BUSINESSES across Oxfordshire are adapting and diversifying in a bid to respond to the coronavirus crisis.

Despite the evidence of deserted high streets and open roads, some businesses have found solutions to minimise the impact of the downturn in business.

Kidlington food supplier Savon has seen a drop in trade of 75 per cent since shops, restaurants, pubs, schools and universities were ordered to close.

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Its chairman, Ken Knowland, said: “We were immediately faced with a simple choice - to shut down until some form of normality returned or to downsize by furloughing most of their staff, but keep trading.

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“We decided it was impossible to close completely because around 200 care homes and some public sector and commercial kitchens rely on us so they can supply the NHS. It means we have been able to keep 60 of our 160 staff in work. We plan to rotate who is furloughed so everyone can work for some of the time.”

The company has found new customers by changing from supplying only trade clients to accepting smaller orders and responding to new initiatives.

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It is supplying a village buying group and a pub group, Peach Pubs of Deddington, who are using some of their 19 kitchens as supply hubs for their local communities. It has also teamed up with Hook Norton business Thomas Franks which is continuing to supply kitchens producing for essential workers.

“It has meant big changes,” Mr Knowland explained. “Our regular customers have accounts with us, but now we need to take online payments which needed a quick ‘fix’. Distribution is an issue too. A lot of our vehicles are too large to use for this new market so we can only use the smaller trucks.”

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The changes have limited what can be achieved, but the Savona boss Ken Knowland says it has been able to commit to a service in Oxfordshire and Devon for the duration of the current crisis. Savona’s warehouse has also had to adapt to servicing smaller orders: “It is inefficient, but we have developed new ways of operating and made sure we are still profitable, not making a bad situation worse.”

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Gin and whisky producer, The Oxford Artisan Distillery, has halted much of its production and furloughed most of its staff to cut costs but has 2 people working at its plant producing alcohol-based sanitiser for the social and healthcare sectors.

“There is a massive need for sanitiser and supplies which we have been able to help with, producing over 3,000 units so far” said Tagore Ramoutar, its managing director and founder. “We’re producing 5-litre bulk and hand dispenser sizes. Producing it is easy.

"The most difficult thing is getting the containers. We are sourcing plastic containers from wherever we can.”

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Despite the shutdown, the distillery has continued making its whisky. “We can’t sell any yet because it takes three years for whisky to be ready to sell. We can’t afford to stop producing now because it will affect our sales in future.”

Another Oxford business Oxwash, has also been innovative in the crisis. Faced with the closure of its eco-laundry business altogether, Oxwash has turned to providing specialist cleaning services for health and care clients, piloting a project to wash and sterilise scrubs for the NHS.

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Nigel Tipple, chief executive of OxLEP, the Local Enterprise Partnership for Oxfordshire, says there is plenty of evidence that Oxfordshire’s businesses are responding.

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He added: “There’s no doubting our county has a genuine ability to adapt to new situations. Our entrepreneurs, big and small, are good at reacting to change and being innovative.

"It may not seem like it now, but this crisis will come to an end and Oxfordshire will still be the great place it always has been to do business.”