Paul Hill speaks to Dunsters Farm managing director Hannah Barlow
Starting life as a milk round in 1963 by Les Ratcliffe in the family’s home town of Bury, Dunsters Farm has evolved into a multimillion-pound business still run by the same family and based in the same town.
Following Ratcliffe’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband Jeremy taking the reins four decades ago, the business shifted its focus into the education sector and soon became a leading provider for schools across the north of England. Then came the next developmental stage for the company, with Ratcliffe’s grandchildren, Hannah Barlow and Tom Mathew, joining the business in 2014.
They oversaw a period in which Dunsters had its eye set firmly on the digital age while maintaining its position as one of the most forward-thinking wholesalers in the UK.
Now delivering to more than 800 customers in a multitude of sectors throughout the north of England, managing director Hannah Barlow talked us through the latest developments at the business in five key areas.
HB: “I feel as though we have it within our DNA at Dunsters due to our philanthropic grandad, who won an MBE for exactly that. We want to extend that legacy, and provide employment to local people and the community. Next year is our 60th year as a business, and we want to be around for another 60 years after that.
“We’re currently working on a road to net zero, and although we’re aware it’s not going to happen overnight, we are gradually working to that as our target. For example, we ask any new
supplier we take on about their sustainability credentials. I also feel the pandemic has sped up how people look at their ethical choices and are now more aware of working with responsible companies. For example, we recently got asked how many of our suppliers were B-Corp.”
“We have an employee group called Thinking Forward in which we discuss and develop ways for the business to be better. We also have a mental-health helpline available to our staff. It’s confidential and the only information we receive is the number of people that have used it annually.
“We also became a Living Wage Employer last year, which was a big step for us. Tom [Mathew] and I really wanted to do this. Wholesale wages have historically been typically low, but it benefits us in two ways. First, it shows that we’re bothered about our team and care about them getting a fair wage, especially considering the situation of the world at the moment. Second, it’s great from a recruitment perspective, and helps set us apart in what is currently a tough market.”
The acquisition of The Little Food Company
“We’ve always wanted to expand into frozen, and, before lockdown, we started to plan for the installation of a freezer at our Bury depot. However, we were approached around the same time by the previous owner of The Little Food Company. It already had a similar customer base to us – heavily into education – and also run its company very much like ours as a family business, so quite a lot of the same values were already in place. It dawned on us that, because The Little Food Company was only 90 minutes away, it made complete sense to acquire the company. It’s working out well.
“The Little Food Company has a wealth of experience in the frozen sector, and it enables us to launch a new category to our customers.”
“It’s been brilliant so far, and it’s a key part of the next stage in our journey. It allows you to benefit from being part of such a collaborative group with every managing director on the other end of the phone if you need them for advice or help with anything.
“Caterforce also offers a lot more than just the buying power, such as its marketing team and photography studio. Caterforce’s buying expertise enables us to strengthen our position and increase the range we offer our customers, including our new frozen lines.”
“We’re looking to launch a fully fledged e-commerce solution by the end of February next year, and we’re working with the company Foodservice Online for that. We’ve also recently changed our hours of operation and are now pretty much 24 hours.
“Quite a lot of behind-the-scenes infrastructural work had to take place for this to work, and we’re really excited about it.”