Martyn Fisher meets sales director Shaun Atherton of Cumbria-based wholesaler JMP Foodservice

In terms of office space, JMP Foodservice has a unique selling point.

The 85-year-old Cumbrian wholesaler operates from an old textiles mill, purchased in the 1940s by the company’s founder, James Metcalfe Pratt.

In those days, Pratt collected eggs from farmers in and around Sedbergh, in the Yorkshire Dales, and sold them at markets in West Yorkshire.

Pratt’s son Dennis joined the business in the 1960s and is still at JMP today. His daughters, Anne Benville and Jill Fearnhead, are long-serving directors. Their lengthy tenures are no anomaly – many of JMP’s 40 members of staff have been there more than 25 years.

Sales director Shaun Atherton joined as a driver in 1978 and was soon promoted to run the company’s cold stores, before moving upstairs. He was eventually made a director in 2001.

He says the best part of working for an SME is that you can be “involved in the whole process”. Atherton organised the firm’s exhibition this year and has helped to develop its product range.

JMP abandoned its focus on eggs in 1988 to focus solely on the frozen category, which it entered in the 1960s. But 15 years later, it introduced ambient and chilled SKUs in response to the needs of its customers, which include hotels, restaurants, cafés, schools and golf clubs.

It was a move worth making – of the business’s current £8.2m annual turnover, frozen products account for £3.6m, with ambient and chilled goods making up the other £4.6m.

Atherton says: “Reputation is everything and we have been in the trade a long time. Everyone plays a vital role here, from top to bottom.”

The business has proved itself capable of changing with the times. As Atherton notes: “We introduced an app six months ago and it has gone down extremely well. Chefs always have their phones with them, and an app gives them images, cooking instructions and nutritional information there and then. Already 15% of our orders are through the app or online, and we hope to have it at over 30% in 12 months.”

JMP has also just unveiled fresh branding, including a new logo, to give the firm a more fitting, modern image.

Atherton says: “We need to remain competitive in a crowded market. But we are routinely first to market with some products and we have kept service levels high.”

Extending the family link, the great-grandson of James Metcalfe Pratt, 20-year-old Sam Fearnhead, joined JMP Foodservice last year. This is a firm that really has gone to work on an egg, and Fearnhead and co have a lot to look forward to. 

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