Great Scots: JB Foods, Edinburgh

Edinburgh is the final stop for our Great Scots feature. Lee Brown of JB Foods gives his insight.

Lee Brown, managing  director, JB Foods
Lee Brown, managing
director, JB Foods
Restaurants and gastropubs make up 60% of sales at foodservice specialist JB Foods, which has just ramped up its fresh meat offering to foodservice customers with the acquisition of butchery specialist Farm To Freeze, a Northumberland-based Nisa wholesaler. JB is also rolling out a fine-dining range to respond to caterers’ requirements for up-market ingredients.
How do you differentiate your business?

Our sales team don’t just deliver boxes – they understand food, how to cook and how to use our ingredients. We regularly do cook-offs and demos to support this. The last one we did was with continental meats – the rep brought a selection, including chorizo and pancetta, and showed us how to make eight different dishes with the same ingredients. It helps our reps to understand what they are selling.

Which products are selling well?

The biggest growth area we’re seeing is specialist fine-dining foods, so we are introducing a speciality brochure with 400 new lines dedicated to that market, which includes things such as vanilla pods, couverture chocolate, baking ingredients, charcuterie, olives and infused speciality oils. These are the sorts of ingredients chefs are looking for. We think we can sell more of these ingredients to existing customers.

Are the food trends in Scotland different to England’s?

We seem to have a sweet tooth here in Scotland so sweets and cakes seem to do well. We have hundreds of cake and pastry lines that always sell at full price. There are also a lot of smaller, niche suppliers selling home-made indulgent products and Scotland loves them.

What’s the value of being a Caterforce member?
Fast Facts
2,500 SKUs
£17m Turnover
Buying group: Caterforce
30 delivery vehicles 
10 field sales reps

Joining Caterforce has helped us to get good prices, range expansion and the opportunity to work with some great suppliers, which helps us to be more competitive. Even small wholesalers are getting competitive now: local butchers are selling a frozen range and local fishmongers are selling ambient ranges – everyone’s crossing over. We are also members of specialist buying group Ice Cream World, because we supply ice cream and frozen foods to independent retailers. 

What’s your biggest supplier challenge?

Availability could be better. Last month, a hot-dog company wanted to do a promotion with us but they had three different products coming from three different suppliers – they couldn’t get it together in time and missed that month’s promotion. They over-promised and under-delivered – that’s a missed sales opportunity for them and us.

How do you plan to sustain your sales growth of 13%?

We’ve just acquired a Northumberland butchery specialist, which we expect to add £4m to our sales. We’d also like to do more online: the software company we are currently using has a ‘bolt on’ online module, which is not very user-friendly. Caterforce is investigating the value of a digital platform that will support all its members with valuable product specs to move online.

What do you think Scottish wholesale will look like in 10 years’ time?

Chefs are going to be placing more orders using their smartphones and it will be app-driven. There won’t be many smaller wholesalers, just five or six big players. They will be the ones that invest.

What would you do if you had £100k to spend on your business?

First of all, I’d ask for £200k! [he laughs]. I’d spend half on voice-recognition picking technology to improve timing and logistics – many other wholesalers have used it with great success. I’d invest the other half in upgrading the equipment in the new butchery depot. 


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