Paul Hill chats wholesale with a Southampton-based company Harvest Fine Foods on an upward curve
“Everyone perceives Harvest to be quite a small business, but when they come to visit us they’re blown away,” explains Dr Richard Strongman, managing director of the Southampton-based foodservice company experiencing continuous growth.
When it moved to its current premises in April 2016, it was operating at £11.2m a year, whereas now it is turning over £19.3m. “There’s a plan to continue at this growth rate. When I first started here over 20 years ago, we were turning over £600,000 and our major ambition was to hit £5m.”
“However, we now have a sales plan to hit £30m in three years, and it doesn’t seem strange at all,” he adds. “What seems like a huge hill or huge obstacle always appears big when you’re standing at the bottom of it, but once you’re there, it doesn’t appear large at all.”
Originating in 1984, Strongman’s father started the business by selling frozen vegetarian meals, before one of the shops he was putting his frozen products in asked for some packaged porridge oats. “This progressed into other foods, such as lentils and pulses, and the business was born,” he explains. “Back then, he was buying 25kg packages of products and splitting them before selling them to convenience stores.”
Since then, Harvest has switched its focus completely to foodservice. In order to do this, it expanded its range into categories such as frozen and ambient.
“Initially, we focused on high-end restaurants primarily in the Bournemouth area. Our customer base has now expanded and includes just about any professional catering outlet, in fact,” Strongman says.
“We try to be as broad as possible,” adds sales and marketing director Steve Whitwam. “In the modern world, if one sector falters or has a recession, then you want to have alternatives to turn to. At the moment we’re probably too weighted towards pubs and hotels, but there is strategy in place to make it as equal a base as possible across all customer platforms.
“We have increased our contracted business, but are still 85% independent free-trade.”
Strongman adds: “2019 has been an investment year. This investment has involved taking on personnel in geographical growth areas earlier than planned. For example, we recently took someone on in the Isle of Wight.
“We weren’t planning to get involved in this area just yet, but they had great contacts there and we’ve taken the cost hit knowing that it will lead to growth in the future.”
A similar occurrence happened in Wiltshire and Hampshire, adds Whitwam. “We’re gradually branching out in a semicircle outside of Southampton, as far as down as Sussex in the east and just before the Devon and Dorset border in the west.”
But what gives the wholesaler its USP? “A lot of people and companies say they have strong moral and sustainable values, but when it really comes down to it, do they live those values?
“I can truly say that we do,” Strongman says. “It cuts right through everything we’re trying to do.
“Those moral stances and behaviours. We always aim to do the right thing, not the easy thing.”
An example of this is Harvest’s work with the local community and charities. These include The Saints Foundation, which brings sport, well-being and education to schools and
the local community.
“We support several of their events and take part in the Big Stadium Sleep Out to help raise awareness and money to support homelessness. We also recently donated most of the food for Southampton City Catering to develop meal boxes for low income families around Southampton,” says Strongman.
Outside of its charitable work, it holds regular workshops in its demo kitchen showcasing a wide variety of dining styles to its customers. “The most popular are always our molecular gastronomy events where we show chefs how to change the molecular composition of food,” Whitwam explains.
With strong moral values and a great business track record, Strongman is hoping this combination will continue the business on its upward growth pattern. “By 2022, we hope to be on a run rate of over £30m, and then up to £34-35m by 2025,” he adds.
- Read more Foodservice Focus