Paul Hill catches up with Savona Foodservice in Oxford on its ambitious growth plans
Since acquiring Ilfracombe Foodservice in September 2016, Savona Foodservice has not only increased its turnover, but also its service offering. Now rebranded as Savona South West and operating as a separate legal entity, the new acquisition has given the parent company the opportunity to explore new horizons.
Director and general manager Mike Morgan explains that it is now looking to exploit the advantages of each of its business arms. “Our Oxford base is great in education, whereas our south-west site is more experienced in seasonal businesses such as cafés and coffee shops,” he says. “This then means that when one is in a busy season, the other is quieter.
“So, we’re looking to use the knowledge and experience of each to balance the two out all year round.”
The wheels are already in motion for this, after it recently expanded its educational avenues in the south-west, following a deal with educational contractor Devon Norse. “This will help to balance the workload throughout the year at Ilfracombe,” Morgan says.
Savona has been trading and providing a flexible solution for chefs from its base in Oxfordshire for 50 years. It has continued with steady growth alongside an expanding customer base that covers most of southern England and the Midlands.
“We serve around 2,000 customers over the two businesses,” explains Morgan. “This includes business catering, a lot of education, such as the Oxford colleges and private schools, cafés and coffee shops.
“As a result of some key customer partnerships, we also supply a significant number of workplace catering outlets.
“We also have a contract caterer, which represents about 25% of our business, and, on top of this, there are now a growing number of pub groups working with us.”
Delivering ambient, chilled and frozen foods, as well as alcohol and some non-foods, the two operations have a combined annual turnover of £30m, with the company currently two years into a five-year plan that aims to increase this figure to £50m. “Achieving this figure will allow us to pursue other opportunities, leverage the benefits of scale and invest in value-adding technology,” says Morgan.
“We are also searching for a new premise here in Oxfordshire as we have outgrown our current one. The likelihood is that we’ll be based within a few miles of our current location and we’d ideally like to move there in the next 18-to-24 months. We’re also pursuing outbase opportunities to bridge the geographical gap between Oxford and Ilfracombe.”
Savona is achieving this growth by embracing modern technology. “I think foodservice is 10-to-20 years behind retail, but we’re a modern company, and one perfect example is our new online ordering site, which is available to mobile devices as a progressive web app, rather than your traditional app,” he says.
“This allows you to always have the most updated version of the framework, while still having all the aesthetics of an app. We’ve taken the conscious decision to invest in technology for the future, rather than just the present.”
“I’d also say that no wholesaler in the UK is able to target intelligently like we can,” adds Morgan. “We can give suppliers a measurable return on investment, with our digital partner, 443 AI, offering the platform to enable this. For me, wholesalers don’t see the value in data, and a lot of the industry is antiquated. So, at the moment, we’re focused on maximising the commercial potential of such a progressive system.”
Working for Brakes earlier in his career in a graduate job, Morgan has had a variety of other roles in wholesale such as a project director for Bidfood, which included the planning of the supply of food to the Olympic Games in London. “I then moved to a meat wholesaler for 18 months, as well as a short stint running the flagship distribution centre supplying McDonald’s, before helping Brakes to close and open new depots. I then made the move to Savona as I wanted greater autonomy at a forward-thinking business,” he says.
Despite the growth, the foodservice wholesaler faces challenges and issues, particularly following the rise of vegan and free-from foods. “This is the most important recent trend and goes hand in hand with the rising demand for information about allergens and nutritional information. But in my opinion, the provision of data into a central repository such as Erudus needs to be mandatory, not optional, as it is now,” he says.
“The plastics issue is also a big cross-industry challenge, which we have made a large effort to curtail in the past year by removing a lot of our plastic packaging.
“It’s strange at the moment, because as food to go has grown, the call to remove plastic has run parallel to that,” he says. “It’s more expensive to use alternatives, but I believe people have got the message. We, as a company, see it as a social duty and responsibility.”
Despite a deep history spanning over half a century, Savona Foodservice has an innovative eye set firmly on the future as it develops on a technological level.