The Better Wholesaling fresh food guide to growing sales in categories such as bakery, meat, chilled and fruit & veg.

Step 1: Get reliable suppliers

Sourcing fresh and chilled products from a reputable source is essential; products need to arrive on time and in the best possible condition. “A tomato picked in the UK today will be in-depot tomorrow and in-store the same afternoon or following day. It’s a quick turnover,” says Bestway’s Steve Carter.

One way of maximising your control over the supply chain is to deal directly with growers, which is the approach taken by Swithenbank. “The greatest challenge we face is consistency of supply. We go as far up the chain as we can go to deal with growers and primary suppliers. It’s not just about price, it’s also about relationships – which gives us stability on pricing and availability because we are high up the list,” says MD Andrew Tiplady.

Step 2: Understand demand

Knowing what your customers want to buy – and how often – is crucial because of fresh and chilled food’s limited shelf life. “It is about looking two or three times a day at demand. There can be such variety and it’s about trying to forecast what is happening,” says Andrew Tiplady.

There’s no specific range of fresh foods that will work for every depot either, according to David Carroll, independents, restaurants and foodservice sales at Failte Produce.

“If you want to compete on a level playing field, you can’t have a core range.  You must have the ability and vision to be able to introduce new products as they become available in order to maintain market share,” he says.

Step 3: Manage wastage

Wastage comes with the territory with fresh food, but striking a balance between availability and wastage can be done.

“It’s a reality of selling fresh food that needs to be taken into consideration. If you’re not wasting around 7% then you’re not really going for it, especially in the early days,” says Steve Carter from Bestway. “Your customers need to know you’re selling the products they want – availability is key.”

For some wholesalers, the wastage allowance is even lower.

“In our business, our target for waste is as little as possible but realistically, it needs to be kept as close to 1% as possible,” says Failte’s David Carroll.

Step 4: Damage limitation

Fresh products can vary in quality, even with the best suppliers, so having a strategy in place for damage limitation is wise. Specialist fruit and vegetable wholesaler Choice Organics has both retail and foodservice customers and the requirements placed on fresh food differ for each.

“An upmarket retailer will be out there polishing his fruit and veg every day, but the manager of a café is less concerned with the appearance of the food. If we get cauliflowers with floppy leaves, for example, they can’t go to the retail customers but they can go to a café where the product isn’t seen by the customer until it’s cooked,” said Tim Webster, Choice Organics marketing manager.

Step 5: Open communication

Communication is essential in every part of the supply chain. Understanding exactly what’s happening with supply can make life easier when it comes to keeping customers in the picture. And customers value it too.

Paul Mather, a retailer from Sherston in Wiltshire, says his relationship with his fresh wholesaler enables him to manage his fresh section effectively. “We get our fresh products from Bath Wholesale and they deliver every day. This week, we had a sack of potatoes that wasn’t up to scratch and they swapped without quibbling. We can do this because we have that kind of relationship and open dialogue,” he says.

Step 6: Be the expert

From knowing what’s in season to suggesting menu choices, wholesalers are in the ideal position to advise customers on fresh and chilled produce. Becoming an expert will not only give you the opportunity to sell more effectively, it will also strengthen your relationship with your customers.

“We ask catering customers if they’ve thought of industrial products; if it’s a school, we’ll know they need smaller apples, so we’ll advise on the right type. Some chefs want the same menu all year round so we’ll suggest that they think about the added cost of ordering something that is out of season,” adds Andrew Tiplady.

Step 7: Know the numbers

Fresh and chilled is a profitable category for convenience, worth £6.9bn and accounting for a quarter of all convenience sales. With the tobacco ban coming into force next year, retailers are looking for other categories to drive footfall and grow sales.

Richard Tyler, customer marketing controller – impulse at Kerry Foods, says: “Over the past four years, chilled and fresh foods has contributed an extra £2bn to sales in the convenience sector. It’s the channel’s fastest growing category and presents a huge sales opportunity.”

Step 8: Price-marking

As with all categories, price-marking is making its presence felt in fresh and chilled, too. But its effectiveness depends largely on each wholesaler’s customer base.

“What is important for us is stability rather than price-marking – caterers want to know what the food cost is when they are designing menus,” says Swithenbank MD Andrew Tiplady.

David Carroll from Failte says price-marking has a drawback when it comes to longevity. “Price-marked packs tend to have short ‘best before’ dates, which is unnecessary,” he says.

Step 9: Deliver the goods

Fresh produce requires frequent deliveries. Matthew Sankey owns Sankey’s in Royal Tunbridge Wells. “We need a delivery every single day, on time, and the products need to be of a consistently good standard,” he says.

Wholesalers offering a delivery service must also choose vehicles up to the job. “Using an unrefrigerated vehicle exposes products to temperatures that drastically reduce shelf life,” says David Carroll from Failte Foods.

Step 10: Trends and NPD

Fresh and chilled are susceptible to trends and new developments, much as any other category. Provenance is big news in both retail and foodservice, with customers wanting to know more than ever before about their food, whether they’re eating in a restaurant or cooking at home. Suppliers respond to consumer trends with a continual stream of new product development and wholesalers need to keep up.

Retailers and members of the foodservice industry give their view HERE

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Lindsay Sharman is a former editor of Retail Newsagent, news editor of Retail Express and account manager in public relations for leading food and drink brands. Lindsay loves anything to do with the arts, including mid-century antiques, and cycles everywhere, even in winter


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