Nestled among the independent local businesses in The Wynd, Vutie Beets is a vibrant vegan enterprise that flatly refused to give up during the lockdown and now has plans to expand.
Vutie Beets is managed by Harry Williams, who owns the company jointly with Paul Cranwell. They purchased the already thriving vegan eatery in November 2019.
“I’ve lived in Letchworth Garden City my whole life. It has a fascinating history and a strong community ethos,” said Harry. “It also has an established vegan community – in fact, last time I checked the list of the best UK towns and cities for vegans and vegetarians, Letchworth was ranked 12th out of 331. I’ve always liked The Wynd and felt sure we could make a success of Vutie Beets.”
Within a matter of weeks of opening, Harry started ringing the changes with a new vegan menu, more local independent suppliers and a strong emphasis on Vutie Beets as a destination for really good vegan coffee.
“Things were going so well,” said Harry, “with great feedback from our customers. We were having some big days as a business and it felt like we were on a roll.”
“COVID-19 prompted us to change our entire business model…”
Offering new services
The introduction of ‘click and collect’ and next-day delivery services was a masterstroke. By the end of day one, Vutie Beets had received 40 online orders for next-day delivery. The owners had to think on their feet and learn quickly.
“We were swamped with orders and were struggling to fulfil them, working from 7am to 8pm,” said Harry. “We upped the minimum order from £10 to £20 but this had no impact on volumes. At the start we were printing out the orders and then manually tallying up what stock we needed to buy for the next day. It was all very labour intensive.
“Things got a whole lot easier once we’d sorted out a proper spreadsheet with macros because it does all the calculations automatically. We also started using software to map out the most efficient delivery routes, which saved us a lot of time.”
At first, getting products from Vutie Beets’ wholesalers was a nightmare because so many businesses were stockpiling. But things eased off, two or three weeks into lockdown. “We were pleased to be able to provide flour and sugar to help out the small, Stevenage-based supplier who bakes our brownies,” said Harry.
“A number of local families have been struggling financially since the start of the lockdown, so we have been supplying them with a fortnightly ‘staples box’ filled with a variety of fresh and tinned vegetables, bread and pasta. Some of our customers have generously chipped in to support this initiative. That’s amazing!”
Diversification and expansion
Harry kept refining the business model throughout lockdown. Applying expertise gained from a previous entrepreneurial venture, he introduced a range of nutritious vegan frozen ready meals to Vutie Beets’ online selection, including ‘Chilli Sin Carne’ and a gluten-free crumble made from Letchworth-grown rhubarb.
He was acutely aware that other small local suppliers were likely to be struggling so he took steps to support as many of them as he could, by offering to sell their wares on his website. Seven independents jumped at the chance, enabling Vutie Beets to offer online customers locally produced flowers, fruit and vegetables, chilli jams, granola, cheeses and artisan bakery items.
Harry also expanded Vutie Beets’ own range of vegan products – there are now more than 200 – with the addition of exotic new options including kombucha tea and a Korean fermented cabbage dish called kimchi.
Harry was relentless in marketing Vutie Beets during lockdown, with daily posts on Facebook and Instagram, along with quirky online competitions. His efforts have attracted more than 1,000 new followers since taking on the business – and half of these joined between March and May.
“All the spring cherry blossom was out down The Wynd, so we decided to use it as a spectacular backdrop for our online product photos and on social media. The blossom has all gone now, but we’re still using the trees for our product shots – it’s become the Vutie Beets style!”
Preparing for growth
With web sales on a growth trajectory, the café reopened at the start of June, offering takeaway coffees, iced teas, smoothies, milkshakes and a range of delicious cakes.
“People have been really pleased to see us back in business at The Wynd,” said Harry. “I think they want to get back to normality. And enjoying a great takeaway coffee is very much part of that!”