Cotswold Fayre A “speciality” for fine foods

Fine food wholesaler Cotswold Fayre is set on a strategy to become the UK’s leading distribution and fulfilment solution for artisan products and has strengthened its team with the recent appointment of Andy Crumpton as New Business Development Manager.

In another step forward Cotswold Fayre is reducing its carbon footprint through various initiatives which will make it the first fine food wholesaler in the UK to be completely carbon-neutral. Paul Hargreaves, Cotswold Fayre’s Chief Executive spoke to Wholesale Manager.

Cotswold Fayre is going through an exciting period, says Paul Hargreaves:

“Currently the company is a hundred percent owned by me, but that’s changing soon. I am making an initial twenty percent of the company available for sale at a discounted rate to all employees. Not only is this a good reward for my hard-working team, but it will increase our productivity and profit even further. It is proven that employee-owned companies are more profitable and as time goes on, more of the company will be owned by the team.”

Cotswold Fayre has grown around 10% per annum for the past three years, says Paul: “Our main areas for growth are the chilled category and the small but growing business we do with artisan food for the premium national retailers.”

In a business where terminology can be vague, Paul describes artisan products as products made in relatively small batches, using the best ingredients and made by people who care about good food and with no shortcuts to make a quick profit. It’s Cotswold Fayre’s twentieth birthday this year and they cover the whole of the UK including islands and the island of Ireland. Cotswold Fayre aren’t actually based in the Cotswolds, says Paul, but there is a historical link:

“The reason for the name is because the business started when I brought products from the Cotswolds and sold them to delicatessens and farm shops in and around London, when I was living there. It seemed like a good name at the time, and maybe we should have changed it after a few years, but now we are too well-known to change. However, I do live in the Cotswolds and our HQ is in West Berkshire.”

Cotswold Fayre’s business model favours working with small producers who are fairly new to market, but have the aspiration and space to grow, says Paul:

“We are an ideal partner for these brands as we supply the majority of the speciality food independent retailers as well as the premium end of the supermarket world. Collaboration is the key word for our supplier relationships and for the brands for which we are the exclusive distribution partner, we want them to feel that our sales team is their sales team.”

Paul says Andy Crumpton’s appointment as New Business Development Manager will help Cotwold Fayre move forwards:

“We’re increasingly moving to supplying premium supermarkets with artisan products. Often the national retailers want some of these brands in-store but find dealing with them challenging. Consolidating these brands into fewer deliveries is is better for the planet. This is the area Andy is working on and starting to see success.”

Cotswold Fayre currently list around 350 suppliers, says Paul. Around 80 are exclusive to them and these are what the sales team concentrate on selling, amounting to around 3,000 products across all ambient categories and chilled:

“We are actually increasing the chilled range but have decreased the ambient range by around ten percent over the last two years.”

Cotswold Fayre’s aim is to stock the best of British and Irish food, says Paul, and only bring brands in from outside the UK where there isn’t an equivalent British product. Currently around 20-25% of the range is imported, mainly from Europe with a few brands from the USA. Paul says Brexit has had no effect so far on the speciality food business, apart from nervousness from some customers about “no deal,” which affects their optimism:

“This is most obvious with our Irish customers. If Brexit happens, with a customs union and free trade agreement, there will be little impact on the speciality food sector. If there is a ‘no deal’ I imagine more customers will gravitate to British brands and we are well suited to service them.”

Compared to when Paul started the business 20 years ago, the speciality food sector is many times larger now, but is still a very small part of the food and drink industry as a whole:

“Consumers care much more now about what they put in their mouths, but this is still a relatively small, affluent sector of the population. Even so, I believe the speciality food sector has helped lift the quality of food generally – just look at the supermarket shelves now compared to twenty years ago, and Cotswold Fayre would like to take a small part of the credit for that.”

The UK’s leading event dedicated to the speciality sector is the Speciality & Fine Food Fair, which takes place at Olympia in London every September. The show is central to Cotswold Fayre’s business plan, says Paul:

“We have exhibited at the show since it started, and this year we shared our twentieth birthday. I am an official ambassador for the show and Cotswold Fayre takes more space than any other exhibitor, more than Scotland, Wales and Ireland!

“The joy of speciality food is that retailers are always very keen to stock the latest products and latest trends. Not all the trends are here to stay, but if you don’t try, you won’t find out. Gluten-free is still big, as is veganism, and the younger generations are more interested in quality than their elders.”

So what is the big deal with speciality foods? Paul Hargreaves has a clear view:

“Artisan products’ particular attractions to consumers are their traceability and provenance. With the various food scandals over the past few years, such as the horsemeat scandal, knowing where a product is made, by who and with what ingredients, is growingly important to consumers. Discernment is required, however, as there are multi-nationals out there creating fake artisan brands, where the quality isn’t much different to their mass-produced products.”

Consumers are happy to pay more for fine food because of the perceived quality, than was the case over 20 years ago, says Paul, but it’s still the privilege of the affluent:

“My dream would be to see better quality products being more affordable for the whole population. Generally food is much cheaper in the UK than elsewhere in Europe and while we have that expectation, manufacturers will produce poor quality products with low quality ingredients.”

All Cotswold Fayre’s products are free from artificial ingredients and they stock a wide range of vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free and low sugar products from different parts of the country:

“‘Local’ has sometimes become synonymous with artisan,” explains Paul. “I would define local as food produced within thirty miles of the retailer. We would always encourage our customers to buy as much local produce as they can, but there will always be gaps in their range, and that’s where we come in with quality products from a little further away.”

With Christmas coming up, the festive season is a massive peak for Cotswold Fayre, says Paul Hargreaves, and food gifting is a fast-growing part of the scenario:

“We produce a separate Christmas catalogue and nearly all of the sales team’s time between May and August is spent selling in the Christmas ranges.We run events all over the country in early summer, where customers can see and taste the whole range and meet the producers who are making the products. It’s important for speciality food retailers that they make the most of this important time of year and Cotswold Fayre is generally acknowledged to have the best seasonal range within the sector.”

As well as their commitment to being the UK’s leading distribution and fulfilment solution for artisan products, another point of difference to Cotswold Fayre is that they are a ‘B-corporation.’ Paul Hargreaves explains what this means:

“B Corps are companies that have changed their Articles of Association to exist, not just for the benefit of their share-holders, but to benefit all stake-holders, that is their employees, suppliers, the planet, the local community and the world community. Businesses for the past two hundred years have generally had a negative impact on the world and it is time to change that. B Corps are businesses that have been measured on how good they are for the world via the rigorous B Corp assessment.”

There are currently 200 B Corps in the UK and around 15 of these are food businesses:

“Put another way, business has traditionally all been about profit and that is how success for business has been measured. Our quarterly and annual measurements still measure profit but also impact on people and planet, the 3Ps. And these three are held as equals.”

Paul Hargreaves is so passionate that this ethical focus is the way forward for business that he wrote a book, called “Forces for Good,” which was published earlier this year, to encourage more businesses to adopt this new modus operandi:

“The interesting conclusion in the book is that businesses that care about people and the planet actually, long-term, are more likely to be more profitable!”

Paul Hargreaves believes Cotswold Fayre is the first fine food wholesaler in the UK to be completely carbon-neutral:

“To date, most of our retail customers haven’t been interested in reducing the carbon impact of how their goods arrive in their stores. But times are changing rapidly, and we believe the climate emergency will force retailers to be more responsible. All wholesalers stand to benefit as the consolidation of goods reduces lorries on the road, but as a carbon-neutral wholesaler, we stand to benefit even more, and so will the planet, as we grow!”

With all this in place, Paul Hargreaves can only see good growth and continued success for the company over the next few years:

“Unlike some other wholesalers within the sector, Cotswold Fayre trades profitably and has good ethics and environmentalism at the heart of our business. We have led by example in the sector and will continue to do so.”