Supplies in their eyes

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Related tags: Pubs, Customer service, Customer

You've got a great menu, sparkling service and you're offering it up to customers at a price that's good for them and offers you enough margin to...

You've got a great menu, sparkling service and you're offering it up to customers at a price that's good for them and offers you enough margin to make sure you are both on to a winner.

But none of that counts for anything if you haven't got your supplies sorted.

Whether it's staples from the cash and carry, fresh foods from a local suppliers or other goods delivered to your door by a wholesaler if you're suppliers aren't up to scratch, neither, plainly, is your business.

Provenance and local food continue to be the buzz terms surrounding pub menus, and three quarters (75 per cent) continue to use local suppliers, a similar figure to the Food Report 2008.

But the two biggest statistical rises in this year's research suggest that publicans are just as concerned about saving themselves some hard cash.

When asked where they buy their food, two out of three (66 per cent) said they use a cash and carry - a five per cent rise on last year.

And anyone who's ever been stuck in the queue at Tesco while the customer in front loads of up with 47 tins of beans won't be surprised to find that the biggest rise came in those pubs who said they use a shop or supermarket - up seven per cent on last year to 59 per cent of all publicans.

With margins squeezed more than ever by rising costs, more publicans are shopping around suppliers for the best prices.

Focusing on price, choice and service

The UK's biggest cash and carry operator with 172 depots, Booker, would agree.

Like-for-like sales to catering customers leapt ahead 12.6 per cent over the 24 weeks to September 11 2009, thanks to a focus on price, choice and service, with sales director - catering Ron Hickey attributing much of the growth to pubs.

"Booker is dedicated to supporting the independent pub," claims Hickey. "We have developed the range of products we sell with our customers so that we stock what they want to buy. We do sell smaller packs as well as catering sizes - and our range of ingredients is far more than you would find in any supermarket."

Hickey is keen to emphasise that there is very much more to the Booker service than price - and much more to it than a cash and carry, with a huge chunk of its business now delivered direct to pubs and other food outlets.

The company is also the UK's largest catering butcher, with more than 300 trained experts, who will cut to the exacting requirements of every customer.

"We also have a team of catering development managers, general, managers and more than 7,000 branch staff to understand the needs of our customers and on hand to help them as well as serve them."

Dedicated delivered wholesaler Brakes is another company helping pubs this year. Although the proportion of pubs using delivered wholesalers is static - 37 per cent, against 39 per cent in 2008 - marketing director James Armitage says the company's own experience bears out the fact that pubs are now looking for added value and cost savings from their suppliers.

"During the last 18 months we have seen a growing trend of customers choosing to swap their leading branded products to Brakes' own brand as a way of saving money while not compromising on quality," he says.

"We understand the pressures on pubs and know that the easiest way for them to protect their margins is to find more economical versions of the most commonly used ingredients. This is why we stock such a broad range of price saving options on every day kitchen essentials, everything from stewing steak to soft scoop ice cream that deliver superb quality, at margin enhancing prices."

It is also helping pubs with purchasing decisions to ensure they make the best use of their budget while protecting their margins - and is helping more pubs with menu development, design and marketing.

Rival delivered wholesaler 3663 is also taking a partnership approach with customers, offering detailed help ranging from helping publicans streamline their food offer to advising on full kitchen designs and refurbishments.

"Our team's vast experience allows us to consult on a number of business areas whether it be very technical nutritional guidance for healthier menu options or advice on tailoring operations to create a more sustainable business," says Ben Woodhouse, catering development controller at 3663.

"Additionally, to help this Christmas we've created a number of pre-costed menu options where operators can purchase a set buffet or three course Christmas meal and sell it for a fixed price."

At the top of the table

Both Brakes and 3663 have been key to the development of Punch's Table Top service this year - a service offering Punch pubs an easy route into food, with five set meals sold at set prices and prices guaranteed by the wholesalers for six months.

The scheme is now being extended further with an expanded offer called Simply Pub Food

Punch food development manager Alan Todd, who set up the service, advises all publicans to work closely with their suppliers on food as they can during the current uncertain times.

"Pubs need to keep a close eye on their invoices and look out for any rising costs and should negotiate with their suppliers to ensure they are getting the best deals," he says.

" Commodity prices are not on the rise, so it should be possible for pubs to maintain menu prices. Some pubs may find it beneficial to implement a fixed pricing solution such as Table Top package. We are able to use our buying power to hold wholesale prices for six months meaning our partners can offer dishes such as sausage and mash or pie and chips at fixed price-points of between £1.99 and £4.99."

But then again - price isn't everything, as the Food Report statistics bear out.

More important to publicans when they are choosing suppliers, and of increasing importance this year, up from 56 per cent to 63 per cent, is the choice of products available.

Price comes second, but not too far behind it in rank of importance is customer service, while convenient distribution and delivery times are also of growing importance to publicans.

As pub customers become ever more demanding in terms of service, so too it seems are publicans and pub chefs.

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