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Paul Hargreaves is the chief executive of Cotswold Fayre a specialist fine food wholesaler.

“Passing the baton on”

Those 10 million of us who watched the 4 x 100m relays at the World Athletics Championships on Saturday night could not fail to wonder at the British teams. Two medals, silver for the women, and gold for the men, who set the third fastest time in history at the same time! Having seen so many failures in the past mainly due to dropped batons, I watched with my wife and daughter, with a huge amount of nervousness. Watching the replay after the victory, it made me realise that winning and losing is entirely due to the baton exchanges. Play too safe and you will get the baton round, but probably finish 5th or 6th. To win they must push the exchanges to the limit, which runs the risk of disaster, but also gives a chance of a tremendous victory

“Copying as a route to success?”

Did you know that in the early days of hamburger restaurants springing up all over the world, Burger King would never venture into a virgin market. Their strategy was to allow McDonald's to go in first, create the appetite for that type of product and then Burger King would come along on the back of the pioneering work done by McDonald's. Some might think of this as cheating somehow, but it can be a valid business strategy and seems to have worked well for Burger King with sales of over £1bn worldwide. However, it means that you will never be seen as the market leader – McDonald's clearly has that place

“Beware the scammers!”

It’s been with us for a while, but those that use emails and the internet to try and extort money from hard-working business people seem to be becoming more sophisticated. There is the long-standing scam of the letter sent to all participants at a show saying that their company’s details will be published in a directory. All the wording sounds like the entry is free. All you need to do is return the signed document in the reply-paid envelope. However, what most people don’t read in very small print at the bottom of the email advising of the 1200 Euro invoice that will be forwarded. There is an email circulating at present asking you to buy a database of visitors for the forth-coming Speciality & Fine Food Fair. Do not purchase this database - the organisers of the show do not make their data public, nor do they sell it to other organisations

“Investable?”

We have just judged the finalists for the Cotswold Fayre Young Entrepreneur of the Year. The quality of the six short-listed candidates for the semi-final was absolutely superb, the best ever - things have come on a long way in the last five years. I set up this competition due to a dearth of young people within the speciality food sector. This stemmed from walking around the Speciality & Fine Food Fair in 2012 and noticing that the average age of exhibitors was too old; I wanted to encourage younger people into the industry. Thanks to this and several other similar initiatives and the fact that millennials are now very interested in what they eat, this has happened in spades

“Drive to succeed?”

My first day back at work after a thoroughly enjoyable holiday was last Friday. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about The Food Company who had decided to cease trading (although still seem to be open!). On Friday, we heard the sad news that one of our new chilled suppliers had decided to quit too, stating rising ingredient costs as the main reason. They had a great product but priced at the top of the price spectrum for that category and the extra ingredient costs pushed them into territory where they knew they couldn’t sustain their pricing model. I wonder whether there is more to come as the effects of last year’s steep devaluation in sterling are only just beginning to impact heavily on UK businesses buying ingredients from Europe. I hope not, but fear so, as the ill-advised exit from the EU seems to be pressing ahead, despite there now being a majority of the country against it

“Reassuringly expensive”

If you resided in the United Kingdom between the years of 1982 and 2007, you will know the phrase "reassuringly expensive" and will instantly associate it with Stella Artois, the Belgian lager beer. With its clean, white can and ornate crest, it looks at home with the moniker of an expensive lager, and has always tried to live up to that image. For a strapline to work for that long, it must have achieved something. The campaign was dropped in 2007 and the word “Stella” missed out of their advertising completely as the brand tried to shed its “wife-beater” image. Ironically it is now one of the cheapest lagers in the UK!

“Innovative food shop closes”

It’s been a few weeks of very sad news in the UK, with many people dying premature deaths, so on that scale the sad news within the speciality food sector I read this week on Facebook pales into insignificance. There are enough other people at present commenting on the UK’s socio-economic and political problems, so I am going to restrict myself this week to talking about the demise of one of Cotswold Fayre’s first ever customers

“Stable to chaotic?”

So, we have now completed our third national vote within just over two years, and it is odds on a fourth within a year. I heard a rumour the other day that polling stations are occasionally used as primary schools!

“It’s E-Day”

So, here we are at perhaps the most significant election for the UK for many years and one that will define the next decade and beyond

“The Manchester Spirit”

What should have been one of the best “feel good” weeks of the year with the hottest temperatures of the year so far has not been that at all, due to the horrendous events in Manchester last Monday evening. This has had an effect all over the UK, and I and several others I have spoken to, have shed tears on seeing or hearing the news this week

“Fragmentation”

Back to an old chestnut this week, and one that I believe will become more and more relevant over the next few years. For a number of retailers, suppliers and wholesalers I talk to, the fragmentation of supply to retailers within the speciality food sector remains their largest frustration. It is also holding back the sector in my opinion. I talked about this in my last piece when I compared this sector with the convenience sector, whose managers would very rarely buy any new brand unless it was listed with a wholesaler they were already dealing with. This last week I was reminded by someone that the health food sector is similar. Health food retailers “force” new brands to be listed with a wholesaler before they take them on. As a result both sectors are more mature and more efficient than the speciality food sector. It is time for us to grow up

“Margin means everything!”

Following on from my thoughts last time about the differences between the speciality food world and the convenience sector (and thanks for all the response on that), I want to focus this time on margin. Do bear in mind I have never run a retail outlet (yet!) so what I say is drawn from those that do, and clearly I base my thoughts on those that are expanding and doing well

“Five things you would NOT have heard at The Convenience Show last week”

In spending some time at both shows last week, it was interesting to compare the two sectors. In my view, it is time for the speciality food sector to stop being an immature teenager and to grow into an adult. There are too many companies, both producers/suppliers and retailers, who act on a whim or do things because they have always done them. Many of these do not make long-term commercial sense.

Here are a few things that you would have heard at the Farm Shop and Deli Show last week that certainly would not have been heard at The Forecourt or The National Convenience Show:

 
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