Butlers delivers a Taste of Lancashire to NW homes

L to R : Daniel and Matthew Hall

When they took on more responsibility for Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses, their family business, Matthew Hall and his brother Daniel could never have imagined that within a few years, they’d have to deal with the impact of a global pandemic. They had both enjoyed other careers before returning, around five years ago, to the family dairy in Inglewhite; Matthew from London where he’d worked in marketing and Daniel from a career in professional rugby, sadly cut short by injury. They came home because they both believed there was more potential for Lancashire as a food region.

The extraordinary world events of recent months however, have inspired this entrepreneurial Lancashire duo to create an opportunity for the business and something of a lifeline for some of the county’s smaller producers, in the shape of Butlers Larder. We caught up with Matthew as they launched this new, artisan produce, delivery service.

“Daniel and I have gradually taken over the day-to-day running of the business from mum (Gill) but she’s still here for floating support and guidance” explains Matthew, adding “one of the advantages of a family business is you inherit experience that has been gathered and handed down over lifetimes. As we’ve grown up we’ve witnessed and learnt a lot on the farm but then there are events that might only happen once every 30 or so years.

“These things can have a real transformational effect on a business, like Foot & Mouth, and it’s from these that you draw learnings, that you pass on to the next generation. No-one has been able to tell me about anything quite like this though” he laughs “I think this is one my grand-kids will be asking me about.”

Matthew said the idea for Butler’s Larder crystalised for him after the North West Family Business Awards, which took place on March 6th in Manchester; where they walked away with the award for Food & Drink Producer. “Though we always say we want to support local producers in reality we don’t get round to doing it, because what we really want is convenience” If there was a way they could bring together other family businesses into one easy to shop location for the consumer ‘now wouldn’t that be great’ he thought. In the days that followed the full impact of Covid-19 moved things along quite swiftly.

Butlers have had an online shop for a while but when things really started to ‘get silly’ with some people unable to shop for essentials, they began adding fruit boxes, milk and veg boxes, items they could easily source from the villages around them. Matthew knew though, that the customer experience of ordering was not great “Meat on a cheese website didn’t exactly make a lot of sense to the shopper. So we started building a brand and website that would bring all those producers’ stories together.”

“It has been a lot of sleepless nights trying to get it together, it’s a whole new world for us to be doing this kind of thing.”

Setting up an artisan food home delivery service in a few weeks is no mean feat. It is also something they’ve developed while still in full cheese production. With cows still needing to be milked daily and that milk turned into cheese, their 90 or so staff are amongst the country’s key workers and have had to adapt quickly to new work practices; split shifts, on-site distancing and home-working for those who can, have all helped ensure its ‘business as usual’ during these unusual times.

“We have the space and we’re a hand-heavy business – there’s not much that’s automated – so we have the hands available to pick and pack complex orders, which gives us that agility of scale that perhaps some of the smaller producers with perhaps just 3 or 5 people can’t. We’ve been a bit lucky and haven’t been hit as hard as some of the other producers so we could build Butlers Larder in the background, allowing them time to get their products together whilst we started getting some sales in.”

And they’ve certainly done that with over 200 orders arriving within just a few days, as they continue to add even more producers to the larder.
We know that Lancashire’s many artisan producers have a reputation for collaboration, just wander round a farmers’ market or food festival to experience the support and camaraderie that abounds. It’s certainly something that Matthew has appreciated even more over the last few weeks

“There is something in the Lancashire supply base that means we could do this and I’ve gained such energy and learnt such a lot by talking to so many like-minded producers.

“Hopefully as we’ve given the shopper a platform to support these producers, as well as the products and convenience of home delivery – they’ll want to keep using the service when all this is over.” We think they will Matthew.

For more information and to place your order visit ButlersLarder.co.uk