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Food company creates 16 new jobs after sizzling summer

David Cattrall, managing director of Harlech Foodservice. Picture Mandy Jones

A food distribution company has created 16 jobs after achieving record sales over the summer with demand for burgers going through the roof.

Harlech Food Service, based in Criccieth and Chester, say easier online purchasing, fixed pricing with competitive prices on key lines and the UK Government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme all played a part in the increase.

Overall, turnover by the end of August was 4.7 per cent higher than last year while there was a meaty 385 per cent growth in demand for burgers with 130,000 of them being sold.

At the same time there was a dramatic increase in online ordering via the company’s website and app – up from 15 per cent to 44 per cent of the overall total.

According to Harlech Foodservice, customers who order digitally spend £74 more on average than when they buy by calling the telesales team.

The good news was announced by new managing director David Cattrall who is aiming to add another £20 million to the turnover over the next five years.

The reversal of fortune is dramatic after the company suffered a massive drop in business earlier this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Cattrall, who is approaching his first 100 days in charge, said: “By the end of the school holidays we saw sales exceeding last year by 4.7 per cent.

“We knew it would be a difficult time for our customers to predict sales and what they need to order and most would incur additional costs ensuring they complied with social distancing guidelines, so we asked ourselves how we could help our customers.

“Whilst many other suppliers chose to reduce services to cut their own costs we decided to support our customers through this unpredictable period by improving our service.

“We introduced fixed and transparent pricing – which is unusual in our sector – so customers could browse our entire range without having to contact their sales rep.

“Something else that has gone down well was out decision to reduce the prices on key lines for our customers, for example 5kg of 7-8oz chicken fillets are now just £19.99.

“We also increased the delivery service to all our customers, offering every day Monday to Saturday, as well as introducing later order times so all customers can now order up to 10pm via our website and app. This allows chefs to place orders after evening service.

“Our customers really bought into our digital platforms – we saw a massive increase from just 15 per cent of customers buying via web or app pre- Covid to 44 per cent by the end August.

“Customers really like our later cut off time with half of all orders placed between 8pm and 10pm – a service we didn’t offer pre-Covid.  It’s completely changed how we work.”

Head of sales Chris Gregson said: “We have been blown away by the customer transition to our web and app. Chefs keep telling me how much easier it is to order after service when they know what they need, full of confidence they will receive their Harlech delivery the following day.

“What has surprised us is how much more customers are ordering digitally. They spent on average £74 more using our web or app compared to telesales. Our customers tell us they find it easier to browse our range and compare prices.

“We have seen the biggest take up in our Bwydlyn butchery and had to recruit butchers to cope with demand. For example our popular 6oz Gourmet Steak burger is made fresh by our butchers each day – in August our butchers made a record breaking 130,000 fresh burgers. That really is some going.”

Mr Cattrall added: “Just a few weeks ago we thought we might have to consider warehouse redundancies.

“However, we have now had to recruit additional drivers, warehouse operatives and butchers to cope with demand – in all we have employed an additional 16 people on permanent, full time contracts in our Criccieth and Chester distribution centres. “Whilst sales will slow with Eat Out To Help Out ending, we expect sales to continue above last year.”

Nick Burns, Food Development Manager for Robinsons Brewery, is delighted with the improved service and better pricing structure.

He said: “It has been an extremely difficult and challenging time for hospitality with many suppliers struggling to turn back on foodservice manufacturing to cope with the Eat Out to Help Out demand in August.

“Harlech Foodservice deliver to all our managed estate across North Wales & NW England and have been excellent. They quickly put in place systems and processes ensuring that we received good availability so that we could look after our own customers. We value the care and adaptability of a regional business like Harlech.”