Continuing our look at suppliers to the hospitality market, we catch up with Ron Hickey, sales director - catering, Booker.
Q How would you describe your business?
A As a food and drink wholesaler with 173 branches nationwide, Booker serves more than 300,000 caterers and provides customers with an efficient, fast and flexible service that covers fresh meat, soft drinks, frozen food, dry grocery, alcohol, paperware, cleaning and hygiene. We are also the UK's largest catering butcher, with 300 on-site butchers in branches.
Q What is the company's objective?
A To become the UK's biggest and best supplier to small businesses through increasing choice, lowering prices and improving service. We survey more than 40,000 customers each year, and these surveys have shown an improvement in all three areas.
Q What are the issues facing your food service customers?
A There are three major challenges affecting our customers. The first is keeping costs and overheads as low as possible. The second is attracting customers to their venues. The third is managing cash flow with ever changing patterns of trade, as it's difficult to forecast and to know what to buy and when.
Q How do you help them address these issues?
A One way we help them to keep their costs low is with exclusive own-brand products such as Chef's Larder ingredients and Booker Basics, which both offer lower prices, and we monitor thousands of prices every week to keep them competitive.
We also have more than 70 catering development managers based at local branches, who visit customers in their premises with the primary aim of developing their business. Many were previously chefs, licensees and restaurateurs themselves, so they can share their expertise and local knowledge to help customers boost trade or save money. This can include helping with menu ideas or creating wine lists for the best possible profits.
Our catering customers can think of Booker as their back store, open seven days a week, so they can keep to a minimum the amount of money tied up in stock. If they would rather have their goods delivered this can be arranged locally, with no delivery charges for orders over £100.
We also offer customers the confidence of dealing with unexpected demand with a sale or return service on all drinks.
Q What are the questions your customers ask most regularly?
A "How long is this product staying at this price?" As many of our customers set menu prices for three to four months at a time, we have locked down the cost of more than 40 of our best selling commodity products for longer. So butter, milk, bread, sugar, rice, flour and pasta, to name just a few, are at extra low prices until 13 January 2010.
Q What do you believe will be the next big trend in your market?
A At the moment the market is so competitive that caterers need to focus on top quality food that also offers great value for money. So I think we'll see consumers increasingly looking for the best value from their hosts.
Q Where does the company stand on green issues?
A Booker is the first UK food wholesaler to be awarded the Carbon Trust Standard, following its commitment to preventing climate change. We provide a cooking oil recycling scheme, where customers return their used cooking oil to us in return for vouchers to be spent in branch.
Booker has given more than £100,000 to customers in return for their used cooking oil during the first year of the scheme and over one million litres of customers' used cooking oil has been recycled to create sustainable bio-diesel for Booker's fleet and for energy production at our Hatfield Distribution Centre.
Q Long term, where's the business going?
A Booker will continue to focus on choice, price and service, to help our customers prosper.
Company name Booker
Address Equity House, Irthlingborough Road, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire
Tel 01933 371139
Area of operation Nationwide
Products Fresh meat, soft drinks, kegs, packaged beer, wine, spirits, dry grocery, frozen food, fresh fruit and vegetables and delicatessen
Brands Lichfield, Chef's Larder, Malt House Vintners, Woode & Brown, Booker Basics, Chekov
Market sectors Hotels, restaurants, pubs, QSRs, schools, healthcare and workplace canteens
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