JJ Foodservice Setting the pace for meeting customer needs

Celebrating its thirtieth year, national wholesaler JJ Foodservice is an independent foodservice specialist delivering across the UK to cafes, hotels, quick Service Restaurants, schools, local authorities and more. Technology is a major focus. With the majority of sales coming from orders placed online, JJ Foodservice has made online shopping easier with the launch of Fingerprint ID and One Tap Pay for the JJ app, available via smart phones and tablets. There is also a JJ Foodservice Mastercard.

Having launched its delivery time notification system in 2018, JJ Foodservice now offer caterers the ultimate convenience by sending Product Alerts with changes to orders included in the dispatch notification email. JJ Foodservice’s Chief Operating Officer, Mushtaque Ahmed spoke to Wholesale Manager.

“Our mission is to make sure our customers can shop with us in the quickest, easiest, most convenient way possible and my role is to ensure we deliver that. Using technology plays a large part and I work closely with our IT and Operations departments to develop innovative ways, front and back of house, to improve service to our customers.”

Mushtaque joined JJ Foodservice twenty-three years ago as one of the first team members. He emphasises the need for wholesalers to use the available tools to stay in front:

“Let’s face it, wholesale doesn’t have a great image when it comes to tech. We try not to compare ourselves to other wholesalers – instead, when we need inspiration, we look at the big businesses that are disrupting the way consumers shop. That’s why we introduced One Tap Payments, Fingerprint ID to check in and our new Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) feature, which lets customers know when their delivery is around the corner. Consumers expect this level of convenience when they order a product from Amazon, why should their shopping experience with a wholesaler be any different?”

“Our success is down to the loyalty of our customers,” says Mushtaque Ahmed, “the support from our supplier partners and the hard work of our strong, talented team.”

JJ Foodservice have their sights set on expansion, says Mushtaque: “We opened three new branches in 2016 in Leicester, Newcastle and Dagenham and they are all trading well, but for the next ones, finding the right location and warehouse takes time. Having a pipeline of talent to lead new branches is also important.”

Mushtaque and his colleagues are committed to incorporating diversity in the business: “We know diverse teams perform better, which is why we are supporting a greater diversity of applicants to apply for branch manager roles. Half the applicants for our last branch manager post were women, which is a record high and shows we’re on the right track.”

“At JJ’s we like our staff to really know our business inside out, which is why we have promoted many of our internal staff to more senior roles in the past year. Our senior leadership team is made up of people who started at JJ’s years ago in a variety of junior positions. There are a lot of opportunities in our business for people who want to take on more responsibility. If you have ambition, drive and heaps of energy, JJ is the place for you!”

Speaking of energy, with their vehicle fleet requiring a significant amount of fuel and energy, Mushtaque says JJ “see it as our duty as a responsible wholesaler to reduce our impact on the environment and promote healthier cities and communities. We are fully committed to conducting business in a way that impacts positively on the environment, society and the economy and have fully embraced the Low Emission Zone.” JJ have achieved a dramatic reduction in their carbon emissions, following an investment in the use of Telematics across the multi-temperature vehicle fleet. The project started in January 2018 and by August a 70% reduction in idling had been achieved, which will improve even further following JJ’s recent investment in new LEZ-compliant vehicles.

Health is another area JJ have been addressing: “We were proud to be the first UK wholesaler to support London’s Healthier Catering Commitment, after being asked by London Mayor Sadiq Khan to support fast food outlets to promote healthier options. We were originally asked to do this by former mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

“We launched a new ‘Healthier Eating’ brochure to highlight the fresh fruits, vegetables, whole foods and low-sugar soft drinks we sell, offering a 10% discount on the products in the brochure for 12 weeks. We printed 14,000 copies, distributed to fast food outlets in London. The initiative was well received and is still running today. It has now been followed with similar initiatives with local authorities in Brighton, called Healthy Choice and Luton & Essex, called Tuck In.”

JJ Foodservice have also been active in helping customers respond to the growth of Just Eat and Deliveroo with the launch of their restaurant website business, FOODit, which has helped put caterers online with their own online ordering websites and Apps.

“We launched the service back in 2012,” says Mushtaque. “The number of zero-star rated restaurants on some of the larger takeaway platforms has been widely publicised. One of our points of difference is that we support caterers on the platform to have a strong Food Hygiene Rating.”

In another initiative JJ Foodservice launched a new eco-packaging range in January 2018 to support the move towards more ‘climate friendly’ menus:

“Not every caterer is aware of the negative impact packaging can have on the environment, so we see it as our responsibility to raise awareness. We started selling just 70 cases a week but following heavy promotion of the category online, in print marketing, via the press and through our digital and social media channels, this has increased to 740 cases a week. We have hundreds of caterers shopping from the category, with ambitions to turn this into many thousands over the years.”

Eco-packaging is still a new concept for UK caterers, says Mushtaque, and will take time to be fully embraced:

“Eco-packaging means products are more expensive and there can be little margin involved, but we see it as our duty to convert our plastic packaging customers to using eco-products to promote sustainability. We have also increased our fresh fruits and vegetables ranges, which, together with partnerships such as the HCC, Healthy Choices and Tuck In, have helped us to grow our fresh produce sales.”

JJ are an Associate Member of Unitas and an Official Member of the National Federation of Fish Friers:

“We supply 15% of the UK’s fish and chip shop market and have plans to expand our reach even further. Our fish and seafood ranges have grown significantly over the past year to include many Frozen at Sea and Individually Quick Frozen options, including alternative varieties to popular species, such as Pollock, Pangasius and Tilapia. All our branches are MSC certified.”

JJ were the UK’s first wholesalers to offer online ordering back in 2008, says Mushtaque. More than 60% of orders are now placed on line, “which we are proud to say is more than any other UK wholesaler of our kind.”

JJ have encouraged caterers to move online with their Pay Online By Card promotion, offering discounts of up to 30% when caterers order and pay online by card. This initiative has increased the number of customers that order and pay online by 10% in just a few months: “Paying online by card helps to speed up the shopping process and means customers can beat the queues if they are collecting in branch. For deliveries, it means drivers can be on and off the premises much faster.”

JJ also have the Award-winning JJ Foodservice App, which has so far been downloaded more than 20,000 times: “At JJ Foodservice we look after customers from a variety of different sectors, backgrounds and ages, from their mid-twenties to mid-sixties. There is no ‘One Size Fits All’ approach, hence we cover all communication streams. Many of our telesales customers have been using us for 30 years – try telling them to order by App instead of picking up the phone! Meanwhile, younger customers are engaging with us on Instagram, Messenger and YouTube so we are very active on these platforms.”

Another service, the JJ Mastercard is supporting UK caterers with more than five million pounds worth of credit: “Whether it’s a new business looking for a financial boost, or an established restaurant looking to expand, we’re proud to be supporting thousands of caterers to keep their cash flowing.”

It doesn’t stop there. JJ Foodservice are launching two new events in 2020. The JJ Senior Leadership Conference is for JJ staff and supplier partners. Mushtaque Ahmed explains: “This is our first event to bring together our top management with key supplier partners and a handful of large customers to share our vision and align future strategies.”

The second event is the JJ Foodservice Women in Fish and Chips conference, the first of its kind to support women working in the fish and chip shop sector: “As a key supplier to this sector, we saw an opportunity to use our experience in events to support female shop owners and aspiring managers to develop their business networks and sample new products.”

Early confirmed speakers include the UK’s number one fish and chip shop, Krispies in Exmouth.

On the awards front, JJ were double winners at last year’s Federation of Wholesale Distributors Gold Medal Awards last year, receiving the ‘Service to Caterers’ and ‘Digital Innovation’ Gold Medals: “We are also finalists at this year’s IGD Awards, in the Supply Chain Excellence and E-Commerce Categories, and have been shortlisted at this year’s Foodservice Catey’s in the Supplier Excellence category.”

Finally, with Christmas coming up, Mushtaque Ahmed gives his predictions for the festive season: “We’ve seen increasing demand for vegan and vegetarian options across a range of different customer bases from restaurants and takeaways to schools and Universities. So don’t be surprised if more suppliers are expected to cater for more meat-free Christmas occasions.

“Increasing number of people may also want to eat out on Christmas day – an even more important reason to make sure Christmas menus cater for all. Whatever you put on your Christmas menu – whether it’s meat, fish, chicken or chickpeas – it’s vital that restaurants work with sustainable suppliers to ensure we can all enjoy Christmases for many years to come.”