Paul Hill speaks to Steph Johnstone, head of buying and purchasing at The Cress Company
BWI: Talk us through the history of the business
SJ: The company started in 2004 from a small lock-up in Perth, Scotland, with a handful of artisan producers looking for local distribution.
Since then, the business has grown significantly, and we now deliver thousands of ambient and chilled stock and preorder lines nationwide from our warehouse and distribution depots in Dunfermline, Telford, Leighton Buzzard, Maltby and our newly opened depot in Bristol.
What is your role?
I am responsible for overseeing the buying and purchasing departments. My team are responsible for sourcing new products, creating our ambient, chilled and seasonal brochures, as well as all stock ordering and management.
What products do you trade in and who to?
We have around 3,500 ambient SKUs across various categories – bakery, soft drinks, snacks, confectionery, larder, alcohol and seasonal gifts, as well as chilled ranges across meats, seafood, pizza, desserts, olives, cheese and counter. We have around 3,000 active customers on our database at the moment, and they include farm shops, delis, garden centres, butchers, hotels and cafés all over the UK. This figure has doubled in size since the end of 2019.
What gives Cress its USP?
Our service promise – at Cress, we aim to deliver high-quality fine foods to our customers on time, every time, and we pride
ourselves in our excellent stock availability. Customer service is our speciality and everyone who works at Cress is focused on delivering a friendly, helpful and efficient service, looking after our customers every step of the way. All our key services are kept in house for better visibility and control. We know our customers and understand they are busy. Our specialist teams in customer service, finance, buying and purchasing, transport and warehousing, work closely to ensure the smooth operation and running of the business.
What are your growth plans for the year ahead?
We have recently opened our new depot in Bristol, which will enable us to expand and grow our reach into the south-west as well as Wales.
Has there been any streamlining of your product portfolio?
We saw a shift in customer demand during the pandemic as everyone adapted to being at home. The increased demand for home-cooking essentials and store cupboard basics became apparent, so we have adapted in line with this. Our ranges will change in line with trends and ever-changing customer requirements due to the diverse mix of retailers we service.
What is the overarching five- to-10-year strategy for the business? How will the business differ then from what it looks like now, and what will it look like in terms of size, compared with today?
To be the leading delivered wholesaler within the speciality retail trade across the UK, continuing to offer excellent service and ranges to these customers.
I would expect to see a growth of our customer base, particularly in the south-west, given
the opening of our new depot, but otherwise we experienced significant growth as a company over the past couple of years, so I wouldn’t anticipate a huge change within the business itself.
As we continue to grow, we will always continue to adapt as necessary, but our service promise remains at the forefront.
What is the biggest challenge the business faces?
There are a number of challenges at the moment in relation to supply shortages and delays, ingredient issues and packaging challenges, and pricing doesn’t seem to be showing many signs of stabilising as yet, either.
What is the best thing about working at Cress?
Everyone is invested in the company and the values. We are a relatively small team, given the size of the operation, and each department works closely with each other to ensure we provide the best service possible on all levels.
What work has the company done to improve its environ- mental footprint?
We manage all of our own transport in house, which enables us to maximise vehicle space for moving goods around the country, which not only improves efficiencies within the business, but also helps to reduce our CO2 output.
We also ensure there are adequate recycling facilities within the workplace across the office space as well as within the distribution centre. On top of this, we facilitate the use of reusable crates for supplier deliveries as much as possible and all chilled deliveries are sent out to customers in recyclable crates.
How do you ensure that the business has a strong gender balance, and is attracting the workforce of tomorrow?
Cress will always ensure that there are equal opportunities for all individuals in the work- place. Everyone will be able to
access and enjoy equal rewards, resources and opportunities regardless of gender.
This is evident across the different departments within the business, inclusive of senior management, and I would hope that this would encourage a diverse range of applicants for any future positions that may arise within the business.