The Confex buying group’s newest Northern Irish member, Parkview Provisions, has taken Newry by storm, reports Priyanka Jethwa.
Established in 2004 by founder and director Martin White, the business has a team of 27 full-time employees and operates under joint control between White and Colin Hughes, a director who joined in 2008. Its last posted turnover was £6.25m but it is continuing to grow and is on track to hit £8m this year.
White’s introduction into the food and drink industry started at an early stage, as his father worked as a butcher in Newry and his uncle owns Bawnbua Foods, a large meat processing company.
White explains: “A mate of mine worked for a company called Butterly Provisions, a chilled and frozen wholesaler, and when he handed in his notice, I stepped in in his place. I stayed there for three years before the company was sold and new management was introduced.
“I started to feel the pressure at this point and left to start my own business. I already had a solid customer base that I knew, so that helped.”
A one-stop shop, Parkview trades in a range of products, from fresh, frozen, chilled and ambient to non-foods. A major part of the business is dairy, as it caters to a plethora of pizzerias that have a large demand for mozzarella and grated and block cheeses.
“Regarding frozen, we sell a brand called Rosie & Jim, which makes a range of breaded chicken goods for butchers – chicken goujons are extremely popular with our customers and we have around six or seven types,” White adds.
A big food trend that has become prominent in Northern Ireland is gluten-free. With more consumers following free-from diets, the marketplace for brands that offer alternatives is bigger than ever.
White says that while some people may think it “just a phase”, many brands have changed entire product lines into gluten-free.
He adds: “This trend has been particularly notable in the past year. We started with free-from goujons and then extended the range to bring in goods such as free-from baps.”
Parkview may be the only wholesaler based in Newry, but competition remains extremely fierce, with other wholesalers selling in the area.
However, the site is near the Republic of Ireland (ROI), so Parkview attracts trade from across the border, which helps boost customer numbers and sales. Around 25% of Parkview’s overall business now comes from the ROI.
Leeann Matthews, the company’s sales director since 2012, notes that while Parkview is not as big as other prominent Irish wholesalers, she believes this acts to its advantage.
She says: “We respond a lot quicker to problems because we are a smaller team, so we can react quicker to change. Sometimes the bigger companies struggle with that and that is where we shine as a business. A lot of the time when selling goods you find that everyone is selling at around the same price. That is how we lift the business up – by offering outstanding customer service that rivals others.”
Matthews says that one way the business has attracted new customers and increased its growth rate is organising an open day. In February this year, Parkview hosted its first ever trade show, during which 400 current and potential customers, as well as 36 suppliers, came along to visit the site.
“We gave our customers a chance to see the business from the inside, and to see what we are about,” Matthews says.
“Before, a lot of people saw us as a small enterprise that traded only in chilled and frozen. After, they were saying: ‘We did not know you did all these other products!’ They saw us in a different light and since then, we have had massive growth”
In line with the growth, Parkview recently invested in a £10,000, 3,000 sq ft extension to its warehouse.
The post-Brexit plummet in the pound-to-euro exchange rate and the resulting inflation have inevitably caused some disruption, but White notes: “Sometimes we have to absorb the prices, especially if other companies are not moving prices. Butter, for example, has doubled in price. Because we sell across the border, we also have to think about the exchange rate. In addition, we also buy from the south, which has a massive impact on costs, too.”
Being a member of the Confex buying group has helped the company substantially. Matthews notes that because the buying group has central distribution facilities, Parkview can now buy mixed pallets, whereas its previous buying group did not allow this.
Added to that, the group has acted as a gateway to having closer relationships with some of Parkview’s biggest suppliers. Matthews adds that Confex business development director Tom Gittins has been particularly helpful.
Asked if the company plans to take its success further afield, both White and Matthews say that for now, its aim is to continue to be the best wholesaler to its customers in Newry. But looking at 2020, you never know what could happen.