Paul Hill speaks to Stephen Clarke, managing director of Sittingbourne-based Q Catering on how he plans to achieve £20m turnover by the end of the decade
Talk us through your purchase of the business
SC: I was previously the purchasing and marketing director of Kent Frozen Foods (KFF), and was on a two-year contract with Sysco as part of the handover after they acquired them. Following this, I spoke to Roger Snelling, the previous sole owner of Q, and we had a few conversations about getting me involved.
At the start of 2021, he made it clear how he wanted to get a deal done. By October, I was a joint owner at the company.
I joined Q with the mindset that the independent wholesaler can play a huge part in the future of foodservice, and I’m really passionate about that. There are a lot of outlets out there that don’t want to deal with the likes of Bidfood and Brakes.
They want wholesalers that are going to listen and can move and adapt to the market a lot quicker. They want to know you are in it for them and are invested in their business.
With KFF getting bought out along with other independents, I saw a gap in the market, and that is what attracted me to Q Catering. When you look at south-east England, there is huge potential for this region and its huge population.
What is your vision for the company?
I envision us developing our product range, our service levels and the customers we serve. When I first came into the business, I made it clear my intention was investment. I knew we needed to invest in vehicles and facilities, because if you don’t invest in the front-end, you’re not going to be able to cope when you eventually achieve your desired level of growth.
With this investment in mind, my overall aim is achieving an annual turnover of £20m by 2030. I have a strong vision for the company and believe Q can be a leader in the foodservice sector.
What are your investment plans?
We’ve already achieved the first phase, which was getting us at capacity. We were able to achieve this with our warehouse expansion, which resulted in an extra 11,600sq ft of storage facilities.
This all forms part of a plan that aims to deal with the increase in demand for frozen goods, as well as aiding in the strategy to expand across the south-east and London.
Once complete, we will have 22,600sq ft of warehouse facilities – a increase from the initial 5,000sq ft when the company started in 2003.
Our new warehouse facilities stand just across the road from the original space and will store only ambient and chilled food products. This new unit can hold 545 pallets of ambient and chilled food products to be safely stored on site.
The original facility, meanwhile, has been converted into a 11,000sq ft freezer to store up to 520 pallets of frozen goods at one time. This investment in frozen is backed by up industry data, with reports showing that frozen- food sales rose by 21% in 2020, and that trend is continuing post-pandemic.
Read more: Q Catering launches e-commerce system
Have you made investments in your people?
As part of the growth plan, I’ve made a number of key appointments over the past few months in the form of a finance director, a sales director and a commercial director.
Nick Jennings (finance), Caroline Martin (sales) and Tony Blake (commercial) have all joined me from KFF, where we worked closely together for a number of years.
They will now form part of the Q Catering leadership team and will play huge parts in achieving our turnover goal of £20m by 2030.
What are your plans for 2023?
At the start of this year, we managed to achieve a sizeable sole-supply agreement with Independent Catering Management, which is one of the leading school-meal providers in south-east England, and this came after 15 years of us sharing the business with Brakes. We’re delighted to be fully partnering with them. They’re a truly inspiring catering company that our values align closely with.
Furthermore, as well as an introduction of a plant-based range we introduced for Veganuary, we also recently launched a next-day delivery telesales service that enables our customers to place orders up to 10pm for next-day delivery. This again aligns with our customer-centric approach.