How iconic Yorkshire businesses Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate have adapted during the pandemic

Amidst all the trials and tribulations of the past year, it would seem the simplest of pleasures still ring true.

Whether it be a cup of tea and a slice of cake or a little chocolate indulgence, the nation has been seeking solace in a wealth of culinary treats.

And for two of Yorkshire’s best-loved companies, the rise in demand for their little taste of luxury has seen a challenging - but ultimately rewarding - shift in trade.

Sign up to our Business newsletter

Both Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate have witnessed a dramatic shift in sales, as customers look to purchase their goods in a flood of online orders.

Heather Jones making Easter eggs in the chocolate room at Bettys' Craft Bakery in Harrogate

While the six Bettys restaurants and tearooms across Yorkshire - the business has famously declined to open any other ventures outside of the county’s boundaries - have had to remain closed during the lockdowns, the change in customer demand has seen a major shift in focus for both of the Harrogate-based firms.

All of the 1,400 staff spread across Bettys and Taylors have remained in their jobs and have not had to be furloughed, but many have carved out a new niche in the enterprises.

More than 50 workers at the restaurants have been redeployed to support the online operations of both businesses, while other staff remain at the tearooms to help maintain the premises, many of which are listed, in York, Harrogate, Northallerton, Ilkley and Harlow Carr.

For Bettys alone, online demand has risen dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic, with year on year growth for orders via the internet at more than 200 per cent.

Kirsty Mitchison at the Craft Bakery at Bettys in Harrogate

It’s postal order service was launched in 1986, initially as a mail order company before moving online, which has now become an integral part of the business.

The managing director of Bettys, Simon Eyles, said: “We’re fortunate that several parts of our business – such as Taylors, Bettys Bakery and Bettys mail order service – have continued to operate throughout the pandemic, and we’ve been touched and inspired by the support from both our people and our customers.

“Our people have worked with great flexibility to keep our business as operational as possible, and to adapt to the changes and challenges the pandemic has brought.

“We don’t know what the future will bring and no businesses can make any guarantees. “However, compared to many, we know we’re in a fortunate position and hope to come through the pandemic a stronger, more resilient and more agile business.”

Toni Witham in the Craft Bakery at Bettys in Harrogate

Yorkshire Tea’s popularity has soared throughout the past decade, and it was crowned in 2019 as Britain’s best-selling brew.

With more than 28 per cent of the market’s value, the brand overtook its main rival, PG Tips, in the traditional “black tea” market.

And its place in the nation’s hearts - and teacups - has continued throughout the past year.

Yorkshire Tea’s brand manager, Lucy Jordan, said: “2020 was a challenging year for so many people, since the first lockdown arrived we’ve wanted to help put a smile on people’s faces, not only through our products, but through some light relief on social media.

Heather Jones making an Easter egg at Bettys in Harrogate

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve remained in close contact with our suppliers. As well as honouring every one of our long-term agreements already in place, wherever possible, we continue to work closely with our suppliers to grow volumes.”

For more than a century, the brands of Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate have been a mainstay of Yorkshire’s business world.

The family-run tea and coffee merchants of Taylors can lay claim to be the big brother of the two companies, tracing its origins back to 1886 when it was founded by Charles Taylor.

Thirty-three years later, Bettys came into being, when Frederick Belmont decided to fuse his Swiss confectionery background with the very British tradition of tearooms.

The two companies later merged in 1962 and now operate from a headquarters on the Plumpton Park business estate in Harrogate.