There may be only a handful of them, but Caterforce members pack a powerful foodservice punch, writes Elit Rowland
An innovative wholesaler from Northern Ireland has announced plans to build an automated conveyor belt extension to its depot – the first of its kind in Ireland and possibly the UK. The extension will hold an extra 2,500 pallets and will help Lynas Foodservice to reduce picking mistakes. The news was revealed at the Caterforce conference held in Manchester last month, where suppliers were given the chance to meet all seven members of the Caterforce group in a speed-dating format.
Managing director of Lynas Foodservice Andrew Lynas (pictured) said that the inspiration for the idea came during a placement with a large foodservice company that distributes across much of the US. “I learnt so much in 10 weeks that we could apply to our business here,” he says.
Just 32 years old, yet already the managing director of Lynas Foodservice and the chairman of Caterforce, Lynas is a rising star in the channel and Lynas Foodservice is certainly one to watch. But the company isn’t the only wholesaler investing in growth. Other businesses that stood out from the crowd at the conference included Philip Dennis Foodservice, the only depot in the UK with its own wind turbine to generate electricity, and the group’s biggest member, Castell Howell Foods, which has possibly the best cheese range in the country.
Also worth noting were plans from two members – JB Food Service and Pilgrim Foodservice – to move into fine dining, which should be a lucrative opportunity for foodservice operators in the year ahead. Pilgrim is supporting this with the launch of 200 own-label fine-dining SKUs this month.
A spokesperson from the group says, “Our customers want to upgrade their menus and they already trust what we do so it made sense to launch our own range – we think there’s a big opportunity here.”
Delivering growth in foodservice
The previous conference, held two years ago, was called ‘Planning for Growth’. This year, the theme was ‘Delivering Growth’ and Nick Redford, managing director of Caterforce, reeled off some strong figures to show how the business has grown in the past two years.
“We have added £140m to the business since 2011; we’ve invested £17m in marketing, people and vehicles. Our sales team has increased by 48%, telesales by 52% and drivers by 47.5%. Even delegate numbers are up 40% since our last conference.”
While the business previously focused primarily on frozen, which accounts for 56% of sales, the changing needs of customers have pushed the group and its members to become better at ambient and chilled, which have enjoyed 16% sales growth in the past two years.
Caterforce had £315m in buying power in 2012, expects that to reach £342m by the end of 2013 and has aspirations to hit £400m by 2014. One of the ways it hopes to achieve this is to consolidate the range sourced from suppliers and increase its own-label offering.
A good example of the benefits this can have is to look at one category, such as frozen chicken, which accounts for £5m of business.
“We used to have 150 different chicken products,” explains Gary Mullineux. But after reducing the supplier base from 24 to 11, the group has grown the category 15%, with own-brand chicken alone worth £1m. Other categories that have benefitted include beans (up 38%) and pasta (up 111%).
But the continuing commitment of all seven wholesalers to invest is also driving growth and Lynas Foodservice wasn’t the only member that shared news of significant investment: Hunt Foodservice is spending £750K on new vehicles and £200K on voice picking technology while Poineer Foodservice is investing £1.5m in a depot that will showcase the best in local produce.
Caterforce may be one of the smallest buying groups, but its members offer suppliers the chance to tap into foodservice across a tight customer base. Naturally, the group is looking for more members, but is waiting for operators committed to development. As Nick Redford told delegates: “If you’re going to build a wall to stand the test of time, you need quality bricks… otherwise, the whole thing will come crashing down.