Online but off the beaten track: small suppliers who deliver so much more

Jude Rogers
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

As you sit at position 27,308 in your online supermarket queue, think again: there are smaller businesses out there that desperately need your help. Minimal trips for essentials are the order of the day in the time of coronavirus, as are home deliveries. Many independent firms are pulling out all the stops to help shoppers at this difficult time. But they need our support as much as we need theirs.

To stay afloat, small companies have had to shift their business models quickly in ways they would have never previously imagined, while helping their communities, including key workers and the vulnerable.

We asked a team of experts where we should be spending our money on essentials to make a real difference all around the UK. We’re also featuring businesses selling books and items for children. (Government guidance may change. Please check the current advice, as well as companies’ Covid-19 policies, before you buy.)

Rachel Cooke

Observer food writer

For bread, cakes and other good baked things, I recommend Botham’s of Whitby. It has put together three care packages with no postage to pay: cupboard supplies, fresh goods or Easter treats.

For wine, especially Italian, try Decorum Vintners, where Mark Roberts will be glad to advise. (I love the sound of Punset, a biodynamic barbaresco that he says is “insane value”). For cheese, check out the East London Cheese Board, which has everything from Cornish Kern to Vacherin Mont d’Or (also a soft Scottish cheese called… wait for it… Minger).

Should you be about to run out of soap with all that hand washing, RE-foundobjects of Corbridge in Northumberland has bars from Aleppo in Syria made from green argan oil and donkey milk. Gosh! Comics in London is still delivering, so support a brilliant independent while catching up on my graphic novel of the month.

Funmi Fetto

Observer beauty director

Support small brands like Pai and Oskia. They’re donating hand products, including sanitisers and creams, to NHS hospitals and care homes. Or The Soap Co., a social enterprise that employs disadvantaged and disabled workers.

Antidote Street sells afro and curly hair products online (most of their staff either work remotely already, or are now). The majority of the brands it supports are start-ups without lots of stockists or huge backing. And don’t forget Beauty Banks, which help people who can’t afford hygiene essentials. They are always glad of donations, either in the form of money or products.

Sat Bains

Chef/patron, Restaurant Sat Bains

My local hero is Jonathan from The Fruit Basket, West Bridgford, in Nottinghamshire. He’s delivering to the whole community, keeps replenishing through the day, makes sure no one is hoarding and insists the two-metre rule is strictly kept.

Romy Gill

Chef, author of Zaika: Vegan Recipes from India

Jess’s Ladies Organic in Gloucestershire is going flat out to help meet the local demand for milk, cream, yoghurt, buttermilk and kefir. Hobbs House Bakery of Bristol is open and letting in only two people at a time, as well as supplying farm shops and service stations. It is also selling bread-making kits with flour so that customers can try their hand at home.

Jay Rayner

Observer restaurant critic

All food businesses have had to look at the way they work in the lockdown, and many are finding ways to support those battling the emergency. Healthy fast food chain Leon is keeping branches open and serving meals to NHS workers at a 50% discount.

In London, Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant A Wong is providing meals for the vulnerable through its local church, but is also inviting orders to help support its work (e-mail wong@awong.co.uk).

In Bristol, Tapestry Brewery (tapestrybrewery.com) has moved to delivery of beer and pizza with 50% off for NHS workers. In Manchester, Cloudwater Brewery (cloudwaterbrew.co) is inviting NHS workers to register with its online store via their NHS email to get an automatic 25% discount on orders. These are just a few examples. Check in with your local restaurants or cafes to see what they are doing.

Pete Brown

Beer and cider writer, author of Pie Fidelity: In Defence of British Food

Beer is not an essential but taprooms and microbreweries are really struggling now. Check what your local is doing first, and support them.

Rooster’s in Harrogate is doing a take-home taproom for £35, which includes 15 cans and some great bar snacks. Signature Brew in London is doing a pub in a box, including a music quiz and playlists to accompany the beers.

Local cheesemakers should not be forgotten – their cheeses aren’t usually stocked by the supermarkets and tend to rely on events and the hospitality trade. Google “cheesemaker” and your county to find out who you can help.

Jenny Colgan

Bestselling novelist

Along with other booksellers, the gorgeous Topping & Company in Bath is doing deliveries, including beautiful first editions. Big Green Books in London runs #buyastrangerabook every Wednesday, as well as delivering nationwide.

Topping & Company of Bath, which is doing online deliveries. Photograph: Kathy deWitt/Alamy

Jeremy Lee

Scottish TV chef, proprietor at Quo Vadis

Keeping a kitchen reasonably stocked while keeping people safe is a great concern. One thought while taking exercise is to walk in the vicinity of your local shop and buy a few supplies to take home, which serves to support the smaller business whose futures are challenged.

Leila’s Shop in Shoreditch, east London is a wonderful, community-minded grocery doing all it can to deliver to those unable to leave their homes. For an astonishing array of vinegars, oils, pulses, grains, flour, spices and herbs, the delivery-only Vinegar Shed website is a great option.

Cabrito Goat Meat is a good choice to bring variety into a household unable to shop, and the Blackface Meat Company in Dumfries has an excellent delivery service. Natoora is doing online sales for fruit and vegetable delivery, and Flourish Produce is arranging delivery to east London sites for customers to pick up.

Nadia Shireen

Children’s writer and illustrator

If you need something new for your child to read on lockdown, Round Table Books in Brixton Market is a brilliant, inclusive bookshop for kids, now putting its stock online.

Book-ish in Crickhowell, in the Brecon Beacons, is doing a fantastic job of delivering books, music and DVDs all around the country. It’s absolutely at the heart of its community, and given that the town suffered terrible floods in February, it’s worth championing. It also has a great selection of kids’ games and jigsaws to help parents stuck at home.

Sasha Wilkins

LibertyLondonGirl on Instagram, food blogger, author of Food, Friends, Family

In big cities, support your local Turkish, Somali or halal corner shops, many of which are still well stocked. Lots of trade sales companies are now supplying to the public, like Westlands UK. In Cambridge, Malloy’s Craft Butchery is selling meat, dairy, bread and vegetables via contactless delivery. The award-winning cheese shop Courtyard Dairy in North Yorkshire is selling nationwide, as is Fish For Thought in Cornwall.

Fiona Beckett

Guardian wine critic

Instagram’s a great way of finding out what your local restaurants are doing. In Bristol, The Cauldron is doing food boxes, with a dispensary outside its shop. Little French is doing something similar. Another great Bristol institution, Wilsons, is cooking for NHS workers for free, and crowdfunding to keep doing it.

Wiper and True is delivering beers in several Bristol postcodes, and More Wine in Frome, Somerset, which sells bagged and canned wine to save on the carbon footprint of glass, is selling nationwide. Mevalco of Avonmouth is delivering Spanish meats, sausages, beans and pulses.

Henrietta Green

Food Lover’s Guide To Britain editor, founder of British Charcuterie Live

I’m isolating, so I’m doing everything I can to support food business from indoors. I’m trying to collect names of all independent charcuterie producers to help them sell online, so e-mail salami@britishcharcuterie.live if that helps you.

Mac and Wild in the Scottish Highlands, which works with small, independent producers, is delivering nationwide. In London, Notting Hill Fish Supermarket has just set up a website, and is delivering to places nearby, while Crazy Baker in Kensal Green is getting bread to people that can’t go out. Neal’s Yard Dairy is also doing a great job getting out its cheese.

Tips for a safe online delivery

  • Do not open your door to the driver but instead make it clear when you place an order where your parcel can be safely left.

  • Leave a tip if you can. Many drivers are on low wages and will only get statutory sick pay if they fall ill. Ideally, tip electronically online, in the app you ordered. from or over the phone, to avoid the risk of contamination via notes and coins.

  • Wash your hands before opening goods, then dispose of packaging and wash again.

  • If you are able to express your gratitude to your driver from a safe distance, do. Small gestures matter.