Jim Cummiskey explains to Better Wholesaling why his motto is ‘service, quality, price’

Becoming an award-winning wholesaler is a tough task and Fáilte has enough accolades under its belt to know. The business won the Today’s Group Business Initiative of the Year this year and Foodservice Wholesaler of the Year for the second time last year; it has also scooped the Scottish Wholesale Achievers’ Best Delivered Operation for Foodservice three years in a row.

“We won because we’re so hands-on in what we do,” says Jim Cummiskey, Fáilte’s group CEO. “Our biggest strength is that we’re a family-run business, but we’re also a fairly large company and we make sure we get the job done.”

failte foods fast factsFáilte boasts 130 staff across three divisions, Fáilte Wholesale, Fáilte Food­service and Fáilte Produce, which all have different sites.

“We’re leaps and bounds ahead when it comes to the bigger boys. If you want to list a product with them, you’ll be waiting two months but my team can set up an account and have you up and running in less than two hours,” Cummiskey says.

Starting as a ‘dogsbody’ in an independent store when he left school at 16, Cummiskey worked in grocery, retail and pubs, before establishing Fáilte Wholesale six years later in 1995.

“I used to do the outdoor markets and I was making a fortune, but I was killing myself at the same time,” says Jim. He faced a huge decision on whether to concentrate exclusively on retail wholesale or move mainly into foodservice.

“I could see there wasn’t major money to be made in wholesale and the multiples were starting to get involved. I’m quite fortunate because I’m quite visionary and I could see this happening before they did,” he says.

Since then, Fáilte’s foodservice business has gone from strength to strength by focusing on its level of service. Fáilte now has more than 1,000 customers from across Scotland, including takeaways, restaurants, schools, care homes and oil rigs.

“My motto is quite clear – it’s service, quality, price, in that order. If you don’t get the service right, quality and price don’t come into it,” he explains.

The business is investing heavily in technology and can now send out special offers by SMS. A new website is set to launch this month.

“We’ll have click & collect coming in the next two months. I pushed it back because I wanted it to be more vibrant. We’re perfectionists and we want to get it right,” he says.

Last year, the business invested £1.2m in the launch of a fresh fruit and vegetable division, Fáilte Produce. Housed in its own 18,500sq ft depot, the premises attracted many new customers, including a £2m NHS contract in September, becoming the sole supplier of fresh fruit and vegetables to hospitals in Scotland.

Failte foods depotCummiskey says: “Fáilte Produce is solely a fruit and veg service, but now we’ve started selling all the foodservice lines together, so we’ve created a £1m-a-year’s-worth of business by highlighting foodservice items to existing customers of Fáilte Produce. We’ve also made £500,000 by making fruit and veg available to foodservice customers.”

The move to take production in-house means that Fáilte now saves up to seven days each cycle from the picking of goods to customers receiving them. This ensures that the produce is as fresh as possible.

Fresh and healthy is close to the company’s heart, as it has teamed up with primary schools to promote fruit-tasting sessions and introduce children to new flavours. Its customers also benefit from an in-house nutritionist who can work with them.

Fáilte also aims to be as transparent as possible and runs days for school pupils to visit one of Fáilte’s local farmers and learn about growing food. Customers and pupils are also invited to tour the depot, and last year Fáilte created a YouTube video so its customers can see behind the scenes.

Now boasting 61 vehicles, Fáilte’s fleet expanded by 10 more vehicles last year, following a £400,000 investment. The fleet uses GPS tracking and management software to deliver as efficiently as possible, and the business instructs its drivers to switch off engines when they’re not in use.

Last year, Fáilte’s turnover was £24m, with more than £1m net profit, a huge success considering the group’s turnover was £4.3m five years ago. Not selling them, the business is free from tobacco and alcohol’s regulatory issues, but foodservice is not without its challenges.

“Customers are increasingly acting like every penny’s a prisoner. A lot of wholesalers and cash & carries are trying to get involved in foodservice and they’re devaluing the product,” Cummiskey says.

“If you walk into a restaurant and you sit down for a meal, if it came from Fáilte, you’ll go back to that restaurant.”


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