The coronavirus diaries: Uncle John’s Bakery

Uncle John’s Bakery has been a staple in the community for 25 years, providing fresh Ghanaian baked goods and has received continuous support from our customers. The business was started in 1995 by my parents John and Emelia Mensah, after they arrived in the UK in the early 80’s. I became the CEO of the company in 2014 and have led it through its second generation of growth, which has been rewarding as well as challenging but enduring things during this pandemic has not been easy.

We’ve been able to keep Uncle John’s Bakery trading, where possible, during the lockdown, and focused on putting the business in a position to return to full-scale production as quickly as it is safe to do so. Our retail store where we do take-away of our baked goods suffered a loss in footfall, due to people not leaving their homes as much as they used to. Our wholesale arm and deliveries to local stores and Morrison supermarkets was quite sustainable, as the rise in people buying more from these types of stores increased. 

At the beginning of the current coronavirus pandemic, whilst staying safe at home, I decided to do a few improvements/changes to the way customers buy from us. We were already on platforms such as Deliveroo and UberEats but I soon realised that we will need a wider reach than the 3-mile radius we were currently receiving. The first step was implementing an online delivery platform through our website, which enables customers to order within an 8-mile radius, this grew our understanding of what the customer wants and we were able to adjust accordingly. Additionally, this helped us recognise our areas of growth, which has become a success, as it is a preferred method for many. For us the commission rate is lower and helps us retain more capital within the business. 

During the pandemic we wanted to show support for the NHS as much as possible during the Covid-19 outbreak so we decided to offer a few loaves every day for any NHS worker that visited our store. We were able to offer over 2000 loaves of bread during this initiative and for our customers who would like to help NHS workers directly we also had a voucher scheme, where people could purchase a voucher online for either £10 or £20 and donate it directly to their local hospital or NHS worker so they can then redeem it online or in store. 

The use of the government loan has enabled us to secure capital within the business and keep on top of payments to suppliers. Maintaining cashflow is important for us as an SME and the grant scheme through the government, enabled through our local council, Haringey, has provided us with that support. Through the innovations within the company, we have had some great opportunities, which has led to us doing campaigns with Google and the government. Many may have heard this on the major radio stations or seen this via well known media publications, which has been great for exposure.

As an individual and a business owner these are some unprecedented times, and in order for us to all get through we need each other and that is part of the ethos behind Uncle John’s Bakery providing that extended family spirit through the community. 

By Samuel Mensah, owner of Uncle John’s Bakery

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