Winds of change

Tan Parsons profiles the only wholesaler in the UK with its own wind turbine

BEING ‘green’ is good for the environment and good for your business – everyone knows it, but not many wholesalers have done it as successfully or as demonstrably as Philip Dennis Foodservice.

In 2012, the north Devon-based group built its own wind turbine that now provides 60% of the electricity the wholesaler needs – an extremely valuable commodity when you’re in the business of supplying fresh food.

Managing director Stephen Carr says: “It’s been well reported that energy costs are rising pretty fast. Having a turbine puts us in a bit more control of our energy use and costs going forward.

“What I would say to other wholesalers is: look at your renewables as a total. We also have 240 solar panels on our factory site.”

As well as its green credentials, the company has a series of accreditations, such as the Red Tractor mark on many of its products, as well as a string of other independent certifications from the likes of NSF International and the Food Standards Agency.

These set an industry standard and give its customers confidence that it is a responsible wholesaler that cares about the world and the supply chain – from farm to plate.
Carr says the food industry is more demanding than it has been at any time before, particularly in wanting value for money.

To ensure his company is giving its customers value, Philip Dennis has invested heavily in its fresh food operation. It has spent £100,000 on a meat processing plant and £15,000 on a smaller fish section that uses much of the same technology as the fresh meat business, although it is housed in a separate building.

The technology used makes it possible for every customer to have a unique product specification set up for each item.

“We don’t just sell products – we pride ourselves on selling our service and our unique product range,” says Carr.

“For instance, one customer might want all their diced beef in half-inch chunks, or centre-cut steaks or want to keep the fat on it.

“This is hugely important to our customers. It gives them a point of difference to the end user. It’s not about serving a brilliant sirloin steak – it’s about serving a brilliant sirloin steak in a particular way to make themselves more attractive to their customers.”

£500K investment in IT

Each business that buys from Philip Dennis has its own price file containing the products it’s previously chosen. When the group is taking orders, this information is highlighted in its telesales prices ­package.

Although the market in which his group operates is fiercely competitive, Carr says there are huge opportunities for wholesalers who are prepared to invest and consider the direction they want to take their business in.

“In the past two and a half years, we have invested £500,000 in a mainframe computer and fibre-optic networks between sites,” he says.

“It’s about planning for the future. If anything is going to bring about greater efficiency it’s technology. We now have the foundation with which to move the business forward. Faster communications, both internally and externally, are really important, especially as most operations rely on an IT network.”

Online ordering is set to be Philip Dennis’ next big launch – at a cost of £100,000. It’s about giving its customers more choice in how they use the ­company.

“We are not going to be taking away the office-based telesales department, but if you look at the retail sector, you can see how many people are choosing to visit a Tesco store and how many are shopping online,” he says.

“It empowers the customer to know what they are ordering and how much they are ordering – it gives them greater control.”

The group is also pushing hard on improving customer service levels over the next 12 months – particularly around availability and delivery. A key challenge is to look at how the company can maximise sales to its customer base.

“It’s about category awareness and making sure they know our full range,” says Carr. “How many of our 4,000 customers are the right channel to be buying fresh meat? There’s a massive opportunity there for us.”

The company’s customers will learn about the available range in various ways: drivers, telesales, promotional leaflets and price lists.

The Caterforce club

Philip Dennis has been a member of buying and marketing consortium Caterforce for about two decades – something Carr describes as a privilege. Besides enjoying the “huge” benefits of being a member, he also relishes the flexibility that comes with running an independent business.

“We pride ourselves on being a family-owned business and our customers – who are independents – relate really well to our ethos and culture,” he says.

The company understands that all businesses are unique and will attach a different importance to the prices of certain types of products, depending on their customers’ areas of expertise.

Carr says that while there would be a very close pricing policy between fast food restaurants, it can differ a lot with pubs.

“You might have one pub that buys a lot of chips, but a bit different and more upmarket pub might not buy so many frozen chips – they might prefer to have a better price on something else,” he says.

At the core of Philip Dennis’ strategy is the mission to be a leader for the whole industry, as opposed to simply looking out for number one.

“I’m a big believer that we have a responsibility to keep the food industry moving in the right direction. Food has never before had such a high profile as it has in recent years.

“We need to embrace that and put customers in the frame to improve their business and make eating a more pleasurable and repeatable experience for everybody.

“The key thing will be serving quality food at the right price – that can be anything, whether it’s a bacon sandwich or a Michelin-starred meal.


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