'Can do' approach helps wholesaler to chart a new course in service as the 'Amazon of meat'

By Staff Reporter [email protected]

Published: March 15, 2021 | Updated: 15th March 2021

It’s been described as the ‘Amazon of meat’ when it comes to customer service – a description that makes CEO Gary Smith very proud.

Not least because 12 months ago the future looked uncertain for Poole-based DB Foods, one of the UK’s leading national meat wholesalers.

The new executive board was busy planning for the retirement of one of the company’s founders and preparing for Brexit.

Then the pandemic came along.

DB Foods lost 45 per cent of its business within a matter of days as the nation went into lockdown.

George Holliday, Sales Director, said: “Catering orders from our catering butcher customers who supply hotels, restaurants, tourism and events disappeared overnight.

“Demand for prepared meat and poultry dropped like a stone and when dealing with fresh produce, you cannot shelve your product for the future.”

An action plan was quickly implemented.

Gary Smith, pictured left. said: “After the initial shock and reaction to it, we took a breath and started to plan.

“The team that had been focusing on our preparations for Brexit had to suddenly shift focus to a potentially more damaging issue no one had foreseen.”

First, DB Foods, which supplies a complete range of meat, poultry and deli items to high street butchers, catering butchers and foodservice throughout the UK using its own fleet of vehicles, implemented the government’s furlough scheme to protect staff.

Arrangements were also made for the transfer and accommodation of willing and skilled warehousing and logistics staff between its Poole headquarters/processing site and warehousing and transportation site in Banbury, Oxfordshire.

By cutting costs in its operations and responding to the increased demand from high street butchers, the company managed to negotiate the next six months successfully.

George, pictured right, who was now leading the sales function from home, said: “Customers were telling us how much they valued our service and a reliable supply of produce.

“We were getting daily enquiries from butchers who had been referred to us from our existing customers.

“With an increasing number of enquiries from across the UK, we realised the central location of our Banbury warehouses gave us the best national reach.

“We also saw very clearly what our retail customers value from us – response, service and straightforward wholesale product that they can prepare for themselves.

“The most common question was not ‘how much?’ but ‘when?

“You do not expect people to understand all the transport, warehousing and administrative logistics that goes into getting the meat to their door.

“But, for the first time, we received a lot of gratitude for allowing our butchers to meet the needs of their customers.”

After six months, the directors took another in-depth analysis of the company’s situation.

Despite reports of drastic cuts in workforces across the country, DB Foods was able to maintain job security for over 80 per cent of its staff.

Gary said: “We scrutinised every inch of every department in order to protect and support as many of our people as possible.

“We were sad when we had to make a small number of redundancies, but when I spoke to colleagues, and read what other companies were going through, I think we can take pride in the success of our efforts for the vast majority.”

DB Foods, which made a pre-tax profit of £368,410 on a turnover of £107.8m in the year to March 29, 2019, now employs approximately 180 people.

The majority – 130 – are at Poole in clerical, logistics, management and meat production while the remainder are at Banbury, primarily warehousing and distribution.

The detailed analysis of all areas in the new commercial climate enabled the directors to see the business in a whole new light.

Max Prudon, Operations Director, pictured, said: “As our customer base expanded from predominantly the southern counties and coast, to the entire length and breadth of the UK, we found ourselves hiring to grow our workforce.”

At the start of this year, DB Foods relaunched its business.

Separate production and wholesale brands allow the latter to return to the company’s roots and focus on maintaining its position as a leading multi-species supplier of meat and poultry.

Max said: “We are taking advantage of a quieter period as the industry adjusts to Brexit measures by investing in our depot.

“We have installed upgrades to existing freezer capacity freezers and investing a further £100,000 into expanding refrigeration capacity.”

The benefits are already being seen.

George said: “Since the start of the year, we have been opening between eight and ten new accounts a week and we have innovative plans to support our retail customers in the months ahead.”

After what Gary Smith admits has been a hugely stressful year, the CEO is optimistic for the future.

He said: “I think it is proof of our ‘can do’ attitude which was previously recognised in national supplier awards.

“What started as a practical response has led to a robust business strategy that is maintaining our position in the marketplace.

“We thought that changes in leadership and structure 12 months ago might mean we had something to prove to the industry, and I think we have certainly done that.”

And that description of being the ‘Amazon of meat’ which came from a butcher client?

Gary said: “It is shorthand for being able to find what they want and get it delivered quickly.

“For a business such as ours, it is the ultimate compliment.

“The comparison to Amazon is something that I greatly appreciate and take pride in.

“Whilst no company can stay still, and we have seen how unpredictable the future can be, I believe providing what the customer needs, when they want it, will always remain the fundamental principle for the success of any business.”

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