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How a tweet helped turn Cambridge Fruit Company from facing ruin into a booming and charitable business

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Neil Bharadwa, the managing director of The Cambridge Fruit Company. Picture: Keith Heppell
Neil Bharadwa, the managing director of The Cambridge Fruit Company. Picture: Keith Heppell

Community spirit and support has seen Neil Bharadwa go from facing a nightmare to helping feed Cambridge.

The 40-year-old owner of the Cambridge Fruit Company saw the bottom fall out of the corporate market as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, with self-isolation, working from home and lockdown taking away his trade.

But the generosity of a businessman in New York put a new spin on the business that has now taken off, and is in turn helping other local businesses.

“I didn’t see it coming,” said Neil. “I just wanted to turn my business around and just change my market. I didn’t think a huge amount of it. I changed my market and just hoped it would work.”

It was the power of social media that was the catalyst, through Jim Osman, an investor in the US.

“We followed each other for ages and just had Twitter banter, just silliness, but when I saw the first tweet as I opened my email, it said Jim Osman has ordered five boxes,” said Neil.

“I tweeted him and asked what was going on. He tweeted back, and said check my feed. It said I would like you to send these five boxes to charity.

“It just went insane. At the same time, my emails started going ‘ping, ping’, like a ticker-tape. I started getting donations from New Zealand, America, all over the world, all for our NHS staff and vulnerable families.

“I was in absolute tears as I could not believe it because I knew I had hit on something completely by accident.”

Fruit boxes delivered to charities by Cambridge Fruit Company. Picture: Neil Bharadwa (33354104)
Fruit boxes delivered to charities by Cambridge Fruit Company. Picture: Neil Bharadwa (33354104)

People were ordering fruit and veg boxes for their home, and then also making a donation for a box to be given to either NHS workers at Addenbrooke’s or the Red Hen Project, a small charity working with five primary schools in north Cambridge.

“It’s win-win for everybody. Nobody loses out of this,” says Neil. “We get to keep our staff, the customers at home who can’t leave get their fruit and veg boxes, the supply chain carries on as there is fruit and veg growing in the fields so we can shift that, the charities get their fruit and veg, and the NHS get their boxes of fruit.”

The next move is to try to assist those that are now in a position the Cambridge Fruit Company had been in, whose market has completely collapsed.

One such business is Uppercrusts in Waterbeach, which had previously supplied homemade cakes to coffee shops and has been in existence for 30 years.

“I said to them, ‘why don’t you let me bolt on your cakes alongside my fruit boxes because there are families all over Cambridge that will happily order them as their fruit box will turn up and a bit of cake will turn up’,” said Neil.

“They can also donate them to the nurses and the Red Hen Project. Let’s pick your business up.”

Neil, who has had to employ more staff and bring in more vans given the boom, is also working with Andrews Butchers and Emma Fryer of Answer it, a business-to-business service provider.

“It’s three businesses there, and there are many more to come,” he added. “If anybody wants to come and join then we can do something.

“I really want to help other businesses turn it around. I don’t want to see small businesses going under. It’s so important to support everybody at this time.”

For more information about Cambridge Fruit Company, visit cambridgefruitcompany.com.

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