Strategic development

When Landmark Cash Carry’s biggest member, Bestway, left the buying group in November 2003, few even within Landmark would have considered the buying group a major operator in the foodservice sector. But fast forward to the present day and the renamed Landmark Wholesale is beginning to flex its considerable muscle in the sector and has ambitions to become even more powerful.

Bestway’s departure, taking with it about half of Landmark’s retail Features > Business, led to a reappraisal of the group and the realisation that foodservice was a substantial chunk of the business. Trading director John Searle says: “We started to recognise the scale of foodservice’s contribution to our business a couple a years ago and we set out to identify what the opportunity was and to bring together the interested parties to start work on consolidation.”

Individual members vary greatly in size from the biggest nudging a turnover of pound;200m down to companies taking less than pound;10m a year. Searle says: “We have some very big scale such as DBC, who are at the top end of that tree, and some much smaller pure foodservice members. Then there are other members who have aspirations to develop a foodservice proposition, recognising it is a growth area.”

In addition, Landmark as a group has a national spread with members stretching from the northern tip of Scotland down to the Channel Islands and in Northern Ireland.

In response to the upsurge in interest Landmark appointed a foodservice controller 18 months ago tasked with investigating the size and the scope of the market and the infrastructure within the group. When he left last September Peter Saunders was appointed to draw up a commercial agenda with the 12 core members most involved in foodservice. Saunders already had in-depth experience of Landmark, having come from one of the group’s biggest members, Blakemore Foodservice, where he was trading and marketing controller.

One of the first tangible results of Landmark’s new focus on foodservice was Top Table, a brochure for foodservice customers published five times a year. It carries advertising for a range of own label and branded products, together with recipes and advice on issues affecting foodservice and catering operators. For each Landmark member the publication is customised to their requirements, with their name on the front cover and with offers suited to their range and customer base.

Saunders, who has seen Top Table first as a member, and now as the man in charge, comments: “It gives us something different and I don’t think anybody produces anything quite like it. For some members who do not have a PLOF or a brochure it is their document and it’s adding to their business.

“Top Table has put members on the map at a local level as a foodservice operator. It is a tool that is in evolution, but it has been very well received.” For some suppliers the publication has also acted as an introduction to the group, and Saunders comments: “We also got a database of foodservice supplies set up as a result.”

One of Saunders’ long-term tasks is developing a core own label range that will satisfy the differing requirements of the disparate members of the group.

Searle says: “That is our biggest challenge because we recognise there are some strong own brands in the marketplace and one of the component parts of a foodservice solution to our members is having a strong and reliable point of reference on own brand.”

However, Landmark differs from a pure foodservice operator whose own brands are composed solely to satisfy a foodservice strategy. It already has a strong Caterer’s Kitchen range which is its cash and carry offer, and it has a range under the CK Foodservice brand, which is being developed to satisfy a foodservice agenda.

But developing catering and foodservice own brands in parallel within a mixed group is especially difficult, explains Searle. “It is setting us some challenges because as soon as you produce a product in the foodservice range which may sit within a member who runs both a foodservice and a cash and carry Features > Business, and you give them the option of both, the probability is they will refer to one, usually the cheaper one, which will be CK Foodservice. But we have taken decisions on product specification and those product specification issues could, potentially, impact on acceptability of product to someone who would otherwise buy Caterer’s Kitchen.” He says they are trying to strike a balance so they can run both brands in parallel.

He adds: “We are working on a comprehensive CK Foodservice strategy and that will be in ambient and frozen. We are not looking at fresh and chilled yet, but it will come. Our priority and focus is very much to drive the ambient and frozen proposition. It is purely about consolidating the best buying terms and ensuring continuity of offer, to give our customers a brand they have trust and confidence in and they come back for.”

In addition to developing its own foodservice strategy, Landmark is also asking its suppliers to adapt to its new priorities. Searle says: “A lot of suppliers do not understand the requirements of the foodservice sector and how different it is to the retail side. That is why we came up with this strategy.”

strategy and vision

The group held a meeting in December for all its suppliers at which it laid down its strategy and vision for the future of its business and what it was looking for from its supplier base. Searle says: “We pulled together about 250 suppliers to share our vision and our strategy with them and get them to understand that we need each supplier to have a unique strategy implementation for the three areas of our business: retail, catering and foodservice.”

“We don’t want them to come to us and say we are going to spend pound;100,000 with you this year. We want them to say we are going to spend pound;100,000 this year and this is how we are going to channel it into those agendas, these are our objectives and these are our core goals. That allows us to focus on those investment opportunities and how they get a return on that through the key areas.”

For example, he says, a supplier might previously have had a simple strategy of getting distribution through all cash and carries for retail. “But now we have a different promotional strategy for caterers to give them the return they want. Caterers are not going to thank you for a price-marked strategy. Foodservice might have a different SKU requirement. We do not just want to do the retail strategy.

“Suppliers have to inspect the opportunity and work with us to deliver it. We have enjoyed a lot of robust support but there are still people out there who have not yet recognised it.”

Landmark’s priority in foodservice, says Searle, is to consolidate the whole process of buying. “We need to deliver a national set of terms that brings together the total volume, to consolidate the buying within a core range.

“I was quite surprised how little consolidation of range there was when we looked at trying to allocate which brands we work with on a centralised strategy. We are working with suppliers to find how we take a range and get that distributed through as broad a base as we can.” It is a process that is complicated because each member has to be persuaded of the business case before agreeing to take a range.

When the range is complete Landmark will be in a position to offer national coverage to a potential foodservice customer. “At the moment that remains an aspiration,” says Saunders, “but the foodservice model we have in 12 months or 24 months from now will be radically different because we are moving at pace.”

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