Hunt’s Foodservice Catering to the region’s requirements

Hunt’s Foodservice is based in Sherborne, Dorset and covers the South and South West of England. Part of the Caterforce foodservice buying group, it was established over 75 years ago and remains family owned.

Hunt’s hold dear to the visions and guiding principles established by their founder, Michael Hunt, who committed to putting the customer first by building a true partnership based upon trust and integrity. Still managed by members of Michael’s family, Hunt’s Foodservice stays focused on providing world class service with a strong local understanding. Richard Hunt, Managing Director, spoke to Wholesale Manager.

Richard was appointed MD in 2005, and is supported by a senior management team, which includes the Sales Director, Operations Director, Finance Director, Purchasing Director and Engineering Director, who oversee the day-to-day running of the business. It’s a professional operation but the family atmosphere is key, says Richard:

“I really enjoy working in the family business. I am also a dairy farmer and have only ever worked in a family business environment; I love it. My staff enjoy the ethos, so I think it’s a business model that works well. My son, Thomas Hunt, also works for the business and runs the operations department. He has been involved for the past five years, and previously worked in the warehouse during school holidays when he was at college. Since joining Hunt’s, Thomas has worked in our stores, butchery, telesales and logistics departments. This combination has given him the skills and expertise to change processes and increase operational efficiency.”

Hunt’s annual turnover is £95 million, which is sizeable, but the business is still firmly local in its approach: “Being a local business is one of the reasons we have a lot of customers in our area. Our USP of being ‘just around the corner’ makes us more approachable and a first choice for many customers. Where possible, we support local too. We supply local products and support local farmers, growers and manufacturers, and this is definitely something our customers are looking for. As a dairy farmer myself, I am always keen to support local producers.”

The last couple of years have been eventful for wholesalers, especially with Tesco buying Bookers. Richard Hunt and his colleagues are vigilant:

“Tesco’s purchase of Bookers hasn’t affected the business, however it is potentially a threat to us and something we need to consider when making plans for the future. The last two years’ trading has been strong and was boosted by the great weather we had, especially during the Easter break and May Bank Holidays. An increasing number of Brits had a ‘staycation’, which boosted the foodservice market here in the South West.”

Hunt’s is part of Caterforce, which Richard Hunt is enthusiastic about: “Being part of Caterforce is great for our business. As a group we learn from each other, and all members share knowledge and best practice. We get business support from head office, other members and the buying and marketing teams, which is a huge benefit to us. It’s also great for customers to have access to a quality own brand, such as Chefs’ Selections, and its growing product range.”

With a sales mix of about 60% foodservice and 40% retail, Hunt’s is traditionally a foodservice business, says Richard, but the balance is shifting: “The combination of our available product range, the business support we offer to customers and the regional retail franchises working closer with us means that the retail share is starting to increase.”

Hunt’s offer retail and catering butchery, frozen foods, chilled, ambient, impulse ice cream and catering ice cream: “The main product trends have been vegan, free from, organic and non-GMO, which are all making appearances in our range and selling really well.”

Hunt’s currently have around 14,000 products in total for customers to order: “We have a vast number of product categories available to customers, with everything from frozen vegetables to fresh dairy, vegan meat alternatives and compostable disposables. Category values fluctuate due to Hunt’s being a very seasonal business. However, during the summer months ice cream and soft drinks are the most popular categories.”

Drinks are also a significant part of the portfolio, says Richard: “we sell a vast range of soft drinks and this is something that we have seen grow over the past few years. In terms of alcohol, we have just been awarded an alcohol licence and we’re thinking about launching some local wine and craft beer brands to react to local demand.”

Completing the picture, Hunt’s offer catering sundries such as utensils and cleaning products and ice-cream is a popular seller: “It’s probably easier to list the ice cream products we don’t stock, we supply most.”

On the sales front, Hunts have 25 field salespeople and around 30 telesales operators plus a team of office-based account managers. They produce separate printed brochures every month for foodservice and retail and run customer events every year before the season kicks off for the South West, usually in February. Digital is an increasingly important part of the sales mix, says Richard:

“A key focus for our operations team is to modernise our systems and processes in order to increase warehouse efficiency. Digital is most definitely an area of growth for us as it is for every business now, so we are continually expanding our online operations. Currently, around 10% of orders are placed using our online ordering system and we are placing a large amount of emphasis on increasing that number moving forward.”

95% of Hunt’s products are available to order for next day delivery and they have 140 delivery vehicles on the road. Hunt’s take their environmental impact very seriously, says Richard:

“We continue to monitor driver behaviour with technology to reduce carbon emissions on our fleet, we recycle as much packaging as possible at head office and have specific food waste disposal.”

As women’s representation in wholesale grows, Hunt’s are leading the field:

“Our Chairman is my auntie Mrs Sybil Hunt, who is ninety-nine years old, and still plays an active role in the business and the direction in which we are heading. She is a great inspiration for other women in wholesale or within business as a whole! The majority of our middle-management team are female too.”

Hunt’s support a number of local projects including donating ice cream and barbeque food to school fetes or fundraising events: “We also have a nominated charity we support each year and get staff involved with fundraising activities. Last year we raised over £9,000 for the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance. My staff even persuaded me to run an 8km muddy obstacle race on a soggy October Saturday in aid of charity.”

Hunt’s are active members of the FWD and BFFF, and are well placed for the future.

“We are a very well-known regional brand,” Richard Hunt concludes. “However, there are still opportunities within the South West for us to take advantage of. So we are focusing on our existing customers and looking to grow even further within our existing area.”