Technology is at the heart of what drives this innovative foodservice wholesaler forward and it has set its sights even higher for the rest of this year.
JJ Food Service has consistently been ahead of the innovation curve, putting it in a strong position as the foodservice market evolves. The company, which is worth £200m, has 11 sites stretching from Newcastle in the north to Dagenham in the south-east. Each depot offers delivery as well as click & collect. JJ is also working to expand its retail offer. Last year, the company won the Federation of Wholesale Distributors’ Digital Innovation Award and it has invested significantly in making its operations environmentally friendly.
Across the JJ estate, the company uses a standardised delivery system to create efficiencies. At its Enfield HQ, for example, all deliveries are analysed by postcode, weight and volume; routes are then calculated using a combination of algorithms and human input, so deliveries arrive on time and follow linear geographical delivery routes. Customers will soon be able to track orders online.
Around 35% of JJ’s orders are made through telesales, while 65% of customers buy online, with orders pre-paid and pre-picked before customers collect them from the depot.
In 2015, the company began a programme to install solar panels onto its depots’ roofs. The £500,000 investment at its Enfield headquarters and Sidcup branches in London saw 960 panels laid in total.
“In Enfield, this accounts for 10% of our energy costs,” explains group general manager Terry Larkin, adding that the company does not expect to recoup the investment for a further five to six years, but emphasising that the work will add to its sustainable future.
JJ expanded its operations with tech company FOODit in 2013. FOODit’s online platform offers caterers their own electronic point-of-sale websites, an ecommerce service and a table booking system, available at 5% commission.
FOODit launched with just two members of staff, but now has around 30. This year, JJ also aims to market it to rival platforms such as Just Eat. According to the company, orders placed via FOODit websites grew 77% last year, while sales increased by 80%.
The telesales department at JJ rotates shifts from 8am to 9pm, with online ordering available around the clock. Machine-learning technology using Microsoft’s Azure Cortana Analytics Suite can predict a customer’s shopping list, so the most frequently-bought items appear when they visit the site. The ‘frequently bought together’ function on the website and app also makes product suggestions based on purchases that other customers in the same market have bought.
“Some of the results have been surprising,” explains Larkin. “You might think the item most frequently bought with burgers is burger buns, but it is actually Fairy Liquid. That is where data analysis has the edge.”
Online and in-depot theatre
Currently the only wholesaler to have a dedicated videographer, JJ has its own YouTube channel, where in-house videos help users learn basic skills, such as how to cut meat or fish. Videos also feature product information.
“Our role in championing the independents is always to make them stronger as they fight for a share in a busy marketplace,” says Larkin. Although not a walk-in cash & carry, JJ is increasingly catering for the retail customer, with an add-on area in its Enfield branch displaying products; an extension to the branch is now being built. Fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish are on show here for members of the public to buy, creating an added piece of in-depot theatre.