where he is a kitchen and bathroom designer although his commercial experience, like most members of his extended family, has been gained by working at the markets. Sam’s technical skills and the ideas from the other younger members of the family have enabled the Cowards to adapt and reconnect with their customers, swiftly launching Tony fruits into 21st century retailing.
A team effort that has involved everyone at T&T Fruits has been delivering the produce directly to homes all around the Chichester area. Tony Fruits now offer a very big ‘Fruit, Veg and Salad Box’ and also three medium sized options: ‘Fruit Bag’,’Very Veggie Bag’ and a ‘Salad Bag’.
Numerous delivery locations around the medieval cathedral city include Emsworth in Hampshire to the west, Littlehampton to the east and the village of East Dean to the north of the famous Goodwood estate.
Online ordering is easy can be done in a couple of minutes with a credit or debit card. After placing an order a van will arrive and the smartly packaged groceries will be placed on the doorstep by one of the T&T Fruits partners who will give a smile and a wave, just a day or sometimes two after ordering.
The modern website shows their attention to detail and advises that “Due to the governments requirements for keeping people safe we have organized the most hygienic method of service and packing.”(2)
Tony and Marie Coward are working closely with their distributors and understand how important it is to support their suppliers livelihoods and keep the supply chain going. They know that many people are self isolating and Marie Coward explains that “We want to help as many people, families, key workers et cetera by offering this service.”
Tony’s nephew Alfie Coward is positive about their way of life “I love working with my family. I’ve grown up on the stall from a very young age and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” (2) The Coward family have embraced massive changes this Spring and helped residents who have been unable to shop themselves due to being vulnerable because of their health.
This weekend Johnson and advisers in Westminster announced a strategy for the staged returning to what will be a ‘new normal’ by the end of this summer if all goes to plan. (3)
Marie and Tony Coward and company are now all well placed to keep growing and managing both their physical market stalls and also their new virtual shop and delivery service catering to the community in Chichester and surrounding towns. With expansion experience this year and a passion for providing quality produce for their community, the future looks fresh and bright for Tony Fruits.
(1) ‘Coronavirus: Boris Johnson announces three-week UK lockdown’ Tony Diver, Verity Bowman, Gareth davies, Annelies Gartner, The Telegraph 24 March 2020 Johnson announces three week lockdown, The Telegraph
(2) ‘Welcome to T&T Fruits’ Tony Fruits website, 12 May 2020 Tony Fruits website
(3) ‘Lockdown update: All you need to know about new measures’ BBC News Explainers 12 May 2020 BBC News Lockdown update new measures explained