EFG Foodservice has come a long way since its horse and cart beginnings in 1853. It officially began trading as the Essex Flour and Grain Company, and as per its name, the wholesaler used to trade exclusively in flour and grain around the cobbled streets of 19th century London.
Office manager Fiona Spinks says that since her family took over the company in 1936, it has remained a family-owned, independent foodservice wholesaler.
Spinks says: “My father, Michael Spinks, took over as MD about 30 years ago from his father. Recently my brother and I joined to lead the business into the fourth generation.”
Serving schools, hotels, restaurants and care homes around London and Hertfordshire, EFG primarily trades in ambient goods, having widened its offering since its founding. Just recently, the company invested heavily in its frozen offering, acquiring a new freezer.
“Our investment in frozen in the past year has grown significantly, but it took a while to get the message across that we do frozen goods, as a lot of customers have suppliers they go to already. Trying to bring that business back to us is difficult,” Spinks explains.
Being a customer-led business, as Spinks puts it, is one way of securing all their shopping trolley. She stresses that EFG always tries to source what its customers want and strives to keep up with the latest trends. She also mentions that there has been a boom in the demand for Asian products.
She adds: “We get a lot of requests for lesser-known products – Yuzu juice is one example – things that you wouldn’t necessarily find in the supermarket. Our customers want to have unique lines for their customers, and we try to aid that.”
Spinks notes that supplying to schools can be a very detailed task, because initiatives to reduce sugar and mind allergens have caused consumers to move away from chocolate and crisps to healthier alternatives that still keep the kids happy. With restaurants, she says, the demand is for fusion ingredients.
Spinks says that most of EFG’s 1,500 customers are based in West London, and are served from its two depots in Hackney, East London, and Baldock, Hertfordshire.
However, being a London-based business, margins can be a particularly tough challenge, with many customers fighting against price increases.
“Despite this, my father has always wanted to be fair to customers, so whereas some companies will keep margins low on certain core products and then have higher margins on others, he doesn’t do that,” Spinks says. “We don’t want to overcharge as it’s not fair to do so.”
Another issue common to being based in London is a lack of space. EFG’s Hackney depot lies between the Lee Navigation and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, so there is next to no space to expand into. As a result, Spinks says EFG has to work around this handicap and stock to ensure no space is being wasted.
Challenges also come from the business’ fleet. She adds: “Emission standards will soon be changing, so trying to make sure our vehicle fleet is up to scratch with regulations is something we also have to take into consideration. As we buy our vehicles instead of renting them, it’s on us to make sure that the fleet is up to date.”
Growth for the business has come in the form of existing customers sticking with EFG when they expand their own businesses or diversify. “A lot of our new customers are restaurants, whereas be- fore they used to be schools or secondary wholesalers. It’s good business, as restaurants, unlike schools, aren’t seasonal, and they usually demand the more on-trend and expensive goods,” Spinks adds.
With wholesale now investing more in technology, EFG is researching what its customers think about using an app to order. However, the company has found that most of its customers still aren’t interested and prefer calling in to the depot.
Spinks says: “We have started to do more with social media and we’ve updated our website. However, it’s not traditionally been a strength of ours because it wasn’t an interest of my father. Since my brother and I joined, keeping up with tech has become more of a focus.”
Spinks believes EFG’s USP still firmly lies in being an independent, family-owned business – which means customers expect and receive individual attention. She also talks up EFG’s membership of buying group Country Range Group, which Spinks says gives the business a wide range of products that represent ‘fantastic value for money’.
Yet, despite having the ability to deliver goods quickly to customers in central London, making the business efficient and unique in itself, EFG faces tough competition from the discount cash & carries, along with the ‘one-man bands’ who can deliver 24/7, something that EFG cannot match.
Looking to the future, Spinks says: “We want to make sure we have productive companies that are coming on board with us. We also want to use space better and more efficiently. We’d also like to see our frozen offering grow, something that will come in time.”
Being less concerned with market trends than fulfilling customers’ needs, Spinks reiterates that EFG won’t stock an on-trend product for the sake of it because it simply does not have the space.
“If you hit the wrong trend, there will be no market for it,” she explains.
Nevertheless, EFG has developed its own coffee line, alongside a range of associated products.
Spinks says that the inevitable generational change in buying habits means the business will no doubt look different in the next five to 10 years. “Because of this, we will most likely be looking to invest more in technology,” Spinks predicts, adding that the reformation of its delivery fleet as emission standards continually change will become another, more prominent area of concern.
EFG’s horse and cart haulage of yesteryear may well have been replaced by a 20-vehicle delivery fleet, but the business’ drive remains as strong as ever.