Sue and Anthony Johns, our 2015 winners, share their 2020 experiences with us.

This year the Farm Shop & Deli Awards are looking to shine a light on those specialist retailers who have gone above and beyond for their community. Our judging panel includes previous Retailer of the Year winners and, leading by example, they have shared their lockdown challenges and successes with us in a series of blogs.

Our next instalment is from our 2015 winners Sue and Anthony Johns from the successful North Devon based delicatessen Johns of Instow & Appledore.

Sue and Anthony Johns

What key changes have you made to your business in 2020 and were these planned, or driven by the Covid-19 pandemic?

In the early Spring of 2020 Sue & I took 2 weeks travelling the UK visiting lots of amazing delicatessens and farm shops that we have heard of through the industry and often through judging for the Farm Shop & Deli Awards. For one it was fun but most importantly to broaden our horizons and bring back some innovative ideas to North Devon. As our trip was ending the fear of what we were about to face as a business was starting to come to light.

During the course of this year, we implemented the following to adapt to the ever-changing conditions:

• When the Government announced lock down at the beginning the phone became very busy with local customers who felt unsafe to go out or were told they had to self-isolate. Flour, yeast, and toilet rolls were the new “luxury” items. We were delivering to these households daily and although it may not have been profitable or efficient it kept our team in work and most important the customer safe.

Johns 3 Out delivering

• In late Spring the weather turned good and with people out exercising we reopened the deli counter and take away offering which was extremely popular with those who had missed a good coffee, Devon pasty or homemade brownie.

• Then the summer holiday season arrived, and visitors allowed to return so everyone decided to holiday in the South West, all be it wanting to be outside and thankfully the weather was kind.

• We quickly adapted our café menus to be available for full take away, which before this was always a simpler version, now take away food is offered in the same form as we used to offer for the café customers only.

• We introduced 40 additional outdoor seats on the pier opposite our store in Instow and a similar number on the Quay side at Appledore allowing outdoor dining with an amazing view.

• We have also introduced around 150 new deli items into store for the best dine in at home experience.

• Our online shop was also launched, initially with a makeshift office, and will form part of our business model going forward.

Johns online orders make shift office

Now the second lock down is proving to have its own challenges as the supermarkets are geared up for home delivery slots so its been a lot quieter but we are hopeful about Christmas and having lots of enquires for hampers and treats from families to businesses.

We’re looking forward to putting the last year behind us and applying all our learning for happier times ahead.


Have these been successful? Tell us what results you have seen for your business and customers/suppliers? Do you plan to incorporate any changes moving forward?

I do not think there is really anything we have introduced during the last 6 months or decisions we have made that we would ever go back on. Decision making historically always took a long time, but we have had to make them fast and generally they have been for the good.

We have seen some suppliers do an amazing job and will carry on working with them closely, ensuring good communication and prompt payment in return.
We have rationalised range considerably as well, delisting slow selling lines and concentrating on bulk of top sellers. We have discovered the choice does not need to be so big, but simple and of the best quality.


Although specialist stores are very ‘people orientated’, how has technology played a role in driving a sustainable business?

Technology had formed a massive part in our development this year with the introduction of a new Epos system. We were already in the process of introducing a new Epos system, working closely with a national provider, The Epos Bureau who have enabled us to become much for flexible with the offering to our customers and analytical data so ensure we are stocking the right produce. This plan, already in place has been a massive part of our new normal.

An online sale also has been added offering seamless purchases and flexibility for new customers with continuing to build on this in 2021. Social media and customer newsletters have been a great way to keep customers informed and engaged.


As it looks like the Covid-19 is here for a while longer, what one key piece of advice would you impart to other specialist retailers from your own experience?

It has been tough and hopefully not a scenario we will ever have to live through again. To take away something positive all these issues have been no fault of our own so as soon as the virus is controlled we can get back to doing our job again as we used to with customers returning but very much learning from all the adaptions we’ve made along the way.

Johns 4 The quiet of lockdown Instow beach


As previous ROY winners, and now members of the esteemed judging panel, why do you think these Awards are beneficial for businesses to enter, especially this year?

We have noticed this year how customers and stakeholders have taken so much more interest in what we do. Sometimes through no fault things were becoming a little mundane, in 2021 everything will be seen in a new light and I’m sure the prestigious and popularity of what the Farm Shop and Deli Awards brings will help businesses to thrive. Independent businesses are now in the forefront of consumers’ minds, especially those that are innovative.


Thank you to Sue and Anthony for contributing to our blog, to find out more about John’s of Instow and Appledore, please visit their website.

Take a look at our other Retailer of the Year Blogs here.

To enter this year’s Awards for a chance to be crowned ‘Best in Region’ click here.