New customers help to offset rising costs

Prices from suppliers are rising at a rate that hasn’t been seen before, Country Range Group’s Annual Conference was told, but nevertheless the group is doing well and is in strong growth.

Foodservice trading controller Troy McKee said: “Speaking from a buyer’s perspective, in 25 years of wholesaling I’ve never known it so bad. This year has seen an unprecedented amount of price increases with too many suppliers reneging on agreements to force them through. I can’t say that we are enamoured by this action and we are extremely thankful to the few notable exceptions who worked with us to ease this situation. The impact of price rises and their underlying causes, whether it’s the removal of subsidies, spiralling energy costs, bio fuels or harvest shortfalls, is being felt at every level.”

He warned suppliers: “According to recent research, the average cost price of meals eaten out of home continues to fall due to greater competition. If the extra costs are pushing the caterer’s budget too far, it’s likely that they will in the first instance refine their purchases, probably take a few less ‘added value items’ or, perish the thought, review purchases of brands in favour of own brands.”

Country Range Group comprises 16 independent wholesalers operating throughout the UK, including Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands, co-ordinated by a head office in Nelson, Lancashire. Despite rising costs, the group’s sales have been growing strongly with sales of branded and own brand products in the first six months of this year up between 14% to 15% compared with the same period last year.

McKee said the reason for the sales increase was straight forward: “Put simply, it’s more customers. Basically every product category across the board is doing well because we are dealing with lots more customers – and as such our supplier base is riding the crest of a wave.”

Country Range Group managing director Colin Birchall attributed the continued success of the group to internal investment. He said: “We have spent a lot of money on new depots, trucks and other resources this year and the investment is certainly paying off. We are continuing to expand throughout the UK and are bigger and better than ever.”

Chris Creed, commercial director of Country Range Group, said: “Some of us have a tendency to undersell ourselves, to hide our light under a bushel. The reality is that our group is doing fantastically well, and so are many of our member companies. I believe that in the current market it’s possible for the forward thinking independent wholesaler to compete with the nationals and by doing so to win new Features > Business, perhaps larger, better quality business than we have previously thought achievable.”

McKee said that a question on a recent supplier to customer survey asked ‘which delivered wholesaler do you buy from – 3663, Brakes or Other?’ He added his own question: “Should we presume there are only two real choices in foodservice? When it comes to independent catering, Country Range Group is the third way, in fact the only way, other than the two multinationals.”

Country Range has also reviewed and overhauled its Stir It Up magazine, with the first new issue set to be released in February of next year. Birchall said: “Last year we carried out an in-depth satisfaction survey with a representative sample of our customers. The results of that survey highlighted that our customers sometimes feel isolated from the catering world at large. More specifically it was suggested that Stir It Up could be used to provide them with the information and support they needed.”

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