Paul Knight recently joined leading foodservice wholesaler Thomas Ridley as Sales Director, following a 30-year career spent mainly working for Bidfood and latterly as MD of Bidvest’s Catering Equipment Division for 15 years.

What attracted Knight to Thomas Ridley was the fact that it is family owned.

The company believes in local suppliers and customers will always find products within its offering from UK and local suppliers.

Paul Knight tells Wholesale Manager about the biggest trends in foodservice and about how the company’s waste food is converted into energy.

How is Thomas Ridley set up in terms of a local depot network?

Our headquarters and main distribution facilities are based in our home town of Bury St Edmunds. We work on a hub and spoke system with a secondary distribution centre based in Kent, between our two sites, we have the ability to deliver on a next day basis to around 70% of the population of the UK. We also have a state-of-the-art e-commerce site that allows us to deliver orders nationally.

How much of your business is done online? Do you offer an app for customers to use?

E-commerce has been a huge focus for us and our award-winning website really is an industry leading site that offers ease of ordering for both our key accounts and for guests, as well as being a source of knowledge and inspiration. When the pandemic hit, we were able to continue to service our customers and take on new accounts both B2B and B2C due to our website and our integration with a national courier network. Around 70% of our business is online and as our site works across any device, it’s an easy option for our customers.

How ‘green’ is Thomas Ridley as a company? What’s your approach to food waste and packaging? How ‘green’ is your logistics?

All businesses create waste, but it’s what we do with it that sets us apart. 99% of our waste is diverted from landfill and we have worked hard to develop our business in order to deliver additional benefits for our customers. As examples; food waste is converted into energy which is returned to the national grid, and we have 400 solar panels on our main warehouse which help to power our cold storage. These panels save approximately 21 tonnes of CO2 being produced from burning fossil fuels. Our company cars are also either hybrid or electric.

In 2015, we invested in new cardboard and plastic compactors and baler machines. This enabled us to offer our customers a free plastic and cardboard collection service, baling the waste back at our depot ready for recycling. Tackling waste throughout the supply chain is important to us and our recycling partner, ACM, aims for 100% diversion from landfill by specialising in identifying the ideal destinations for waste materials to be recycled. In 2019, we recycled 150 tonnes of cardboard and 15 tonnes of plastic.

As a company how are you addressing ‘social’ issues such as equal opportunity, diversity and mental health?

The last 18 months has elevated the importance of mental health and we have put in place a health care scheme that gives our team access to independent counselling in addition to the support received by Hospitality Action.

Where have you worked prior to joining Thomas Ridley and what roles have you had?

Foodservice is in my blood! I’ve worked in this industry for my entire career, starting as a territory manager for Bookers and then spending time with Bidfood in the Baltics and Spain. The last 15 years have been spent as the MD for Bidfood Catering Supplies.

What will your new role involve day to day?

My main priority is to maintain strong relationships our customers, understanding their needs and helping them to achieve their business goals. I’ve been working closely with our marketing and e-commerce team on our solution to Natasha’s Law and communicating this to our accounts is a priority. Continuing to support and develop our amazing sales and key account team is key for me, and as a sales team, we work hard to keep ahead of the market trends and ensure we are always going the extra mile for our customers.

Who has inspired and encouraged you in your career?

I have been incredibly lucky to work with three amazing CEOs, all industry leaders and I’ve learnt so much from them; Fred Barnes, Alex Fisher and Andrew Selley. I think the person who has influenced my career the most would be Steve Rich, Operations Director at Creed Foodservice, just an inspirational leader who taught me so much.

Looking back, what have been the biggest changes you’ve seen in the UK foodservice industry over the years?

Being an industry stalwart, I can remember the impact of multi-temperature deliveries and how this transformed the industry. The other huge change was e-commerce, it really revolutionised how we do business and that’s why Thomas Ridley has put so much emphasis on this area, to ensure that we offer the best service to our customers. Ordering online has improved communications as well as increasing speed and flexibility – it really has been a game changer for foodservice. The other big area that the sector has started to address is the environment, how we tackle each element of our business and the impact of our footprint. More recently, I think we will be working through the implications of the pandemic on the industry for some time to come.

In your present role do you personally go out to meet customers?

I’ve literally just arrived back in the office from seeing a customer! Meeting with customers is my ‘day job’, it’s what I love doing and getting closer to them and their businesses is what drives me. There’s going to be a bit of a transition back to face-to-face meetings and we have learnt so much from doing business via Microsoft Teams that we want to keep the efficiencies from doing business this way, but meeting in person is always great and allows us to build really close working relationships.

How would you sum up Thomas Ridley as a business? What makes you different as a foodservice wholesaler?

Since joining the team, I’ve been struck by the closeness and friendliness of this business. We are a family run company with family values, and that is incredibly powerful as it engages our team internally and drives us to achieve. We believe in supporting local suppliers and you will always find products within our offering from UK and local businesses. We also recognise that there are a lot of small operators within the economy, family run cafes and pubs as an example, and we offer them guest access to our website so they can order smaller quantities of the products they need. We provide everything for a large school, care home or restaurant through to a small café and they are all important to us. It’s this type of approach that really sets us apart.

What are the biggest food and drink product trends you’re currently seeing in foodservice and how are you responding to them and being proactive about anticipating further developments?

Reducing menu complexity, margin improvement and waste reduction are some of the biggest business trends we are seeing at the moment. Add to this the health and wellbeing trend which includes vegan and vegetarian products and operators have a lot on their plate! Our key account team can advise on menu design and this will also help with margin improvements as well as keeping up with the trend for more vegan and vegetarian recipes. For waste reduction, our food waste and packaging recycling schemes are industry leading and there is more to come from us in this area.

How big is your product range, and what proportion of your products are own brand versus supplier branded?

We carry over 10,000 product lines from more than 600 suppliers. Local and regional suppliers are important to us and we help them to grow via a route to market and a platform for them to showcase their products. Around 20% of our products are Country Range, with a wide selection of frozen, ambient and chilled. Thomas Ridley really is a one-stop-shop for the foodservice industry, we provide everything; the big brands, the staple ingredients, packaging for takeaway, new and unique products from local suppliers and our Christmas catalogue has to be seen to be believed!


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