Why an ex-M&S buyer created a fairer online farm shop

08 June 2021, 08:25 AM
  • Hannah Anderson explains why her 20 years in the food buying business has helped her launch a food delivery service that puts suppliers first
Why an ex-M&S buyer created a fairer online farm shop

The food industry continually evolves, but if the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that people want great quality at a great price delivered to their doorstep. But that doesn’t mean it has to be cheap. Indeed, while price has always been one of the major factors, we launched 44 Foods with the direct promise of paying our suppliers a fair price.

Letting our farmers and growers dictate the price may seem counterintuitive, but looking after this element of the supply chain ensures we can offer the best products on the market.

44 Foods is like a nationwide farm shop, giving shoppers access to the UK’s most innovative producers who care deeply about what they put on the shelf. If we simply treated their products like a commodity, driving down the price in order to increase our profit margins, then all it serves to do is undermine the quality of their goods.

Lessons learned

There are other positive knock-on effects too. For a start, our suppliers actually like dealing with us – we are very straightforward and understand the food world so it’s all much simpler. They get ample lead time for their products, and we are very understanding when things are out of season or unavailable. Secondly, customers love the added shelf life that they get with their products. Not only are they the best quality but they last longer so less gets chucked in the bin! And thirdly, not one person has complained about the price because they know it’s fair for all sides.

Of course it’s taken me some time to have the freedom to think like this. Working as a buyer for a big retailer is tough; it’s all about being competitive, but when you’re at the top of the market it’s often hard to put a value on quality. The costs associated with supplying into a big retailer are significant for suppliers. These costs often go unnoticed and unsold and makes it harder to be competitive when your brand is based on quality.

It is tough on the buyers as well, often thrown into a role where an understanding of the cost and value base as well as the industry is missing. It is hard to drive costs down when you don’t truly understand what makes up the cost of a product or the years of hard work that went into it and indeed the market dynamics surrounding it, but it’s always easy to buy cheaper – you just don’t get the same product or integrity!

Trust, respect and transparency

I moved to 44 Foods because I wanted to be more intimately involved in understanding how a business works. I was really keen for the suppliers to be in the driving seat for once and bringing the customers closer to them. Suppliers completely understand their markets, what they should command for their products and what they need to make a sustainable margin for their businesses. It feels a much simpler model in this respect. It’s not all plain sailing of course: having worked in retail I am obviously focused on protecting our brand and relationship with the customer to ensure that they are also getting a fair deal. This model is based much more on trust, respect and transparency with professional integrity.

Launching in September 2020, we have a small number of key partners in chilled food, fruit, veg, meat, fish, poultry and dairy who we order from daily. All of our suppliers share our values and principles and understand the quality and value chain. We don’t hold any chilled stock on site which means customers get better shelf life and less waste, and we see no waste either. We also sell some ambient lines, but our focus is really on a farm shop experience online and naturally.

Like many delivery businesses, lockdown and the pandemic were really what accelerated our ambition for 44 Foods. Customers have become much more flexible in their eating and shopping habits; what was the weekly shop doesn’t really exist anymore. People can get things instantly online these days, including food. But we don’t believe in this and are focussing on getting back to basics, planning your food, wanting the best quality and supporting the slow food movement! Above all we want quality, taste and an understanding of where food comes from to be a big part in customers making their choice.

We ask customers to give us a four-day lead time so we can procure products properly with the maximum life we can get. This helps everyone with waste, even the suppliers. This means that whilst it’s not instant, we are likely to become a more planned purchase and maybe a bi-weekly stock up of your beautiful fresh food.

We have a long way to go, but people really understand how buying British supports the local communities, which means for me the future for 44 Foods is looking good.

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