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Advance Northumberland assists Northumbrian Gifts to support local businesses in response to Covid-19

North East-made products are being enjoyed by a whole new audience, thanks to an Ashington-based firm’s diversification strategy.

Northumbrian Gifts, long term tenants of AMF member Advance Northumberland based at Ashwood Business Park, Ashington was founded to provide a shop window to the produce available in the Northumberland and wider North East region.

The company is dedicated to promoting, distributing and selling the finest local produce and prior to lockdown, Northumbrian Gifts worked with a number of hospitality businesses to supply food and drink that had been produced in the North East.

In the very early days of the Coronavirus pandemic, the company realised that it would need to review and restructure its business due to the number of customers it had in the hospitality sector. Once lockdown was enforced, all but six of Northumbrian Gifts’ wholesale accounts closed.

To help it navigate through the changes, the company sought support from Advance Northumberland, who offer tenants business support services, including the option of speaking to a mentor for advice. And by using the Advance Northumberland toolkit, the company restructured the business to focus more on targeting individual customers. This included an update to the website as well as sourcing new stock to sell through the website.

Advance Northumberland was also able to support Northumbrian Gifts’ application for the hospitality, leisure and retail grant, which has supported the business activities which were needed to implement the restructure.

By pivoting the business to put an emphasis on 1:1 retail rather than wholesale, Northumbrian Gifts has been able to grow its community and network of supplier companies, enabling it to stock more brands and a wider range of locally-made products. It now stocks products from more than 50 North East based suppliers and service providers, including brewers and distillers.

The company has also noticed a change in how products are being packaged to reflect consumer demand – for instance  breweries using mini kegs and bags in boxes for their beer, as opposed to the casks they would have supplied to pubs. The Northumbrian Gifts site also sells hand sanitiser from Pilgrim Spirit Company, an award-winning distillery in Alnwick – which has diversified its product offering in response to changes dictated by the pandemic.

Katrina Wanless, Director at Northumbrian Gifts commented: “We are extremely thankful for the support offered by Advance Northumberland and the suppliers that are working with us, this has helped us to remodel the business from being wholesale orientated to focussing on individual customers.

“It was important to us to remain open and support our suppliers and customers. The advice from the Advance Northumberland mentor has been invaluable and in the beginning of the lockdown, when it all felt a bit chaotic, it was helpful and calming to actually speak to someone and discuss ideas.

“We’ve also had to make changes to our website to support the increase of sales through it, so we have been lucky in that the excellent digital connectivity at Ashwood Business Park has been able to support this. The location of our site also means we can benefit from great transport links which is not only important for the rapid distribution of the products and produce, but also for public access as we have kept our shop open for business.”

Cllr Richard Wearmouth, Chair of Advance Northumberland added: “It is fantastic to see how Katrina and the company have adapted to the challenges posed by the pandemic while remaining true to their ethos of showcasing the fantastic range of produce that can be found in the region.”

Northumbrian Gifts’ site at Ashwood Business Park also holds stock for Alnwick Garden’s shop, which includes canned water. At the beginning of the lockdown it was noted that the canned water was going to go out of date, so in agreeance with Alnwick Garden, Northumbrian Gifts arranged to donate and distribute the water to Wansbeck Hospital, the Ashington and Backworth Ambulance Stations and Ashington Food Bank.

For more information on Northumbrian Gifts, click here.

For more information on Advance Northumberland and Ashwood Business Park, click here.

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