Paul Hill speaks to Pilgrim Foodservice about how it is set up for the future after taking on a butchery
Founded in 1980 by Peter Bateman, Pilgrim Foodservice has seen a vast amount of change since its inception and continues to evolve, with Bateman’s son Charles (pictured above) now at the helm and overseeing a £40m business that supplies “everything on the plate, including the plate”.
“My dad started working in the pub trade selling for the family brewery business,” Charles explains. “Working closely with pubs, he noticed a gap. They were looking for a food solution, which was frozen food at that time.” Pilgrim was subsequently founded and, by 1982, the premises moved to Blue Street in Boston, Lincolnshire. This enabled him to expand the range as he introduced ambient, chilled and non-food categories to the business.
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“We then wanted to provide customers with a consistently great-quality prepared produce range, so we created our own prepared produce facility where we have complete control over the quality of our offering. We designed the range with chefs to make sure we had products that were right for our customers,” he says.
At that point, fresh meat was the only area the company didn’t have in-house, and so a butchery became the next phase “We bought C.J Butchers, Lincoln in 2014, but we didn’t just buy a business – it was more about the man behind the business, a man named Chris Jelley, who still manages our butchery today.
“We kept the C.J Butchers name and built a state-of-the-art butchery facility to house
Chris and his team of butchers.” Over the past couple of years, the butchery and fresh produce facility has grown and become more established, with a new team of directors in place to help distribute the management of the business when previously it was just Peter and Charles Bateman.
“Our sales teams have also expanded and, due to demand, we have added to our team of development chefs who are constantly busy working with customers and helping them develop their businesses.”
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However, the common story across foodservice recently has been the struggle to survive in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdown. “We lost 90% of our trade overnight, which was very difficult. We started to help the local community by offering a home service including click & collect, home delivery and an on-site shop. This was well-loved by people, especially those who wanted to avoid the busy supermarkets or couldn’t get delivery slots with supermarkets.”
Pilgrim then focused its internal resources and skills to build a website in a very short time-frame, with trade customers now able to order up till 8pm for next-day deliveries. “We have received brilliant feedback from our customers who love the ease of ordering online. We recently added allergen, suitability and handling data to the products on our website, so that customers have all the information at their fingertips,” he says, adding that, with one eye on sustainability, the business has placed its promotions online, too, with paper brochures now a thing of the past.
Trading as far north as Bridlington and as far south as London across the east of the UK to around 3,000 customers, Pilgrim is positioned to ride out the pandemic and continue becoming a fast-growing profitable wholesaler.