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The impact of the pandemic crises, positive results too

The impact of the pandemic crises, positive results too


Food service sector became one of the most impacted by Covid-19 pandemic and economic depression in Russia; since March 2020, restaurants and cafes has been observing the decline of visitors’ number.

The statistics confirm the dramatic fall, especially in specific regions. Thus, the turnover of the sector decreased by 41% in Kaliningrad region, 30% in Saint Petersburg and 26% in Moscow by the end of June.

At the same time, some leaders of food retail stated that crisis was positive for them, as consumers shifted from public food services to supermarkets, and the growth of like-for-like sales reached 25 to 30% in April-June.

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Worldwide boom in organics

New method to test whether your fruit and vegetables are truly organic 

The consumption of fresh organics for healthy living is now a global phenomenon.

While consumers in Denmark, Germany or Switzerland are already accustomed to seeing organic and conventional products share shelves in their supermarkets, until a few years ago, this was unthinkable in other regions of the world. However, imports of fresh organic produce are increasing globally and gaining more followers every day.

Dubai’s Fruit Line Trading Est develops food service
and zero-waste protocol for organic produce 

Imports represent more than 90% of the firm’s business and have grown on average by 30% for the past three years. These products consist mainly of citrus, apples, pears, grapes and kiwi from the US, South America, Europe, South Africa, China and the Middle East. This year, Fruit Line Trading Est is focused more on key accounts, like supermarkets, with whom it is seeking to establish long-term strategic relationships. Jamal El Kari, Trading Est’s manager for Khat AlFakeha, said, “We have started developing our food service area which is going to grow, particularly with the new Vision for KSA 2030, which focuses on tourism. We are based in the capital of Saudi Arabia in the Fruit & Vegetables Central Wholesale Market and are looking forward to opening our branch in Jeddah City, which will capture both Jeddah and Makka and target the pilgrimage seasons as well.” In the area of sustainability, the firm has developed a food service segment that includes organic and zero-residue products. Corporate responsibility is a key value for the firm and its trading company, Khat AlFakeha.

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Reynolds: “Food safety is the foundation of our business”

Leading UK based produce supplier to the foodservice industry, Reynolds, focuses on food safety, product consistency and availability.

The UK foodservice industry is estimated to be worth in the region of £85 billion and although 2016 did not begin so well, the average annual growth is around 2.5% and expected to grow to 3% over the next 3 years said Matthew Jones, Reynolds’ senior buyer, at the international conference ‘Tomatoes, trends towards 2020’ held April 13-15 in Antwerp

The forecasts auger well for Reynolds, a leading distributor to customers including restaurants, catering, schools and healthcare institutions. Consistency of product is very important to its customers, which is why its quality control (QC) team checks every consignment against Reynolds’ own specifications. ”Product consistency is absolutely essential,” Jones said.

Another important focus is food safety. “Food safety is the foundation of this business and critical to our brand,” he said. BRC Food, Assured Food Standards and GLOBALG.A.P. are the standards required of Reynolds’ suppliers to ensure food safety and full traceability. In addition, Reynolds aims for a contracted grower base and long term partnerships with both customers and suppliers, so that all parties involved can grow together. “A stable supply base is a must so we can ensure our customers have a secure robust supply chain and consistent availability,” Jones said.

Flavour, quality and colour increasingly important

As one of the UK’s largest fruit and vegetable suppliers, Reynolds offers a broad range of fresh produce. For tomatoes, the most segmented category, Jones sees a shift in focus from price to other aspects. “In our business, tomatoes are often seen as a commodity and price is still king, but we are seeing a gradual shift towards flavour, quality and colour,” he said.

Education plays an important role in that shift. During customer presentations, Reynolds highlights new products and educates customers regarding the product characteristics, with a clear outlook to the future. “Varietal development is so important for meeting future demand and taste is a critical element.” For the sourcing of tomatoes, Reynolds aims for a long-term contracted supply base. “These days we are looking for commitment from growers and take a long term perspective,” Jones said.

One aspect of that is the opportunity to work with the growers on varietal development. Some of the research and development activities currently going on include work on mixed heirloom tomatoes, loose cherry tomatoes and on the vine specialties. Often imports are favoured because of their competitive pricing and consistent availability.

On the vine tomato categories growing

Reynolds has a 21-strong product assortment in tomatoes. “The tomato has got to be fit for purpose,” Jones said. For instance, the tomato used for sandwiches has got to be intense and contain less juice. For salads there is a focus on the smaller cocktail varieties, Datterini and Marzanino, for flavour, and green tomatoes are great for chutneys. Specialities such as Tomatillos Kumatos are also offered in order to allow Reynolds customers to keep up with industry trends.

Some of the current developments Reynolds sees within the tomato category include the increase in demand for on the vine categories. “The smaller tomatoes are being downsized to cocktail size and on the vine to bring the flavour profile back to the consumer,” Jones said.

Regarding the generic round tomato, Reynolds sees the sales morphing from 3 sizes to just 1 middle size. Organic tomatoes are a small category, mainly due to prices, but Jones expects growth in this category in 2-3 years. The plum tomato appears to be quite stable and the beef tomato category is growing due to increased interest in fast food and the growing number of hamburger restaurants.  

Customers value heritage

Heritage is playing more of a role in foodservice, since it can offer a point of differentiation for chefs. It is essential to listen to what the customer wants and work with the growers to deliver it,” Jones said.

Aside from the current developments, Reynolds expects major categories such as that of the tomato to evolve even further. Although it is believed that overall tomato consumption is dropping in the UK, Jones does not himself see a decline in volume. However, he thinks the assortment could reduce in SKU’s while volumes are maintained.  Moreover, size is an important matter. “Size is very important to us – we try to use the whole range and the whole crop through the sizes, because we can command better prices,” he said.

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Autogrill sourcing local, fresh, authentic produce

The world leader in food services prepares for the future by responding to changing needs

As Autogrill — the world’s leading provider of food and beverage services for travellers — says in its mission statement, the consumer is central to its approach. Autogrill has identified different groups of guests and finds the right products for each group. “The food and beverage market is changing. There are new needs. People handle food and beverages in a different way and as a business owner you have to prepare for the right needs,” said Stefano Teatini of Autogrill EU food and beverage Purchase Managers Restaurant Concepts during his address to the international conference on ‘Tomatoes, trends towards 2020’ held from 13 to15 April 2016 in Antwerp. For every moment of use, Autogrill has mapped the customer’s needs. The same customer may have different needs depending on the situation. A quick meal at an airport calls for different products from a meal during a leisurely family outing. The process results in linking customer needs to product properties.

Local, fresh and authentic

For instance, a tomato that is local, fresh, authentic and tasteful will appeal to a consumer who is looking for healthy food. Shape and colour are important as well. For the consumer who is into fun and sharing, tomatoes that are crazy and unusual are perfectly suitable, whereas the consumer that values convenience and pragmatism will need a lower price and a round red tomato with a longer shelf life. Finding the right products for the right customer also takes into account how the customer looks at food and beverages, now and in the future. Autogrill has identified a number of trends it will be focusing on for the coming 10 to 15 years. “One of those trends is linking local to non-local products,” Teatini said.”For instance, you take a simple sandwich and add a Korean or Indian spice to it to create a completely new product.” New flavours are expected to influence the food and beverage industry. Teatini thinks particularly that North African spices like harissa, sumac or dukka will cross our paths in the coming years.

Preventing food waste, and GMO-free products

Another of the societal developments that Autogrill has picked up on is the customer’s resistance to food being wasted. The fact that 50% of all food is wasted worldwide (source: British Institution of Mechanical Engineers) calls for a response. “Trash to treasure remains important. A more sustainable use of the available resources is a trend,” Teatini said. It is one of Autogrill’s priorities to address this issue. It aims for head to tail use of all products and monitors the food waste for every location on a monthly basis, working towards a target waste of maximum 1% of the total volume bought. Although the discussion may have faded away a bit, the consumer remains negative on GMOs (genetically modified organisms). A massive 70% of consumers say they would be more likely to purchase foods or beverages described as GMO-free and 34% would be willing to pay more for GMO-free menu items (source: Technomic Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report 2014). “We decided to go GMO-free and communicate about that,” Teatini said. “90% of the consumers think that GMO-free products are better and tastier and that is something we are working with.”

Changing logistics

Evidently, in an organisation as large as Autogrill, procurement is very important. The firm has observed a shift towards an increasing interest in local products. The demand for fresh local products satisfies the consumer but puts a strain on the food supply chain. It challenges a logistics system that is geared towards consolidation, centralisation and a long shelf life. “We see that change and are in the process of finding solutions for it,” Teatini said.

“How can we modify our logistics for the new local product?” When sourcing local products, it is also important to take aspects like traceability, food safety and animal welfare into account, because apart from being local the customers want the products to be safe as well. And there is another logistics aspect — Autogrill calls it the delivery revolution — that is affecting the food and beverage industry. “Consumers want to get food at the time and in the way they choose, 24/7,” Teatini said. Already there are several initiatives that facilitate food being delivered at home. For instance, McDonalds have a delivery service or Post Mates US picks up the meal you ordered from a restaurant.


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New food service beakers by Ilip

The line is made up of 12 certified-capacity beakers and 6 flat and domed lids, easily transported and simple to use.

A new line of plastic beakers, designed for food services but which can also be used for fruit and vegetables, is the new product that Ilip presented at Fruit Logistica 2016 in Berlin.

“These 100% recyclable PET beakers demonstrate the company’s desire to care for the environment and meet the demands of all kinds of uses,” said marketing assistant Jessica Zeppieri.

“They are ideal for beer, soft drinks, smoothies, slushies, fruit salads and fruit-and vegetable-based snacks. The line is made up of 12 certified-capacity beakers and 6 flat and domed lids, easily transported and simple to use. It joins another recent innovation by Ilip: our range of heat-seal trays,” she said.

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Trends and opportunities in the UK food service market

Healthy food options are the hottest trend in the enormous market formed by the food service sector in the United Kingdom, says a new GAIN report.

Healthy food options are the hottest trend in the enormous market formed by the food service sector in the United Kingdom, says a new GAIN report.

Reporting on opportunities for American exporters in the hotel, restaurant and institutional (HRI) market in the UK, the report says fresh and dried fruit are among the US products doing well, along with snack foods, nuts, salmon and seafood, cooking sauces, salad dressings, confectionery, dips and salsas, frozen foods, wine and beer.

“The UK government is increasingly promoting healthy eating and healthy lifestyles. There are opportunities for U.S. products that are natural, wholesome and healthy,” GAIN advises.

As an example of the focus on healthier living, it says fruit and vegetable juices are now more popular in the UK than carbonated drinks.

But despite the preference for healthy eating being the most significant trend in recent years, obesity rates in the UK – about 24% of the adult population is now technically obese  – are now the highest in Western Europe.

Other trends in food service in the UK

Burgers remain the number one item on menus, but other trends are becoming more mainstream in the UK, such as world cuisines, healthy food and indulgence.

“Consumer demand for new foods is strong in the UK and is continually driven by high numbers of non-UK citizens making the UK their home. Fastest growing business types are likely to be new fast food, street food, pop up restaurants, international cuisines, and coffee shops and sandwich bars,” the report says.

The report’s snapshot of major food service trends in the UK includes the following:

  • BBQ foods – Southern US foods or South American influences. Things like pulled pork, brisket.
  • Provenance – Products marketed with a focus on the country of origin, how the product was cooked, farm names and references to smaller, family owned business’ on labels and menus.
  • Street Food – Quality ingredients, seasonally sourced, quick food.
  • UK growth hot spots in 2014 – Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Bristol and London.

Growth forecast for UK food service market

In 2014, the UK food service sector (food and beverage sales to consumers) was estimated to be worth £46.6 billion ($74.5bn), up 2.9% on 2013.

GAIN says the sector has picked itself up after the economic crisis and predicts this year it will continue to grow, returning to the spending levels of 2008, a previous peak.

Source: GAIN report: “United Kingdom: Food Service – Hotel Restaurant Institutional”
Veggie burger image: By divinemisscopa ( [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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Fresh cuts and berries among priorities for BAMA

The Oslo-based BAMA trading group is expanding its offering of organic produce and Norwegian-grown vegetables and is committed to helping people choose healthier foods.

The Norwegian market leader for sales of fresh fruit, vegetables, berries and potatoes, BAMA Group (BAMA Gruppen AS) last year posted consolidated sales of BNOK 13.5 (€1.45b). Through its five business areas – including Grocery and HoReCa – each year 500,000 tons of fresh fruit, vegetables, berries, drinks and flowers – from a network of more than 1,300 producers in Norway and abroad – pass through its terminals on their way to 15,000 customers in Norway. Berries are BAMA’s top fruit category in value and bananas in volume, while for vegetables it’s tomatoes in value and potatoes in volume.













Competition in the Nordic grocery market is razor-sharp, Oslo-based BAMA said in its 2014 annual report, but in its favour is the growing interest Norwegians have in healthy diets, natural foodstuffs and food of Norwegian origin. BAMA Group CEO Rune Flaen says it’s the health trend that’s fuelled significant growth in products such as berries, avocados, spinach, root vegetables and kale. (In the last three years, sales volumes have shot up 856% for sweet potatoes, 1386% for kale and 80% for spinach.) BAMA’s overall volume growth for fruit and vegetables in 2014 was 2.6%.

Also favourable is that fruit and vegetable consumption continues to rise in Norway, in marked contrast to the rest of Europe. However, despite climbing 35% in 20 years, consumption in Norway remains below official dietary recommendations. The growth potential for BAMA’s product groups is therefore significant, BAMA said in the report. With excess weight emerging as Norway’s main health challenge, it has adopted a strategy of actively working to improve public health through increased focus on healthy diets and exercise.

Berries: 15% annual growth target

BAMA has certain focus areas for which it sets yearly growth targets. Berries is one of these, with a target of 15%, and by late September sales were already up 13% in volume. BAMA is the Norwegian market leader for berry sales and over five years logged spectacular growth of 140% to reach about 18,000 tons last year.

Instead of taking big volumes from external suppliers, BAMA now sources berries through its Rotterdam-based partner Nature’s Berries. “We also work directly with major Netherlands-based strawberry producers, cutting out expensive middlemen.”

Aiming for 20% growth in fresh cuts

BAMA Industry is one of BAMA Group’s five divisions and produces freshly-processed products, including fresh ready to eat/heat food, for the group’s HoReCa and Grocery business customers. It generated strong sales growth in 2014, a third of which came from products launched in just the last four years. Among these, new vegetable wok mixes and salad products, including two organic salad mixes, showed the most growth.

BAMA sees great promise in such convenience foods. Some European countries have market shares of up to 30–40%, but in Norway it’s still under 5%. “We see a huge market there in the future,” Flaen said. BAMA plans to grow the category through high speed product development, reliable quality, space management and good marketing. “We already have about 15% growth in fresh cuts grocery this year (first 38 weeks of 2015). The target for the category is 20% yearly growth, so we are well on track,” he said.  

Demand for organic, short-travelled & Norwegian produce

  • BAMA’s organic offering includes carrots, potatoes, onions, broccoli, bananas, apples and citrus.
  • Organic produce represents about 3% of BAMA’s total fruit and vegetable sales volume.
  • Demand for Norwegian-grown organic products rose 29% in 2014.

BAMA reports that its consumers show increasing interest in organic, short-travelled and Norwegian produce. In 2014, 60% of products were locally produced, no more than two hours away from the sales outlet. BAMA is collaborating with Gartnerhallen, Norway’s largest farm cooperative, to increase its proportion of Norwegian produce.

Future focus on smaller formats

In terms of goals for BAMA in the next 12 months, Flaen said one is to work on obtaining even better quality across all products. In doing so it will be examining logistics and temperature control, and working a lot on product development. Acknowledging there’s more focus today on food waste, he sees a need for BAMA to develop more products in smaller formats, “so a single household can have their solutions.”

“There will be a lot of focus on smaller packs in years to come,” he said.

source: BAMA annual report 2014 and interview with BAMA CEO Rune Flaen


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Colruyt Group sees increase in citrus sales

Priorities for the Colruyt group include innovation in e-commerce, and helping consumers choose healthy and sustainable products via ‘simplicity in retail’.

Belgian retail group Colruyt reports that it gained market share in 2014/15 despite tough competition. In Belgium, where the retailer competes with the hard discounters Aldi and Lidl as well as Carrefour and Delhaize, it says its market share rose to 31% based on revenue from its store concepts Colruyt Lowest Prices, Spar and OKay. (The group is to focus its expansion efforts even more on OKay, its proximity store concept.)

Colruyt Group also managed to keep its operating margins stable in 2014/2015, with a gross margin of 24.9% of revenue and EBIT margin of 5.6% of revenue. In what it described in its 2014/15 annual report as a “challenging market environment”, its reported revenue grew 3.1% to €8.9 billion. “Due to the pressure on the sales prices, the volume growth was not fully reflected in revenue growth. Price pressure was brought about by price deflation, competition and the consumer trend towards cheaper products,” it said. The group’s net profit was weighed down to €331 million after recording a fine of €31.6 million imposed by the Belgian Competition Authority.

Wholesale & Foodservice

Colruyt’s wholesale and foodservice segment accounted for 17.1% of its consolidated revenue. Revenue from these activities rose 3.5% on last year to €1.5 billion. The wholesale segment includes deliveries to independent storekeepers in Belgium (Retail Partners Colruyt Group) and France (Coccinelle, CocciMarket and Panier Sympa). Wholesale revenue declined slightly (-0.5%) due to food price deflation.

source: Colruyt Group 2014/2015 annual report

Managing complexity to offer simplicity

“Our stores and wholesale activities in Belgium, France and Luxembourg continue to operate in an environment with fierce price competition and low consumer confidence,” Colruyt said in the report. One of its strategies in light of this is ‘Simplicity in Retail’. “Offering simplicity means, for example, helping consumers to make healthy and sustainable choices. This is why we continue to work on the quality and nutritional value of our own brand products, and on a more sustainable range of fish products and better working conditions at our suppliers and partners in risk countries,” it said.

“In order to be able to offer simplicity, we are also focusing on innovation. This is why we are targeting retail solutions in the e-commerce market and why we are the first Belgian distributor to make mobile payments possible in all of our web shops and stores. We are also pleased with the federal government’s plans to amend the laws governing e-commerce so that we can become a bit more competitive in relation to our neighbouring countries.”

Using audits to improve working conditions

In keeping with its commitment to improve working conditions at its suppliers and partners, Colruyt Group started carrying out regular audits in the food sector in 2013 and reports that they “do really lead to an improvement of the working conditions.” It plans to carry out at least 270 audits this year, representing an investment of over €200,000. “With this, we are well on our way to achieving our targets: all food-processing companies have to be audited at least once by June 2016 and all vegetable and fruit producers have to be audited at least once by June 2018.”

New headquarters for Retail Partners Colruyt Group

Among other highlights in the report, Colruyt said its wholesale division, Retail Partners Colruyt Group (including Spar and Alvo stores, independent Mini Markets and independent storekeepers), finalised its relocation to a new head office in Mechelen (in Antwerp province) at the end of October 2014. Two automations were also implemented in the high-tech distribution centre also located there, one in the empty goods section and another in the collection circuit for vegetables and fruit. The offices and the distribution centre have a combined surface area of 62,100 m2.

Support for Belgian pears and apples

A large-scale campaign was started at the end of August 2014 to promote the sale of Belgian pears. The Belgian pear growers had a surplus of pears due to the Russian import ban on European agricultural products. The group purchased 160 tons of pears of Belgian growers at the fruit auction. Around 550 stores of Colruyt, OKay and Spar offered the pears to their customers.

Similarly, Colruyt and OKay supported Belgian growers of Jonagold apples with a short-term campaign at the start of November last year. “Due to the abundant harvest and export problems with Russia, the Belgian apple growers were faced with a surplus. Colruyt and OKay offered pure pressed apple juice made from 100% Belgian Jonagold apples. The apple juice was sold under the own brand Boni Selection. Each store was supplied with around 500 bottles, which amounted to a total of 165.000 bottles,” according to the group’s 2014/2015 annual report.

Citrus sales at Colruyt

Sales of lemons were up 25%, oranges 12% and grapefruit 6.5% in volume for the first six months of this year, compared to the same period last year according to Colruyt’s product promotion manager Tony De Bock. “In citrus fruit we sell oranges, clementine, grapefruit and lemons,” he said. Over the course of the year, Colruyt offers lemons from Spain and South Africa, and oranges from the following countries: Spain (for eating and juicing), South Africa (for eating and juicing), Italy (“blood” oranges), Morocco (for juicing) and Egypt (for juicing). Clementines are sourced from Spain, Cyprus (mandora), South Africa (the Orri Club has been introduced) and grapefruit comes from the US and South Africa.

Colruyt’s product promotion manager Tony De Bock

Rise in sales of iceberg and multi-colour lettuce

In terms of lettuce sales, De Bock said the sales volume from January to June was up 3.5%, compared to the same period last year, with 75% of the lettuce grown in Belgium. “We import from Spain and Holland, but that is mainly the iceberg lettuce. We see the most positive evolution in iceberg and multi-colour lettuce,” he said.

Produce quality requirements

“Our quality requirements are always the same,” De Bock said. Colruyt requires Global G.A.P. and BRC certification.



Video about Colruyt Group’s 2014/2015 annual report

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Secrets to Reynolds’ success supplying the UK foodservice market

" Historically, our business has been quite heavily weighted towards restaurants and restaurant groups, supported by a good amount of hotel custom. We're now placing quite a lot of focus on the education sector."

From its origin about 70 years ago as an east London greengrocer, Reynolds has evolved into a national supplier to the catering industry, with annual turnover of £200 million (€281m).

Dedicated to supplying the UK’s foodservice market, it has a particular focus on restaurants – which account for about 60% of its business – and supplies the likes of Pret a Manger, Pizza Express, Carluccio’s and Bill’s. It also serves pubs, hotels, schools, colleges, universities and healthcare establishments.

At the London Produce Show in June, ED spoke to Reynolds’ head of marketing Andy Weir and senior buyer Matt Jones – both based at Reynolds’ National Distribution Centre in Waltham Cross – and started off by asking them what makes such businesses choose Reynolds.

AW: There are a number of reasons they use us. We have a national presence, which obviously means that wherever they open a new store, we can deliver. We have our national distribution center in Hertfordshire, where all of our fresh produce and dairy comes into, and then we truck that to our five satellites. We have one QC team at the office and that means that wherever they’re based, our customers’ outlets get the same produce into their stores – from the same grower, checked by the same people. That means they get absolute product consistency across their stores. That’s really important for any operator building a brand.

MJ: Another key benefit we offer our customers is fixed pricing for 6 month periods, which, because they know their products’ prices are fixed, guarantees their margins. That’s really important because the prices of fruit and vegetables can be quite volatile. So what we do is we lock our prices down with our suppliers and then we pass that security on to our customers. That’s a key difference between us and most of our competitors.

Who are your main competitors?

MJ: There are a couple of other large national produce suppliers in the UK, but they are owned by larger companies, whereas Reynolds is still very much a family owned and run business. There are a whole host of small suppliers, especially in London, within the markets such as Covent Garden.

Where are you making changes?

AW: Historically, our business has been quite heavily weighted towards restaurants and restaurant groups, supported by a good amount of hotel custom. We’re now placing quite a lot of focus on the education sector.
When you’re focusing on one particular market you tend to get sales peaks and troughs. By targeting other markets, such as the education sector, they tend to mirror the rest of the sector quite well. When the schools are off, the restaurants are quite busy, and vice versa. A more diverse mix of business helps us manage our fixed costs better and our technical expertise is very well suited to the education sector, where food safety is clearly very important.

What about in your supply chain?

AW: When our customers order what we call splits, which is single items – a twin pack of peppers, a cucumber, an iceberg lettuce and a punnet of tomatoes, for example – historically they’d all go in one cardboard box or several, depending on the order size. Over the last years we’ve tried to move customers away from disposable packaging and we now use returnable crates.
The driver takes the crate in, leaves the produce with the customer and then takes back the crates on the next delivery. That works really well because our customers have to pay disposal costs to get rid of waste cardboard. I think where we can get any packaging out of the chain completely it’s got to be great for everybody. It saves us money, it saves our customers money and it’s good for the environment.

What’s your biggest challenge?

AW: It’s managing the demand and supply side because we don’t know from one day to the next exactly how much of a single product our customers are going to order. Obviously we don’t want fresh products sitting in the warehouse as shelf life is limited. Equally, our customers expect us to have the appropriate stock levels to meet their demand.
Trying to predict exactly what a customer is going to order, and having the foresight to order the appropriate quantities in advance, is a very difficult balancing act. The average turnaround time in our warehouse is about a day and a half. The idea is that it comes in and goes out. We spend a lot of time fine-tuning our forecasting model to make sure we get that balancing act absolutely right and work closely with customers to understand what drives their demand, such as weather and menu changes.

What are your biggest volume products?

AW: Believe it or not, our biggest selling line overall is milk – because everybody uses it – but for fresh produce tomatoes would probably be number one. We have a couple of dozen different tomato lines, everything from standard round, single M’s, double M’s, Marzaninos, English heritage tomatoes on the vine, and everywhere in-between.

But we don’t just bring these things in and let them sit in the warehouse and hope they sell. We work with our customers to establish what product works best for them. Do you want provenance? Do you want great flavour? Do you want a product that’s going to last a long time? You tell us what you want and we’ll source the right product for you. That’s how the business has evolved.

MJ: On stock at the moment, I’m probably doing about 22 different SKUs, 22 different products of tomatoes. I would say we do 16,000-18,000 boxes a week on tomato, across all the ranges.

What else is big?

AW: Avocados are another line that’s really important for us and for our customers. Obviously when they get the avocados delivered to their store, they need to know they’re ready to eat and ready to prepare, they’ve got to be at absolute peak ripeness. If they’re too hard and they can’t use them, well they don’t have the storage space to leave them out or leave them in the fridge for a few days. It’s really important that we get that absolutely perfect. So yes, we sell an awful lot of avocados and again, we’ve got quite a few different lines depending on customer requirements.

MJ: We do about 13,000 boxes of avocado a week, which I believe is up there with some of the larger retailers. It’s a product that’s heavily used in our industry, around sandwich manufacture, guacamole, etc.

Where do you source your avocados from?

AW: It very much depends on the time of year. At the moment they will be predominantly Peruvian, supported by some South African fruit. On a product like avocados we tend to let our supplier partners manage that decision-making process for us. That’s what they’re best at and we stick to what we’re best at, which is distributing short shelf-life chilled products to our customers.

Please tell us what you do in grapes.

MJ: In grapes we just run two lines, a red and a white grape year-round. We run through about 8 seasons over the year and it’s controlled by one supply base, which manages the Brix, colour and the size of berry, according to our specifications.

What varieties are they?

MJ: Multiple. It could be Superior to Thompson. It could be anything all the way through. We take the best grapes for the time of the year, for the customer base.

AW: Having said that, there are certain customers, like maybe 5 star hotels in London, that want something different. So we do obtain specialty varieties for them, and obviously they cost a lot more than the standard red or white grape. Again it’s back down to what the customer wants, and we can source pretty much anything they want, as long as it is in season somewhere in the world. With our connections and extensive supply base we’ll find it for you.

How is demand for tropical fruit such as pineapple? What kind of volumes do you do in pineapple?

MJ: I do two types of pineapple. I do an extra sweet size 6, a large pineapple, which I do about 1,200 boxes, and a 10, which is a smaller pineapple, at about 600 boxes. About 1,800-2,000 boxes a week in total.

What are your top sellers in salad?

MJ: Cucumber would probably be the biggest, at about 6,000 boxes a week. Peppers would be next, probably roughly around 3,500 boxes of peppers a week, across the three colors, and a little bit in orange and black.

Foodservice is often where emerging culinary trends are seen first. What are you noticing?

AW: More and more demand for provenance. For the majority of our customers it’s about British produce and it’s well-known that consumers like to know now – particularly post Horsegate – where the food on their plate comes from. Whether it’s Kentish strawberries or asparagus from Hampshire, it all about menu appeal and authenticity.
Our food development team spend a lot of their time advising customers on where their produce comes from, so they can market it to consumers. If you take for example, Bill’s, which is one of the fastest growing restaurant groups in the UK – they’re one of our customers – they do a fantastic job at promoting great British produce. If you look on the menu you’ll see the appropriate product for the time of year. At the moment, there’s kale on there, and there’s strawberries, but they don’t have strawberries on there at Christmas time.
We work closely with our customers to help them map out what’s going to look good, what’s going to be appropriate on the menu in three months, in six months’ time, because these operators need to plan in advance exactly what they’re going to have on their menu and if they put something on their menu for the summer and it’s not available, obviously that’s not great for anybody. So we play a large part in advising them on what’s going to be best at what time of year, what’s going to be in season, what’s going to be British, to make sure that they satisfy their consumers’ appetite for fresh, seasonal produce.

London Produce Show


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Strawberries wilting amid California’s extreme heat and humidity

Record level extreme heat and humidity are causing significant quality issues for strawberries out of California, reports Atlanta-based foodservice distributor Royal Food.

Record level extreme heat and humidity are causing significant quality issues for strawberries out of California, reports Atlanta-based foodservice distributor Royal Food Service.

It said the situation is being experienced by all growers in the area. Quality issues being reported from the fields are bruising, soft spots, smaller sizes, some mildew, white or soft shoulders, and over-ripeness. 

“To avoid further quality issues, it is very important to keep these strawberries cold until ready to use. Royal is doing everything possible to ensure that the cold chain remains unbroken,” Royal Food Service said in news published on its web site on July 1.

Image: by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (public domain) via Wikimedia Commons