From fast-food wholesaler to foodservice champion, Lancashire-based Hannah Food Service is steamrolling its way to accomplishing its one-stop-shop dreams. Established in 1977 by Raymond Hannah, the father of current MD Gary Hannah, the business has had a vision to continually evolve.
That’s led to the wholesaler going from a turnover of £9m in 2008 to £26m in its most recent set of accounts – an achievement made through growing its offer and relocating staff roles.
2008 was a key year for the business, as it included a move to a new site that saw the wholesaler transformed from solely suppling fast-food outlets to serving the wider foodservice industry. Hannah says: “It was a shock to the system when we upgraded to a bigger site. The rates in the old warehouse were £9,000 per year, whereas the new building’s are now £84,000. Then all these overheads started to pile up – the first four years were tough, to say the least.”
Hannah’s decision to move into foodservice was fuelled by wanting more control over his supply chain. “Fast food is a price-led market, so I wanted to get into foodservice because it says what it does – it’s not always about price, but about the service,” he says.
Stocking more than 3,000 lines of chilled, ambient and frozen foods, as well as a selection of disposables and own-label products, the wholesaler is a member of Sterling Supergroup, where Hannah sits on the executive board.
The business’ creativity shines through in its mission to supply unique goods. Hannah explains: “We recently signed a deal with a European ambient tortilla wrap company. We already have a deal within Sterling with Santa Maria tortilla wraps, which is fine, but everyone ends up selling and buying the same product. I wanted to set Hannah apart and do something different.
“The tortilla wraps we’re bringing over from Europe include a sweet chilli, spinach, and sweet tomato variety – no one does these flavours in ambient, only frozen.
“So now people can either buy the same, plain variety from 20 different wholesalers, or they can buy something different from us – and us alone.”
Delivering nationwide, some of the company’s growth has happened through word of mouth. Hannah highlights one lucrative example: “We supply a kosher high school in Liverpool, so when the students go to activity centres in the summer, the centres need to be able to cater for them.
“One of the centres called us up and asked if we could provide kosher, as its contracted wholesaler – one of the big boys – didn’t sell it. Due to that one deal, we now rake in £15,000 per week from that centre and the sites associated to it that decided to join us as a result.”
Growth has also been seen in the case of Hannah’s organic food journey. The business joined Food For Life – a programme dedicated to transforming food culture – when organic had even less market share than it does now. It then started to supply local schools with organic pasta imported from Italy.
“Gradually, as more people were attracted to eating organic, we found a surge in local authorities contacting us saying they wanted us to supply them, too,” says Hannah.
The business’ supply operation is split one-fifth fast food outlets, two-fifths foodservice and education firms, and two-fifths wholesalers. One of the main issues with supplying schools in increasing numbers, though, is the inevitable drought in the school holidays. But Hannah has a solution: “The upside when schools are out is that a lot of students visit places like Blackpool, so demand for food rises there.”
One of the business’ main growth plans is centred on its first acquisition – a £3m fast food and foodservice company it is currently buying. “That’s where I see the business growing and this will be the first of many acquisitions to come,” Hannah notes. “We’re also looking at two other foodservice companies, so watch this space!”
Last Christmas saw a reshuffle of the management team, as Hannah sought to take the company to the next level. He explains: “With the buying team, I brought in a guy who used to work for Nestlé. He works alongside someone who has been with us for 15 years, so they can bounce ideas off each other.”
Hannah says that the wholesaler has also recruited a new, larger finance team, as doing the finances for a £26m company is very different to doing them for a £9m one.
“I’ve never worked anywhere else, so I only know one way – my way,” he adds. “That’s why I needed someone to come in from the outside and say, ‘This is how we used to do it there,’ so we could pick out the best bits and implement it into our operation.”
This major shift in culture was met with positivity, as Hannah points out that many staff already wanted to develop their skills to avoid going stale from the same routine and job. To help with this, the company recruited an operations director.
With double-digit growth in the past three years, and an acquisition that could mark the first of many, the future looks bright for Hannah and the family firm.
60 seconds with Gary Hannah
What is the best piece of advice you can offer?
If you’re not measuring it, you’re not in control.
What is your philosophy with regards to work?
Do what you need to do to get the job done. The way I see it, if I need to jump into a wagon to service a customer, then I will jump in the wagon to get the job done.
Whom do you most admire and why?
Anyone who has run their own business, because they understand what you have to put up with and they understand that it’s not always about the profit that you make, but also the legacy you leave behind.
What do you get up to in your spare time?
Up until quite recently, football – we used to have a company football team!