Winners Follow-up: Tom Kitchen-Dunn, 2019 Digital Innovator of the Year

Digital know-how and a passion for farming helped Tom Kitchen-Dunn create a fast-growing online business which earned him the Digital Innovator of the Year title at last year’s British Farming Awards. Clemmie Gleeson caught up with him eight months on.

From humble beginnings as a lamb box scheme, Tom Kitchen-Dunn’s Lamb2Ewe business has grown into something unrecognisable in less than two years.

The idea for rearing lambs and selling direct to the public was borne from his strong desire to ‘prove a point’.

“My granddad tried to talk me out of farming, saying there was no money in it,” says Tom.

“I believed the market was changing and consumers wanted to buy direct from farms. I though there must be a better way of getting food to people.”

So in October 2018 he rented 0.8 hectares (two acres) of grazing near his home in Holmfirth, Yorkshire, and bought five lambs from friend and shepherd Jack Bostock.

Tom, who had some experience of digital marketing beforehand, set about setting up a website and Facebook page to market the lambs. He planned to sell boxes of half a butchered lamb with animals going to the abattoir once sold.

He says: “I set up a Facebook page and we had a few sales in the first week and a few weeks later had enquiries about other meats too.”

A friend was rearing Christmas turkeys and so Tom started marketing those as well and managed to sell 12 birds.

“But we couldn’t get them to the customer via the usual shipping methods so I ended up doing a 700-mile round-trip.

“I set off at 7am on December 23 and got back at 3am on Christmas Eve. By the time I paid for my fuel and the headlamps which blew while I was on the road there wasn’t a lot left.”

New partnerships

The logistics highlighted how crucial it was to secure effective distribution and by the New Year Tom had a idea.

He says: “By then I thought we really had a good business case and so got my battle plan together.”

Securing partnerships with neighbouring farmers he started marketing beef, pork and chicken as well as lamb. He now sources meat from 12 different farmers, all within a 10-mile radius of the shop and his family produce Dexter beef which has proven very popular.

“I would sell 12 Hereford beef boxes and then go and choose the animal and the farmer would take it to the abattoir.”

The beast would then be butchered by a third-party butcher.

Facebook proved particularly useful and his business page was quickly picked up by existing groups and pages. He also used the ‘boost post’ function in the early days and found it a cost-effective way to increase engagement. Later he also added paid adverts to the mix.

“The fact the meat is non-religious slaughter has proven important to a lot of our customers so that has been a good selling point for us,” says Tom.

In February he was approached by the team behind the BBC’s Dragons’ Den to apply for the programme but it felt, says Tim, too early as they were still finding their feet.

“We went along and were filmed in April. We did get the usual grilling but we weren’t raked over the coals. They liked what we were doing but agreed it was too early for them to invest. They gave us some great advice and we didn’t stop smiling for ages. It was awesome.”

In May, Tom took over the lease for a butcher’s shop that became available in nearby Honley.

“I’d realised it wasn’t sustainable to continue using a third-party butcher and that we needed our own butcher and place to work from. I was thinking about renting a unit, but then thought we might as well have a shop on the front.

“We inherited a lot of gear with it like the display counters and sausage making machinery for free. So we took it on, but the building needed a lot of work doing to it and as we didn’t have the funds we had to do the work as money allowed and carry on with the third-party butcher in the meantime.”

Tom knew that sales might peak once his appearance on Dragon’s Den was aired in September.


Concerned the website still had a few issues and the shop wasn’t yet open, he appealed to a local businessman for investment.

“He’s an absolutely top bloke and really respected businessman. I told him we had hit on something that is really resonating with people. He wrote me a cheque there and then and agreed to be a partner in the business.”

The money from his investor enabled Tom to iron out some issues with the website and buy some software to give the site additional functionality. The most useful was the addition of a ‘live chat’ function.

“I had noticed we had people visiting but sometimes dropped off the site and I wanted to be able to communicate with them,” says Tom.

The system enables Tom to chat with customers or potential customers via messages on his mobile phone wherever he is and it keeps a record of the messages exchanged too.

“Once I did that I saw a massive difference. People could say if they were having a problem or that they wanted to add something to their order. It was simple but very effective.”

He was also able to employ the services of a web designer to help tidy up the ‘back end’ of the website and iron out the user experience. Tom had received useful feedback from customers when, during a quiet

“Agriculture and farming must all work together to use the free technology at our fingertips”

spell in June, he decided to pick up the phone and talk to his customers about their experiences using the site.

“I wanted to know if there was anything we missed.”

Through this, he discovered the site didn’t work as well to those accessing it via a tablet so was able to put this right. Typical website hits prior to Dragon’s Den was around 1,500 per month, but it crashed within two minutes of the programme start, with 50,000 people trying to access it.

“We got thousands of Facebook likes, emails and messages of encouragement,” says Tom.

“I was amazed by the level of support – that was pretty special and we converted a lot of those into customers too.”

The shop was finally ready to open in late October and became the final piece of the puzzle, although sales are still primarily through the website.

Facebook continues to remain a particularly important method of reaching and engaging customers, he said.

“Around 70 per cent of sales come via Facebook posts and adverts.”


The Covid-19 restrictions have led to a further surge in interest and sales, says Tom, who quickly reacted to the surge in demand by investing in increased fridge capacity and further packaging equipment.

“In the first two weeks of April our sales matched the whole of 2019.”

Although there were a handful of issues with customers expecting rapid delivery of their order, most understood the Lamb2Ewe ethics of only sourcing locally reared meat and that it couldn’t be rushed.

Website hits are now at around 1,500 per day and his team of six fulltime and three part-time staff have risen to the challenge admirably, he says.

“I really do have an exceptional team. When the lockdown announcement came I said to them all we are a vital business for people and a lifeline for those on their own and can’t get out and they just rolled up their sleeves and got on with it.”

Going forward, Tom hopes to maintain some of the recent surge in growth. “Some e-Commerce companies are pleased with 30 per cent re-order rate from customers but ours is usually 90 per cent.

“If we retained half of the new customers gained through this time we would be doing well. We are still taking on new customers every day.”

Active communications across different platforms is crucial to the business and when he saw the British Farming Awards campaign advertised on Facebook, he decided to give it a go.

Once shortlisted he went on to enjoy meeting the panel of judges who had been placed as part of the digital category.

“It was great to be interviewed by people who know the industry and what goes on behind the scenes. At the awards evening itself I decided which of the finalists thought would win so when my name was called I was just astounded.

“Winning the award in such a new category for the British Farming Awards was truly special. To be recognised by your peers and validated by specialists in their field means the world.

“Agriculture and farming are facing new challenges and we must now all work together to use the free technology at our fingertips in order to address these  issues and challenges.

“We must promote transparency and educate our consumers to the processes and troubles of getting food from our fields to their tables.”