In the age of smartphones, the 3663 name is disappearing across all the divisions of the Bidvest group, with its food wholesale business, Bidvest 3663, being renamed Bidvest Foodservice from 1 July.
The number actually corresponds to the digits you used to have to press on a phone keypad to spell out ‘food’, but like the fate of manual mobile phone keypads, Bidvest wants to move on to newer concepts.
The former 3663 Catering Equipment division will switch to becoming Bidvest Catering Equipment, while the group’s kitchen design arm will swap the Hospitality Design moniker for Bidvest Hospitality Design.
But the branding change goes much deeper than just a name. “We’ve got new leadership, a new mission, vision and values,” commented Graeme McKenzie, head of offer development, marketing and innovation. “It’s a root and branch update of where we are in this business.”
The firm has re-evaluated a lot of work with its customer base to understand what they think of the company and where it could improve. “The feedback is that we have done really well over the past 4-5 years in developing our proposition, but we know that customers want their suppliers to focus on delivering outstanding service, finding ways to make their lives easier and providing the right support to help them to grow. That is our mission now,” explained McKenzie.
The group has identified five key ingredients to make that a reality: focusing on customer experience; great food, quality and presentation; providing real value – not just through pricing but through Bidvest’s experience and insight; getting the right teams in the right places; and being forward thinking, anticipating the next big trends in the market.
In terms of experienced personnel, Paul Knight, director of non-foods and catering equipment commented: “We have experts in the field that have been working within this industry all their lives. The history of catering equipment within Bidvest goes back into the Booker Group, Fitch and others, all the way back to 1938 – not just since Bidvest’s 1999 buyout of Booker. We’ve been around for longer than some of our competitors.”
Bidvest Foodservice, through its local depot network, can now boast that it can provide the vast majority of products that any commercial kitchen requires. Alongside core food and ingredients, its depots can supply essential catering equipment and non-food lines. And if its customers need more than this, then the firm’s catering equipment division stocks a wider range of heavy and light equipment, tabletop, chefware and specialist products. If end users are looking to redesign their kitchens then Bidvest’s Hospitality Design business is set up to advise and support them. [[page-break]]
It is in bringing its food and non-food ordering process together that Bidvest is further increasing efficiency for its customers. All of these products now reside under one banner of ‘catering supplies’. “We are trialling an option at two sites where our Bidvest Foodservice customers can buy an even wider range of specialist non-food and catering equipment lines as they place their food order. Taking the range of non-food lines available from our Foodservice depots from about 2,500 currently and by adding over 1,300 lightware products, brings this closer to 4,000,” explained Knight.
“That gives customers the convenience of one call, one invoice and access to a huge range of products. There’s no minimum order, and I don’t know where else in the market you could order the same breadth of food, non-food and replenishment catering equipment lines at the same time.”
The trial has been operational for a month and according to Knight, the key performance indicators have been so strong that it will be rolled out across the whole business sooner than planned, by September.
Much of Bidvest Foodservice’s free trade orders are captured through its telesales teams across the country. “We’ve engaged them to understand the kind of products that they believe their customers want to buy from them, and that’s helped to form this extra range of 1,300 lightware products,” said Knight.
Furthermore, within each of the firm’s 20-plus depots across the whole foodservice business it has a specialist that supports the sales team, predominantly for the catering supplies range. Knight detailed: “They are there to offer advice on dosing solutions, food to go solutions etc, and they have been trained by a number of our partners to a very high level.”
The firm also employs powered equipment and kitchen design specialists, with each person covering around three depots. “They are there to advise on those bigger ticket items, such as if a customer needs to create a new warewashing area or a complete new kitchen. They can also advise on making a kitchen more efficient,” said Knight. “80-90% of them have a chef background, so they really understand a kitchen because they have spent a great deal of time working within one.
“They take our clients to other projects we have done, to show them other possibilities. We challenge our customers’ ideas and encourage them to challenge ours, to make sure we get it right.”
As part of Bidvest’s catering equipment range, it offers its own branded products including refrigeration. “Our own label is made in the UK – I think we are one of the only distributors that can say that,” commented Knight. It also has a tabletop range that is manufactured in France. “As the tableware travels less than 600 miles to get to our main catering equipment depot in Bristol, the carbon footprint of our own label is quite low in comparison with our competitors,” he added. [[page-break]]
The own label equipment is produced in partnership with manufacturers that sell their own branded products through Bidvest Catering Equipment too. “The differences between our own label and our partners’ branded equipment are the price point, features and benefits,” said Knight. “We tend to not find the cheapest own label products, rather the best value. We believe that Bidvest customers want a balance between quality and price.”
McKenzie added: “Many customers are used to having an own label product and understand the benefits of that. It gives them the reassurance of our name and quality standards when purchasing multiple products across different categories, whereas specialist manufacturers tend to work in one area only. We want to try and give our customers the widest choice across ranges or depth of choice within individual ranges.”
Knight believes that as Bidvest has an ongoing weekly relationship with its customers through its foodservice business, it ensures that its products meet exacting standards. “If we disappoint people with a fridge or dishwasher then that might damage their general relationship with us, so we need to maintain the price and quality balance.” And with about 40,000 foodservice supplies customers, it’s certainly a clientele it cannot afford to upset.
For those who need more specialist equipment or kitchen design and refurbishment than the Bidvest Foodservice depot’s catering supplies range can offer, they are directed to the Bidvest Catering Equipment or Bidvest Hospitality Design divisions. “Our customers get to know us through our catering supplies offering sold through the foodservice business, but for those which require even more choice or specialist lines, with Bidvest Catering Equipment, they have access to a further 6,500 products” said Knight.
While the firm has its own team of designers through the Hospitality Design division, it usually subcontracts the installation to its network of preferred local outfit partners around the country. In recent times these divisions have outfitted three kitchens at the prestigious Eton College, with more in the pipeline for this summer. Plus Bidvest has installed kitchens at Dumfries House in Ayrshire, run by the Prince’s Trust, at which local school-leavers are trained in catering. Other major recent projects include for Worcester Country Cricket Club and a Masonic lodge in London.
The mainstay of the catering equipment division’s demand continues to be replenishing existing catering equipment such as tabletop ranges, utensils, uniforms, storage and food preparation. “We try to top this up with suggested serving ideas and encourage people to be a bit more adventurous with how they create a unique experience for their own customers,” explained Knight.
Looking ahead, Bidvest will see how the roll out of the complete catering supplies ordering system pans out. “Stock planning and husbandry will be our key focus to make sure we don’t disappoint our foodservice customers,” according to Knight. “Then as we head into the early part of next year we may look at moving from 1,300 to 1,600 lightware products, or putting plug and play electrical products such as microwaves or panini grills into our local depot ranges.”
He continued: “Bidvest Foodservice is all about a journey: we are never satisfied operating in the same way from one year to the next; we are always looking at how we can improve and develop our offer.” McKenzie added: “Our ranges and our proposition will continue to evolve as the customer requirements evolve. We review our ranges regularly, identifying any gaps in our offering and looking at the trends going on in specialist and bespoke lines so that we can move them back into the broader business.”
Equipment trends Bidvest is spotting at the moment include novel ways to serve buffets, and tableware that compliments South American and Scandinavian food. “Venues don’t have to change everything to appear to be on trend, so we can list products for our customers and they can pick and choose exactly what they want. We can help them refresh their look while spending as little as possible,” Knight commented.
“We may still be a bit of an unknown within the industry but we have grown quite quickly. If you go into TGI Friday’s, Pizza Express or Byron, the chances are you are using our product, but we are probably not first to mind when people think about catering equipment. So we hope by providing a convenient, effective range of products, and with an ability to buy into a wider range of products, all at a competitive price, that will be a big draw,” he concluded.