A wholesaler with a difference that has triumphed by going against the grain and identifying niche but strong opportunities for growth in foodservice.
Epicurium has gone from strength to strength over the past two years. Trading in premium, natural, ambient foods, it carefully selects its niche products, tapping into the burgeoning better-for-you trend. The company has grown its turnover by 80% year-on-year for two years, making it a small but strong player in wholesale.
Epicurium’s point of difference is the premium niche market. It judges listings using strict criteria: products must taste good, have a high level of natural ingredients, use clear packaging and feature eye-catching branding. As products are often market entrants, they must be quickly understood by consumers and their higher price points have to be justifiable.
“We are looking for brands that have the potential to enter the mainstream market,” adds MD Ben McKechnie.
Epicurium tends not to sell products that contain additives. “A big brand’s emphasis can be cost-reduction and production-efficiencies, so ingredients are added to make products gluten-free or high protein. Some consumers are happy with that, but we want innovators,” explains McKechnie, adding that ‘me too’ brands have a place in the market, but not at Epicurium.
The company keeps a keen eye on emerging trends through the media and listens to retailers to find out what brands their customers want. Birch water is one example of a product that has not peaked yet, but Epicurium is an early stockist. It also provides bespoke merchandising advice to retailers who want a better-for-you or free-from bay.
Tapping into foodservice
Epicurium’s customer base consists of small cafés and delis, and increasingly workplaces that want premium snacks. “These are not traditional foodservice concepts, like pubs or restaurants, so we work closely with suppliers in opening up new leads,” says McKechnie.
Once a new outlet orders a brand, time and effort goes into developing the relationship further. Organisations that employ savvy, brand-aware young professionals with disposable income often turn out to be Epicurium’s target market, and so the pull also comes from what employees are requesting of their employers.
Epicurium has its own social media strategy, but chooses brands based on how they promote products. “We want suppliers that can build awareness of their brands. When we do take on a product that is potentially more risky, brand building through supplier support is absolutely critical,” says McKechnie.
Putting effort behind new brands also happens on Twitter and through the website. “Many of our new customers will be choosing products late at night or at weekends, so Twitter and our webpage are crucial in capturing those customers outside conventional times. We need to get the right message in front of the right customer at the right time,” he adds.
Delivery and ordering
Dealing with a small supplier can be a headache when it comes to fulfilling orders if that supplier is running with limited capacity. To help overcome the problem, Epicurium opts to work mainly with aspirational suppliers past the first stage of a product launch.
“If they are at the first stage, they have usually been given good advice. They need to have planned production with a view to the scale they can achieve, and that reduces our availability issues on the supply side,” says McKechnie, adding that Epicurium also discusses mutually beneficial cash-flow arrangements with its suppliers.
Despite being based in the north-east, Epicurium delivers nationally, predominantly in the south-east, where trends often start before Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds. “Simply Fresh is a great example,” says McKechnie. “They service a particular demographic, closely aligned with ours, and we can fulfil their needs within the M25 and nationally. We also get some great suggestions from them for great products.”