Dunsters Farm

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In 2014, brother and sister, Tom Matthew and Hannah Barlow, swapped their careers to be the third-generation working for their family’s food supply business, Dunsters Farm. When the pandemic hit, they turned to eCommerce software to keep things afloat.

Tom Matthew and his sister Hannah Barlow from Dunsters Farm standing in front of empty pallets

Upon joining Dunsters Farm, Tom Matthew and Hannah Barlow soon realised the company, responsible for distributing food supplies to companies across Northern England, wasn’t reaching its full potential customer base.

‘We saw that Dunsters Farm was hitting a bit of a wall and getting new customers was becoming more and more of a challenge,’ begins managing director Hannah. ‘We already had a large client list, including catering venues, hospitals and schools, but we wanted to figure out how to grow it.’

Having previously seen the advantages of using digital solutions in previous roles, Hannah recognised the potential in the option of bringing more technology into the business. They set about implementing a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution and, in the process, introduced basic eCommerce functionality into the business for the first time in its history.

‘I think the existing software gave us the kick-start into eCommerce we needed,’ Hannah says. ‘And Covid-19 gave us an even harder one.’

Switching it up a gear

Hannah and her brother Tom walking through a warehouse with other members of the Dunsters Farm family

When the pandemic struck, approximately 95% of businesses they delivered food to, including restaurants, hotels and bars, were closed during lockdown.

‘We saw all these businesses shut down, but we never imagined schools would join the list - and they did,’ Hannah explains.

‘We really started to struggle when it came to selling our surplus stock.

‘We had to stay open because we had hospital contracts to fulfil, and some schools still needed food for free school meals.

But we didn't have any other kind of route to market because we were very much dealing with business-to-business (b2b) customers.’ Dunsters Farm needed to act swiftly, and the decision was made to do something the business had never done before... open to the public.

Hannah says: ‘We opened our doors to the public and started doing deliveries too, but because we’d only sold to businesses before on account, we knew we didn't have payment options on our website. We had to set up a separate website that was much more focused on providing more of an eCommerce experience.’

I think the existing software gave us the kick-start into eCommerce we needed. And Covid-19 gave us an even harder one

Overseen by Hannah with the help of a design team, Dunsters Farm incorporated eCommerce software into a new website. In around two weeks, they went from having no digital presence with the public, to an online shop, with the ability to take payments.

‘We did look into modifying our existing system, but the process was time-consuming and would have been too costly at a time when we were literally losing money every day. We realised we needed to implement eCommerce into our plans.’

Food for thought

Since adopting eCommerce software during the pandemic, Dunsters Farm has been able to consider the way they sell their food supplies to other businesses too.

‘It really made us consider how we do business,’ Hannah says. ‘The emergence of Covid-19 really increased the need for eCommerce software for companies like ours.

‘The digitisation of the food service industry has really been elevated to a whole new level.

‘I think how we adopted eCommerce has just shown us that we really need to keep moving and keep ahead of our competitors as well.

Digitisation of the food service industry has really been elevated to a whole new level

‘People want to be able to order things online, quickly and efficiently. Before we adopted eCommerce, our website just didn’t really provide us with that for our customers.’

Moving forward, Hannah hopes to implement more eCommerce functionality across Dunsters Farm’s website in order to sell better to their existing b2b customers, giving them the option to offer substitute alternatives, promote products on their online shopfront and promote the business to a far wider audience.

She explains: ‘There are a lot of potential customers that might own delis or cafes that would like to order in the evening when they're at home, and we’ve never really been able to offer choices like that for business customers.

The value of staff

It’s not just customers at the heart of the decision to adopt eCommerce software, though, and Hannah recognises that Dunsters Farm’s decision to embrace new technology is also beneficial to the business’ staff.

She says: ‘Our team are brilliant at what they do, and doing things that could be done automatically by using eCommerce software is a waste of their time.

‘Instead, they can be talking to our customers and focusing on stuff that really needs to be done. eCommerce helps us grow at the rate we need to, while also making things better for our staff as well. It ticks a lot of boxes for us.

Several delivery vans parked in a car park with the logo 'Dunsters Farm' across the front and back

eCommerce will certainly help us grow more quickly and open doors to other markets which were closed before.’

‘Our staff are now able to offer a better service for our customers, who no longer have to ring up to ask for a copy of their invoice or to set up an account. It can all just be done online.

‘In the world we now live, an online solution is important and I think the more we can offer with the help of eCommerce, the better.

‘eCommerce has helped us move to the next step in helping us create our own digital food service. There’s no stopping us now!’

eCommerce has helped us move to the next step in helping us create our own digital food service.

To businesses who aren’t sure whether eCommerce is for them, Hannah feels getting a feel for new software is key.


‘Do your research,’ she says. ‘We’ve not entirely found our one eCommerce software solution yet, but we’ll continue to work on achieving that because it can be done.

‘There's so much out there, so go for the best eCommerce software you can find for your business. Then use it. Live it. Breathe it. Anything’s possible.’

Do you have a tech adoption success story you'd like to share?
Contact sme.helptogrow@beis.gov.uk

Help to Grow: Digital guidance

Introduction to eCommerce software

eCommerce software enables you to promote your brand by selling direct from your website. Find out more about the benefits of managing your sales and inventory in real time.

How to recognise your business needs

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Eligible businesses can get 50% off, up to £5,000, in approved Digital Accounting, Customer Relationship Management and eCommerce software.

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