Booker Wholesale MD Guy Farrant tells Tan Parsons how the group is serving the needs of caterers.
In the four years since Booker Wholesale MD Guy Farrant joined the business, the wholesaler’s offering for caterers has undergone a metamorphosis, brilliantly illustrated at Watford Booker. “There’s been a sea change in what we’ve been able to offer caterers over the four years, and we’ve filled in most of the gaps in terms of being that one-stop-shop for customers,” he says.
The fresh food sector is traditionally one that has been “fairly badly served” by the wholesale market, he says. The group has been improving its approach to this side of the business, based on the principles of consistent range, quality and availability at market-leading prices. Booker’s strengths in convenience retail and its rapid growth of online sales are well established success stories. Farrant says the group is also in a “strong place” for catering, and Booker is now looking to ramp up delivered capacity to service an extra £1bn of sales by 2017/18.
Inside Watford Booker
- A fresh fish counter.
- Butchers that cut meat to customers’ requests.
- The Ritter Courivaud range, which includes a tin of snails and a 1.5kg bar of chocolate.
- A comprehensive cleaning products range, Clean Pro.
- Ready-peeled and prepared vegetables supplied by the local greengrocer.
The Watford depot is divided into retail and catering sections. Fish counters have been one of Makro’s real selling points and now Watford is the first Booker depot to have a fresh fish counter of its own. It offers the ‘core’ species: tuna, squid, sea bass, sea bream, salmon, mussels and a fish pie mix – essentials that any pub or Italian restaurant will be looking for.
Pricing has been key across the entire catering range, but this is a great example: two years ago, the group identified its penetration of smoked salmon sales was not good enough. Booker worked hard to offer a market-leading price of £9.99 a kilo and a long-term agreement was made with the supplier. Today, the wholesaler is selling 20 times as much smoked salmon as it did then.
Crucially this is the type of product that appeals to the ‘broad church’ of Booker customers. Everyone from restaurants and cafés to sandwich bars and B&Bs use smoked salmon.
Booker is the largest catering butcher in the UK. Trained butchers standing behind a traditional serve-over do specific cuts, portions and marinades to suit customers’ needs. Caterers can buy a ‘primal’ – a whole topside of beef, for example – or they can ask for a much smaller cut or have it tied in a certain way. “A customer might say they would like 24 pre-cut 8oz steaks,” says Farrant.
More and more new restaurateurs are coming to the depot off the back of this food offering. At this point during our visit, a customer who owns an Italian restaurant in Watford explains that he used to shop elsewhere for fish. Now he buys that here and he has also discovered the “exceptional” cheese range, along with the premium foodservice offering, Ritter Courivaud.