Bidfood The Doctor will see you now

Dr Andrew Kemp FIH, Bidfood’s long-serving Group Sales and Marketing Director, was awarded an MBE in The Queen’s Birthday Honours list, announced in June. The official announcement said the award was in recognition of his outstanding services to the foodservice and hospitality industry, but Dr Kemp, who prefers to be called Andy, insists that no-one was more surprised than him about the honour.

Before Andy came to Bidfood, he worked at Booker on their free trade business and from there he launched First For Service, Booker’s total quality initiative. He then became Sales & Marketing Director, then MD, of Universe Foods, an international sales and marketing business with brands including Lo Salt, Sharwood’s and Lee Kum Kee.

Andy’s Bidfood involvement began in 2000 when Fred Barnes, then Booker Foodservice Chief Executive, was heading up an MBO and invited him to be Sales Director of the business, known then as 3663, later renamed as Bidvest and then Bidfood. “Booker Foodservice had previously traded on price but weren’t overly focused on customer service,” Andy recalls. “When we set up our new business we started again, creating an organisation that put the customer first.”

Becoming customer-focused involved a deep-rooted change, says Andy: “With the help of a training company, Silent Edge, we ran a programme, The Critical Mile, which helped our team to look at customers’ requirements. We identified that critical knowledge of the customer was 20% of our required skill set and we set ourselves the goal of achieving it. After a two-year transition we had a massive body of new skills and our business was much enriched.”

Twenty years on, as Group Sales and Marketing Director Andy still spends 70% of his time with customers: “We have a massive portfolio, with dedicated teams for each sector.

In education for example, we’re fully aware of how the sector operates and the tendering system, and similarly with care homes and hotels. It’s a major change from how people did things in the wholesaling world of the old days.”

Andy says the Bidfood board have backed him from the start over his plans to improve the business. He remains determined to keep the improvements coming. For him the bottom line is, he has to believe customers really will do better if they go through Bidfood: “We’re here to provide a service. We need to be competitive yet always looking at where and how to add value.”

The biggest change in the Bidfood business over the years, says Andy, is twofold – the quality of food and the level of customer understanding. Turning back to the education sector, Andy says with these customers Bidfood address such critical aspects as sugar and salt reduction and ensuring they provide high quality food:

“Food in primary schools is a matter of educating children. It’s hard to contemplate, but many school age children in this country are living in poverty.”

Looking at the wider picture, the high street has globalised: “there’s no question the UK has the best choice of food in the world. Consumers these days are open to vegan, flexitarian, you name it. There’s an explosion of quality food in pubs and restaurants.”

Like everyone else in wholesaling, Bidfood are watching the macro food trends, in particular what Andy calls ‘good for me, good for you’: “People are looking at what they are eating and what they’re doing to the planet. We’ve responded to the boom in plant based and have around 200 vegan products, including more recently banana blossom which makes a fantastically convincing vegan fish and chips dish. We’re seeing a trend towards gourmet get-togethers and we are confident people will go on dining together and enjoying good food. Meat and dairy are still very important,” Andy insists, “but there’s a movement to a good, healthy, balanced diet.”

Bidfood – a broad offer Bidfood now offer more than 13,000 products in total, says Andy: “Generally wholesaling was about frozen, ambient and long-life chilled. Now we have a much broader package, more rounded and more relevant, and we’re seeing more demand as a result.”

Bidfood have 23 sites around the UK, soon to be 24, so customers are never more than 80 miles from a depot, offering local service and locally sourced products. Bidfood offer 70% branded products and 30% own brand, and work in partnership with the major brands.

Bidfood also own various manufacturing operations including Yarde Farm, an artisan ice cream maker in Devon. Yarde Farm’s sales have grown 148% in the last year, says Andy, and they are listed in all British Airways lounges in the UK. Bidfood also own the Black & White coffee business.

Completing the package Bidfood also offer catering equipment and service from their regional sites, and can deliver most orders the following day. The digital revolution and the need for businesses to reduce their environmental impact are two external factors that have impacted on Bidfood over the years. On the digital front, national contracts account for 69% of Bidfood’s trading, says Andy, and close to 70% is now done electronically, giving customers total control and instant understanding. In the other part of Bidfood’s business, the free trade sector, covering pure independents and free trade multiples, around 24% of orders are placed electronically, reflecting the continuing importance here of the telesales operation and the local field sales teams.

Bidfood started their green journey in 1999, when they put their green ethos in place. Since then they have been offering healthy and more sustainably sourced products, reducing their environmental impact, empowering Bidfood people with a Sustainability Coordinator in each depot and getting involved in national and local initiatives:

“We encourage people to contribute across the business and look at how to take action. We’re also promoting good health and well-being and encouraging employees to look at their lifestyles. As a company we are aligned to eleven of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and we’re focused on reducing food waste and emissions as well as recycling, reducing and re-using plastic.

We have partnerships with other organisations such as WRAP: our freezers use ammonia as a coolant instead of CFCs and our depots supply energy back to the grid. We’re even capturing rainwater to wash our lorries.”

Speaking of lorries, Andy says, “We have no issues with suppliers backhauling. Having so many depots reduces food miles, as does putting everything on one truck. We train our drivers to drive their lorries more efficiently and the majority of our fleet meets the Euro VI standard.”

Back in 2015, Bidfood launched plate2planet, an industry portal which enables other foodservice businesses to share. In 2018 Bidfood published their CSR report which picked up a Planet Mark award, and also launched their new three-year sustainability strategy Food for the Future, changing the way they manage their sustainability agenda.

Social issues are another area where Bidfood has stepped up its activity, says Andy.

“Our gender pay gap is 3.34% (at the mean level), which means that on average our male employees are paid slightly more than our female employees. Although our figures are below the UK average which is 9%, we certainly recognize that we still have work to do to close the pay gap, and we are also actively working to encourage and empower women in our business, ensuring that they have a voice in decision-making at all levels.”

Andy sits on the One & All Foundation, the industry charity which looks at all areas of diversity and inclusion in the hospitality industry. Talking of inclusivity, Andy says Bidfood have no issues on sexuality or gender, and the workforce includes trans employees. As a company Bidfood are committed to supporting staff members’ health and well-being, offering counselling and other support.

Some of the initiatives we are supporting include diversity awareness training, inclusive policies and external partnerships to support social change. Having talked about the wider world of Bidfood, the conversation returns to where we began, how Andy became Dr Andrew Kemp MBE:

“I’ve done a lot of things outside the day job. It started when I worked with Springboard UK, the charity that makes foodservice the first career choice for young offenders and improves their career prospects with its Future Chef and IntoWork programmes.”

Andy has been on the Springboard UK board for 20 years, engaging young people with hundreds of companies, with some major successes. He has also worked very closely with the Clink, who also encourage offenders to come into hospitality:

“I have no problem helping these young people, they just need to be encouraged. The first step is to respect yourself. You’ve got to use everything – you can make it.”

Andy was also involved in the campaign to retain universal freeschool meals. He plays down what he has achieved, but acknowledges that “When you’re a personality in this industry, you get asked if you can help. I have a very large team and can motivate individuals and big names and ask for their support. Like most industry charities, I got involved in the parliamentary campaign to retain universal free school meals because I believed in it. I didn’t shout about going to Parliament, I contacted my MP. Kids who come to school hungry won’t retain anything. This is reality – people can either forget it or deal with it.”

Andy remains modest about getting his MBE: “No-one was more surprised than I was. I have everything in life, a great job, my health, my family and grandchildren, but sometimes I feel I should do something to help others, and that’s what it comes down to. I would also say, I’m thrilled how much other people are prepared to help, if you tell them what life is about for the people who need support.”

As we end our conversation Andy says there’s still more to do: “I shall probably go on being engaged in helping people, until I draw my last breath! There’s the environment: there’s the need to be open and honest against all levels of prejudice: and there will always be disadvantaged people and communities. It isn’t just about money. There are always more things you can do.”