“Discovering new cheeses has always been one of our favourite activities, but when the coronavirus lockdown was introduced in March 2020, our leisurely strolls around food markets became a thing of the past. We turned to the web, but couldn’t find the level of detail we wanted to learn about cheeses. When the hospitality sector closed down and cheesemakers lost huge proportions of their business, it was heart-breaking to watch producers pour hundreds of litres of milk down the drain or give their cheese away for free. Overnight, hundreds of cheese makers saw a 70% decrease in demand while cheese lovers like us were at home seeking their product. That was the moment that planning began.”
As well as hitting producers, the pandemic affected jobs and income for the poorest in the UK, causing a surge in demand for foodbanks, which struggled to cope with fewer donations and minimal volunteers. Sam decided that his business concept could support two communities.
“While watching the producers disposing of ingredients, we saw the huge impact the lockdown had on UK food banks. The Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest food bank network, reported an 89% increase in demand in May compared to April, while the Independent Food Aid Network recorded a 175% increase over the same period. From day one we pledged to help; for every cheese box sold, we donate a meal to a Trussell Trust food bank.”
The Cheese Collective offers award winning artisan cheese boxes on an individual and subscription basis and ship with free working day delivery to mainland UK. Customers that join The Cheese Collective receive a new selection of award-winning British cheeses each month, ranging from traditional favourites to more unusual varieties.
“The core of our business is the subscription box, while the individual tasting boxes are popular during gifting periods. Customers love receiving their boxes every month and we are just as excited to plan the contents and send them. We love to celebrate British produce and introduce our members to new artisan cheeses they hadn’t come across before. When their box is despatched, it triggers an email to ask for their feedback, in which we take great interest. We have built valuable relationships through our mutual passion for cheese.”
Sam knew that they could operate the business from the couple’s spare room, but they needed vital equipment including commercial fridges, packages and, of course, produce. Coming from an Army family, Sam was referred to X-Forces Enterprise (XFE) for assistance to access a Start Up Loan of £9,000 to cover these essentials. Sam and Shivali also invested in developing the branding and website. XFE allocated the couple a personal Business Advisor who closely supported them through the planning process and the 12 months post-launch, in a programme supported by the Royal British Legion.
“To have the support of X-Forces Enterprise when setting up the initial business plan, with an advisor to bounce ideas off, was timely and reassuring. From the day we launched in November 2020, the customer demand was amazing, but dealing with this demand was tough and we had to stop selling boxes in the lead up to Christmas as we couldn’t physically pack any more! Thankfully, we have much better processes in place now to deal with large order volumes and things have been running a lot smoother. As life returns to normal, the uptake has continued to be strong, and we have established good relationships with producers and logistics providers. There is always a challenge in managing stock however, thanks to the varying shelf life of hard and soft cheeses.”
After 14 months running the business alongside his day job, Sam now manages The Cheese Collective full-time. In the autumn of 2022, Sam began diversifying into tasting events and has plans for further expansion in 2023.
“We have a warehouse as well as the room at home, but we want to move into an industrial unit and hire some staff to grow the business to the next level. I have been building relationships with non-cheese producers and our new tasting events that showcase pairings with other British produce, such as beer, cider and charcuterie, have been a great success. It’s fantastic to get real-life feedback and see people enjoying food together. We also see potential in corporate events and weddings.”
Sam’s brother, Glen, served in the Army for his full term and started a car dealership business in Teesside last year.
“My brother Glen started his business after leaving the Army. His commitment to the Forces and subsequent endeavour to build a successful business is impressive. Although I am in London and he lives and works in the North East, where we are from, Glen has been a really useful sounding board while I planned and launched The Cheese Collective.”
There’ll be no return to the corporate world for Sam, he loves being in charge of his direction and the reward of making a difference to both producers and foodbanks.
“I think it’s important to really enjoy and care about what you do. I love working with the cheesemakers; they really are masters of their craft and their passion is so contagious. I also love being able to write a cheque every month to the Trussell Trust knowing The Cheese Collective have made a few people a little less hungry.”
For more information about Sam’s business, visit: