After leaving his native Spain to work as a vet in Devon more than 10 years ago, David Menendez had no idea of what his small side project would evolve into. “Mevalco started through me wanting to find a market for food suppliers in Spain and to bring it to the UK through my farming contacts. I’ve also always had a passion for the rural economy and how to make more money for farmers,” he explains.
He then undertook some research, which revealed that Stroud Market was culinarily open-minded, affluent and a great place to sell imports, with consumers willing to spend more on premium products. “We began selling it there on a market stand and the business continued to grow.”
Fast forward a decade, and this stand has evolved into a multimillion business, delivering out of a headquarters and warehouse in Avonmouth.
Menendez has overseen its transformation to the Spanish foods wholesaler of choice for professional chefs, restaurants, retailers and farm shops across the UK.
“Each product is carefully sourced, so we are confident in its provenance, quality and consistency. Each has its own history and story, which is a key selling point in what we do,” he says.
“David’s authenticity and ground knowledge of the market has been the base for the company to expand from,” adds Justin Slawson, who joined the business as director in 2016 and used his knowledge of working as a cheese wholesaler for two decades to facilitate this growth. “We don’t think of ourselves as suppliers, we’re more like a partner as we work with our customers on menu and ingredient advice from the offset.”
But how has it achieved such consistent growth, including a 218% increase last year? “The past 18 months saw a real focus on investment. We moved to new premises and trebled the size of our warehouses and chiller/freezer capability in Bristol, which has assisted strong results,” Slawson explains, adding that they also won new business across the UK including contracts with some national groups.
“Spain wasn’t a full democracy until the 1970s,” Menendez points out, “and, as a result, it was very inward-looking, so a good distribution network didn’t really exist. This led to Spanish food production being not only small, but very diverse, as producers were forced to differentiate themselves, leaving a largely untapped market for us.”
Another contributing factor to the exponential growth has stemmed from the organic rise of Spanish food’s popularity in the UK. “Top chefs have been training in Spain in recent years as opposed to other countries. France has been done, Italy’s been done, and Spain is a new opportunity. The landscape of British food is changing, and Spanish food is a big part of this.”
Mevalco’s relationship with its customers is another positive differentiator, with the wholesaler regularly arranging visits to Spain with its key customers to meet producers and see how food is grown, cooked and served in new innovative ways. These visits also enable customers to source bespoke products and ingredients that give them individuality and a competitive edge.
It is also putting on a new type of event called Local to Local twice a year. “We have initiated these in order to bring suppliers and customers together. The whole concept is to drive more awareness of the quality of ingredients being sourced, and our sales nearly doubled in the three months after the first event.”
Menendez continued: “We also work closely with our clients to develop their menus – for example, one highprofile chef recently worked closely with our team to help develop the right products for his clientele, coming out to Spain with us twice to agree the sourcing and supply chain deal, which resulted in sales of £200,000 per year.”
But what is the overarching five-to-10-year strategy for a business that has continued to see a steep spike ever since its inception? “Although we’re now settled in Avonmouth, the strategy is still to grow our products and ranges in areas such as fish, seafood, glutenfree and vegetarian. We also plan to build a developmental kitchen,” says Menendez.
This progression into seafood and fish also comes with another idea from Menendez in which he hopes to create a network between chefs and suppliers in Devon, Cornwall, Ireland, Spain and even as far down as Morocco, where they share ideas and knowledge of the fish coming from the waters they share.
The convenience sector also remains an outside possibility for future exploration for Mevalco. “There’s no definitive plan to enter into other markets such as this. However, if the opportunity ever arose, then who knows? As long as it didn’t take us out of our current environment, then we’d be mad to not look into it,” says Slawson.
Mevalco may not be your average wholesaler, but Menendez has proved how far educated passion, a savvy business acumen and a good customer relationship can take you.
The current holder of the FWD’s Small Wholesaler of the Year, his company is growing so fast that it may not even be eligible for that category in the near future. “Mevalco is right at the beginning of a journey that we hope will see us developing into a major force across foodservice and retail, working closely with supply partners to offer chefs and retailers something that is that little bit different,” he says.