Who’s who in Wholesaling Gary Mullineux, Caterforce Buying group brings more to the foodservice table

Foodservice buying and marketing group, Caterforce, recently appointed Gary Mullineux as the company’s Managing Director.

Gary, who was appointed interim MD in September 2019 after previous MD, Nick Redford, announced he would leave the role in December 2019, has been given the position on a full-time basis and will be responsible for shaping Caterforce’s vision for 2020 and beyond. Gary spoke to Wholesale Manager.

Congratulations on your new role. Who will you have with you on the senior team?

Thank you, I’m looking forward to the challenge and continuing the growth of Caterforce. My senior team is made up of an individual from each department. Clare Greensmith is our Financial Controller, Kelly Orme, Matt Leyland and Peter Saunders are our Senior Buyers and Claire Williams is Marketing Manager. We’re a small management group, so it’s very much a team effort.

You’ve been in purchasing most of your career, including eight years at Makro. What were you doing before you went to Makro?

After finishing my degree in Manufacturing, I worked in the hospitality industry for a couple of years. I then got a job working for (what was knows at the time as) Consignia (AKA Royal Mail). I worked there for several years in the cash logistics division before joining Makro as an Invoice Control Team Leader. To cut a long story short, my wife applied for the job for me whilst I was on a skiing holiday with friends and she now takes full credit for my entire career. Not a Christmas meal goes by without Denise reminding everyone of this fact.

How big is Caterforce now?

The Caterforce Group is made up of seven of the biggest wholesalers in the UK and whilst we’re low in numbers, we’re high in turnover. The group is made up of 2,751 members of staff, 23 depots, 13 cash & carry and food outlets, and 584 vehicles delivering 701,659 cases per week.

Who are the leading members?

The group is in an extremely healthy position and all our members offer extensive product ranges, excellent service and meet customer demand. However, each has its own strengths that in turn makes the group stronger. For example, Lynas now has eight outlet stores and a successful online ordering system. Castell Howell has its own cash & carry store and an extremely active CSR programme. Hunt’s Foodservice has just opened its first food outlet store. Philip Dennis Foodservice offers a bespoke butchers and fishmongers as well as a large emphasis on its CSR activity. Pioneer has recently opened a new retail foodstore complete with coffee shop. Pilgrim Foodservice offers bespoke butchery and fresh prep services and JB Foods has a huge range of artisan products sourced from local produce and suppliers.

Which areas of the UK do you cover? Any particular parts of foodservice you’re stronger on?

We have national coverage and believe there is significant opportunity for growth in the North West and South East. We have a very diverse customer base, which has historically been dominated by pubs and restaurants as our biggest buyer, however, this year coffee shops, and cafes have overtaken those traditional markets and we’re seeing huge growth opportunities in this area. Restaurants, pubs and hotels continue to be strong and our members have a lot of customers in the education sector with a growth of 32% in the last two years. We’re also doing more in the healthcare space, and this has grown by over 26%.

Do you cover all the wholesale categories – food: produce, fresh, chilled, frozen: catering equipment and supplies? What about drinks? Alcohol and tobacco? Which categories are growing fastest?

Across the group we cover all those categories, although not all members have licences to sell alcohol. Since 2011, we have seen continuous growth across both chilled and fresh produce. However, ambient is growing at a rapid rate for us and we’re predicting it to be our biggest category by 2021. Frozen is still key to what we do though, and where we originated from, but we know we need to be competent across the board and will continue to grow our offering with big opportunities in non-food and fresh.

What do you see as the biggest trends in foodservice?

The fastest growth is set to come from value and convenience-led channels, such as fast food, coffee, sandwich and bakery shops and travel sites. I read recently that a third of meals are now bought to go and it is estimated that the Food-To-Go market will be worth £23.5 Billion by 2022.

Breakfast is up 3% YOY with consumers looking to healthier grab and go options, instead of the full English breakfasts. The demand for breakfast and brunch is twice as strong for millennials so that’s a focus for us.

Veganism is still rising and probably the biggest growth trend we’re seeing at the moment. MCA has reported that the total number of main dishes flagged as vegan on menus has increased 54.8% to 178* and vegetable protein in main course dishes has increased 44% year-on-year. We can see customers are continuing to innovate and develop new dishes with meat-free alternatives to satisfy vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians. Vegans and vegetarians look set to make up a quarter of the British population in 2025, and flexitarians just under half of all consumers.

*MCA Insight Menu & Food Trends Report 2019.

Sustainability is also a key topic for consideration as more awareness of the environment means consumers are more engaged in environmental initiatives and are looking for eating establishments to be more responsible. Consumers want to know where their food has come from and want quality, locally sourced ingredients. They are also looking for more seasonal produce on a menu and that is a great way to support local producers and lower the environmental impact. Reducing single use plastic and opting for biodegradable packaging is also something consumers are looking for. HIM MCA Hot Topics report from January 2019 found that 56% of consumers are more likely to visit a venue based on sustainability credentials.

How digital is Caterforce as a business?

Currently six out of our seven members have an online ordering app, which has led to approximately 16% of customers ordering online. When we look at this compared to the overall foodservice market, we know there is more we need to do to promote our digital services and it’s a huge focus for this year. We launched a new project at the end of 2019 which has a particular emphasis on the use of digital technology and we’ve already seen some strong results from it. Our marketing team is extremely active when it comes to supporting members with digital projects as we’re aiming to create greater awareness, engagement and increase opportunities with core suppliers in the digital space.

Do you offer any sort of IT support for your members?

As well as the support offered by our marketing team, we have an online portal for members that allows them access to central information such as master price lists and product information. We’ll be working with all our members across the year to find ways of improving our IT and technology as well as efficiencies across the group.

What’s the history of Caterforce?

Caterforce was established in 1991 under the name NIFFWA with two founding members, Hunt’s and Philip Dennis Foodservice, who are still part of the group today. In 1992 Pioneer Foods joined and the name Caterforce was registered. Five years later we expanded further when Pilgrim joined, and they were swiftly followed by Lynas in 1998. The final two members to become part of Caterforce were JB Foods in 2004 and Castell Howell in 2012.

You’ve been at Caterforce since 2011. How has the business changed since then?

Ways of working have significantly improved. For one, we no longer send memos. The biggest change is the ‘buy in’ from the members. Their trust and commitment to Caterforce is second to none. Members were doing their own thing and going off in different directions, and it’s fair to say we are now pulling in the same direction which is testament to the team at Caterforce and members. Our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and we embrace this unique position.

We are also working real time. Previously there was a big delay between the opportunity and implementation. Now, we can turn things around in hours, one-week max. This allows us to give a return to suppliers and deliver tangible results.

How does Caterforce work as a buying group now?

We are really proud to support seven of the largest independent wholesalers in the UK. Each of our members are family run businesses with family values at their core. Each of our members owns an equal share of the business and we’re completely transparent, so every penny made goes back to the members. The Caterforce board is made up of a Director from each member, which is unique to us as a buying group.

At Caterforce, we work as a link between our wholesalers and suppliers to deliver real value to our members. As a group, we share knowledge and best practice and our strategic business model enables us to harness group synergies in the most effective way. We have centralised group pricing and terms for both branded and own brand suppliers as well as centrally negotiated promotional plans. We work closely with suppliers to build joint business plans to deliver growth to our members and support their expansion plans.

We have an award-winning own brand label, Chefs’ Selections which is currently worth £52m. The range has just under 400 products and is a key focus for Caterforce in 2020. At the end of 2019, we launched our own range of coffee, Roast 440, and in February 2020 we will be launching our new own brand cleaning range, ProClean.

Caterforce has an in-house marketing team who work closely to support the member marketing teams and work with suppliers to support and promote NPD. From printed price lists and promotional leaflets to email campaigns, social media support and market insight, our service is ever changing to suit the member’s needs.

The in-house photography studio; Flavour Photography is a great addition to the marketing team and gives our members, and suppliers, the opportunity to have high-quality, bespoke, exclusive photography.

What’s different about Caterforce for suppliers and customers, compared to other buying groups?

Caterforce has a fully transparent model where all revenue is visible to the members. 50% of our central resource is dedicated to marketing. We are continually striving to offer more for our members, to deliver more effective and measurable solutions, and of course, results.

Do you work with smaller suppliers to bring them on?

Definitely. We work closely with our suppliers in a way that benefits everyone, right down to our individual customers. We work with them to support their growth plans and obviously deliver growth to our members. All our members have come from small business so understand the differences between corporate companies and start-ups.

Are you looking for more members? Do you have awards for depots and staff? What about for suppliers?

Memberships of buying groups will always ebb and flow, and we will always be reviewing our position in the market to ensure we’re structured correctly for the future.

In the last 12 months, our staff have won a number of awards across the group, including:

• Kelly Orme, Group Buying Manager, Caterforce – Technical Champion, BFFF People Awards 2019

• Thomas Hunt, Operations Director, Hunt’s Foodservice – Operations Manager of the Year, BFFF People Awards 2019

• Kathryn Jones, Sales & Marketing Director, Castell Howell – Women in Wholesale’s Women of the Year award 2019

We have recently been shortlisted for:

• Jadie Carter, Marketing Manager, Hunt’s – Rising Star, BFFF People Awards 2020

• Philip Parker, Procurement Director, Pilgrim – Lifetime Achievement Award, BFFF People Awards 2020

We have also won awards for our own brand Chefs’ Selections range.

In terms of supplier awards, we hold our own Caterforce awards at our biennial conference which was held on 14th November 2019 at The Celtic Manor Resort.

The supplier awards are about recognising the hard work and commitment our suppliers put in throughout the year and it’s a great chance for us to award those across the group who have showcased the best innovations, service, support and product excellence. The supplier awards are voted for by all seven members and Caterforce.

How important do you think it is in wholesaling to promote good people internally?

We place a large amount of emphasis on training and development at Caterforce and across our membership group. A lot of our employees have been here a long time and we always look to develop people and create opportunities so that we can promote internally where possible. I am a good example of this – having been at Caterforce for eight years, I started as a buyer, was promoted to Purchasing Director and more recently made the step up to Managing Director. We are a relationship business and it’s important that we continue to build on our relationships within our group and with suppliers and people within the industry.

What are your expectations for 2020?

We invested time and money at the end of 2019 to ensure we have the right team in place not only for 2020 but to make sure we are fit for purpose for future growth.

We have identified our strategic priorities for 2020 and feel that focusing on these key areas will enable us to offer a better service to our members and suppliers:

• Grow our own brands

• Technology

• Communication and ways of working

Our vision is to become the leading foodservice buying group for independent delivered wholesalers. Dedicated to providing a high-quality service and committed to adding value and supporting our members. I’m extremely excited about the year ahead for Caterforce and my role as Managing Director.