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

“Who’s afraid of Amazon?”

I had a phone call earlier today from a journalist wanting my comments on Amazon, as apparently FMCG wholesalers across the pond are having sleepless nights about what they are doing in the market

“A reality check”

I was encouraged to see so many start-up food businesses represented at the Bread & Jam Festival last week. My Last Word article in this month’s Speciality Food Magazine reflects more on the sheer numbers coming into the industry at present

“A proliferation of start-ups!”

I am not sure what the collective noun is for start-ups, but proliferation will do for now. When I started our Young Entrepreneur of the Year Competition six years ago, there were hardly any young people starting businesses. The sector was full of middle-aged people (like myself!) many of whom had bumbled along with lifestyle businesses for many years without experiencing much growth. This has all changed now, and there are so many ambitious millennials coming into the food and drink sector. They are ambitious, and have a desire to succeed. They will not be happy with a business eking out a turnover of £250k each year – they want a business of several £M turnover and want to sell up and do something else within a few years. As far as our competition is concerned, my job is done, my aim of seeing more young people in the sector has been achieved so we are finishing at this point and will come up with new ideas for next year

“Inflation – good or bad news?”

Generally, the improvement in the strength of sterling was viewed with some relief in my office, but only for fairly selfish reasons. The vast majority of our range is British or Irish, but at Christmas we import more product from Italy, Spain, Germany and other European countries. Last year we were, of course, badly stung by the drop in exchange rates after Brexit, our Christmas catalogue already being published by then. We were left with two choices, either pass on the increases to our customers, or take the hit ourselves! We did the latter. So any small gain in margin this year will see some of the loss returned!

Face to face sales – dead or alive?

I enjoyed my weekend after not having one last week. It will be the same for many who were exhibiting and setting-up the show last weekend. As always, I spent the rest of the week exhausted and “peopled out”, but it serves me right for wearing a silly suit drawing attention to myself. One of the highlights of the show is being able to catch up with many customers and suppliers that sadly time doesn’t permit the rest of the year, so it’s a good exhaustion I am feeling!

“It’s showtime!”

So, despite the hottest weekend of the summer, it is nearly over. I always feel that the Tuesday after the Bank Holiday weekend feels like normal service is resumed, and judging by the number of cars on the M4 this morning, it seems true! I am normally away on holiday this week actually, so have no time to build up to the big event next weekend #SFFF2017. Not being on holiday this year means that I am looking forward to the event more than ever. A number of changes have been made this year which should change the feel of the show more back to how it used to be - smaller and more intimate

“Green or red?”

Earlier in the summer, we surveyed our suppliers on various environmental questions related to their production processes and energy usage as part of re-certifying our B Corp status. We were encouraged by the number of positive answers from suppliers, many of whom are really starting to think about environmental issues when it comes to production of their products. Many are using solar to generate electricity and have water conservation systems in place, and many had the data to hand, which means they are actively thinking about such issues

“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!

 
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