Getting your brand into distributors and operators mindset

Demand for out-of-home eating has never been higher. 43% of UK consumers now eat out at least once a week (increasing to 60% of 25-34-year-olds¹) and a growing and ageing population is fuelling demand for cost sector catering, including hospitals, care homes and schools and in the last ten years the number of foodservice outlets has increased by 8,600¹.

With more meals being professionally prepared and eaten outside the home, there’s a great opportunity for product suppliers and brand owners to find new routes to the consumer.

Minimising the external factors that foodservice businesses have little control over, such as Living Wage increases, government regulation changes and currency exchange rates remains a key challenge for the sector.

Other considerations include:

  1. Cost Sector: there are likely to be further and continued cost reduction pressures, increased pressures of growing customer numbers, decreasing space and increased expectations of end-user customers.
  2. Quick Serve Sector: time, quality and affordability will continue to be driving factors for customers when making decisions around on the ‘on the go’ products.
  3. On-trade Sector: this sector is driven by customer expectation, both around quality and costs, and the branded operators. As they invest in menu diversification, environment

improvements to offer more comfort, and the continued drive for excellence in service, it’s clear that independent operators need to offer similar experiences or face the very real risk of reducing customer return.

So, what are the top tips for suppliers looking to introduce brands into an operator’s mindset?

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF INFLATIONfoodservice prices increased by 5.8% in April 2017

The Foodservice Price Index has revealed that wholesale foodservice prices increased by 5.8% in April 2017, a figure in line with inflation (6%). For the second consecutive month, April prices were higher YOY across all sub-categories. Factors driving up inflation included the weak pound and pressures on specific food items such as fish, coffee and cereals resulting on a pressure on margins².

For some suppliers however, who produce within the UK and have a reduced reliance on imports, this is the time to take advantage of those food items where inflation is starting to ease. Currently produce grown in the UK comprises only 23% of UK food consumption³ with 72% wanting to eat more British seasonal produce⁴. Fruit saw the smallest increase of any of the Index’s categories at 1.9%. Vegetable price inflation was running at 4.4% in April, a sharp drop on the rate of 10.4% in January².

A product that is able to successfully balance competitor pricing and inflation has the greatest chance of success during this difficult trading time.


The general public are still happy to spend on eating out, and the hospitality industry has shown resilience in the face of uncertainty arising from the Brexit vote and clause 50. This, however, is expected to see signs of slowing as site openings level out, with the focus shifting to investment and an improved better customer experience.
Suppliers can take advantage of the current situation; by providing advice, solutions and supporting distributors and operators.

According to Blakemore Foodservice sales & marketing director Jim Dudley: “We have met with over 70 suppliers over the past months and there isn’t one who doesn’t recognise the potential and opportunity that working collaboratively represents. We have had countless offers to work with our sales team, with our telesales people and also engage with end users on product education”.

He goes on to say: “What’s key is to get involved in the category planning process and collaboratively work with us to develop solutions that meets foodservice needs and engage with the customer base”.

Product education is therefore essential. Sales and service teams educated in products (how to use them, store them, serve them) will be more confident and more able to sell. Incentivisation also helps them focus on promoted products. Give other sales forces positive reasons to sell.

“Suppliers need to identify the best-fit potential customers where customer support generates the best return on investment. Food suppliers willing to invest in greater engagement will certainly be pushing on an open door.”

Dan McGlynn, CGA Strategy


Focus on choice, price, service and simplicityService is key especially in the foodservice business. Booker have a 90% customer satisfaction score- meaning their customers, one assumes, are more likely to recommend Booker to another caterer. They have achieved this by listening to their customers and ensuring their needs and expectations.

Operators and distributors value suppliers who have worked alongside them, understand the need for high levels of customer satisfaction and appreciate the need for great quality, added value, consistent pricing or first-to market exclusive product launches resulting in uptake and repeat purchasing⁵.

According to Stuart Hyslop, managing director (Booker catering and small business): “Most importantly of all is for the supplier to understand the customer and what they need. They should help independent caterers and licensees go around the multi-site chains by delivering a better choice, price and service for them. We would also recommend that suppliers keep it simple”.

While operators inevitably always say they want the lowest possible price, their realistic price concerns surround the lack of transparency over actual prices – they do not want to negotiate hard on one high volume product, to find that negotiation negatively impacts the price of a lower volume product⁶.


Suppliers can assist distributors by offering dedicated support in terms of range, investment in catering promotions and NPD delivery. A good example of this is the partnership between Bestway Wholesalers and Premier Foods. The latter provided promotional packs for Territory Sales Managers, worked with distributor to produce category planograms and seasonal displays and supported fresh meat and poultry promotions with their Bisto brand. Likewise, Knorr from Unilever worked with the Bestway in-store butchery departments to during British Roast Dinner Week resulting in double-digit sales growth.

This year Caterforce launched a sales data insight tool which over 50% of suppliers have already committed to using, to drive additional sales. The data facilitates suppliers (working with Bestway) to specifically target certain customer groups with tailored deals allowing for a greater ROI on promotional spend, as well as giving us an internal view of the trends within the independent catering sector.

Dedicated supportMore recently, some suppliers have offered the added value service of their brand ambassadors, such as celebrity chefs, to further develop and support the foodservice agenda with the mix of industry education, training staff on culinary skills using supplier’s products and ambassadorial sponsorship; all adding value to a distributor’s proposition.

According to Les Mohammed, foodservice trading controller at Landmark Wholesale: “Suppliers need to think more about solution and activation for customers rather than pack or recipe reformulation to increase profits. They need to offer education and support rather than competing on price alone to grow market penetration” ⁵.

Whilst distributors and operators are immersed in the day-to-day task of providing a service, many rely on outside support to guide them on food trends, menu ideas, preparation tips and the legislation they need to comply with. 70% look for inspiration and ideas online with menu inspiration and recipe advice the main target of internet searches, and that’s backed up by the caterers’ favourite bookmarks such as wholesaler websites (50%), chef sites and BBC Good Food (29%)⁶. caterers value their wholesaler as a first port of call for advice, information and support.

Finally, operators and distributors make supplier decisions through trial and error. They are willing to make a small order to test the quality, price justification and delivery expectation. If the experience is bad, they move on. But most
importantly, operators and distributors talk to each other. They may not share their recipes or turnover, but they share their suppliers.

Why? Because of price; always keeping tabs on what others are paying for things. The Foodservice category is a challenging business, for sure, and but it also significantly relationship driven. It is, after all, hospitality.

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¹ CGA Peach: 2016
² CGA Prestige Foodservice Price Index: April 2017
⁵ Federation of Wholesale Distributors Survey: January 2017
⁶Cambridge Direction: 400 respondents across schools, care
homes, fast food outlets and pubs; January 2016