How a Ripon pizza maker pivoted during lockdown to form Yorkshire Handmade Pies

An innovative Yorkshire company which lost 95 per cent of its turnover when the hospitality industry shut down reinvented its business and is now donating profits to a food project charity.

Former pizza maker James Sturdy now produces pies

Yorkshire Handmade Pies, based in Melmerby, North Yorkshire came into being during the first coronavirus lockdown in March.

Founder James Sturdy, who runs Sturdy Foods, found the market for the company’s pizza products which are supplied to pubs and restaurants suddenly dried up as the industry shut down overnight.

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“We were suddenly faced with the question of what to do,” James said.

With a strong company ethos of social responsibility, he said furloughing staff for them was just not an option.

“Necessity is the mother of invention and we started looking at what the opportunities were, soon realising people needed products delivered and Yorkshire Handmade Pies was created.”

The business officially launched on August 1 and James said it took off very quickly.

“We really wanted to showcase Yorkshire and the ingredients which are available; we use beer from the brewery next door and meat which is produced a couple of miles away.”

“From the beginning, the business has been building week on week and we expected customers from Yorkshire but were really surprised to get orders from Northern Ireland and the Isle of Wight.”

A big believer in “giving back”, James and Yorkshire Handmade Pies have joined up with FoodCycle, a charity which runs projects across the country serving meals made from surplus food which would otherwise have gone to waste.

Every box of pies bought from the company will see a financial donation is being made to FoodCycle to help them continue their work in local communities and help fund more projects.

“We wanted to support a charity which aligns with our ethos around food wastage, environmental responsibilities and wellbeing beliefs,” James said.

“FoodCycle supports a wide variety of people from low-income families, people affected by homelessness to those experiencing physical and mental health problems. They

exist to ensure communities have access to healthy food and they need our support now, more than ever.”

James said one positive he has seen come out of the pandemic is people rediscovering food.

“Without a doubt people have rediscovered food, cooking and local produce. I think Yorkshire does have a brand all of its own and it is seen as one people can trust.

“Now people are are looking for other products and things to try which has opened up the opportunity for new routes to market.

“People are now more receptive to receiving things online and it has brought our products to a new demographic.”

James set Sturdy Foods up in 2013 and his company ethos is very much based in social and environmental policies.

A member of the Living Wage Foundation and the voluntary Good Business Charter, James said the firmly believes the future of business is through profit with social responsiblity.

“I think the days of profit first are coming to an end. The first thing we aim to do for the people who work for is to enrich their lives, we are committed to paying the Living Wage and supporting them to achieve their goals.”

James said he also believes businesses have a responsibility to give back to the communities around them and the environment. Yorkshire Handmade Pies, which are made at the site just outside Ripon, are partially made using the businesses own renewable energy, produced by solar panels.