ONE of the largest independent food wholesalers in the south has rapidly turned itself into a home delivery service along the same lines as the supermarkets.

Harvest Fine Foods normally supplies trade customers such as restaurants, care homes, hospitals and schools.

But when most of its regular business disappeared overnight because of the coronavirus crisis, its bosses devised a plan to send its vans out delivering to individual homes.

It is offering a 10 per cent discount to “blue light” workers.

Steve Whitwam, sales and marketing director at the Totton-based firm, said: “Outside the big national companies, we’re probably the biggest food wholesaler in the south.

“Eighty-five per cent of our business switched off overnight with the lockdown.

“After about two days of lockdown, we said ‘What are we going to do?’, so we started a home delivery service and that’s gone crazy.

“We’ve got around 18,000 registered customers for the home delivery service.”

As well as taking orders on its website, the company offers a phone line for customers who are not confident using the internet.

“The biggest way we’ve been getting customers is through word of mouth,” said Mr Whitwam.

“Some people are saying ‘We’d rather have you than M&S.’

“We’re intending to carry on doing it when this is all over.”

The company is also working with councils in Hampshire about getting food deliveries to vulnerable people.

“In sheltered housing, there are people who would normally look after themselves with food from the supermarket. They're all vulnerable residents and can't leave their houses,” said Mr Whitwam.

“A lot of the smaller care homes would go to the supermarket and they haven’t been able to get food either. We’re working with Hampshire Care Association to deliver to a lot of the smaller homes.”

The company has also offered customers the chance to donate to the food poverty charity FareShare and raised around £3,500 within three weeks. The charity can use the credit to buy food of its choice.

Harvest's average order has gone from around £1,000 to a weekly shop of about £80, Mr Whitwam said, but the firm was profitable and had some spare capacity.

The company turned over £19.2million last year and Mr Whitwam said it was managing to run at “around 75 per cent of our historic turnover”.

Its 42 vans are serving all SO and BH postcodes, all PO postcodes apart from the Isle of Wight and part of the SP postcode area.