The middle of the Covid pandemic (resulting in the most challenging trading period in the history of foodservice), may not seem like the most obvious time for a foodservice buying consortium to invest in a significant IT initiative.  But, that’s exactly what Caterforce did – and to good effect!

Six months’ after making the decision to go ahead, the new ‘Caterforce Sales Hub’ went live in April 2021.  Created in partnership with leading data and digital experts, TWC, the ‘hub’ is providing valuable insight to Caterforce’s eight independent foodservice wholesalers, helping them – and their supply partners – make informed and valuable business decisions.

As one of the UK’s biggest foodservice buying and marketing consortiums in the UK, Caterforce sources products from a huge range of leading suppliers and manufacturers to support its members.

With combined turnover in excess of £500 million, the group’s buying power is immense.   Its head office in Macclesfield provides a central hub for members supporting their buying needs and boosting marketing resources, allowing suppliers to push out a consistent and coherent marketing plan with just one point of contact.

According to Managing Director, Gary Mullineux, who took up his new role in late 2019 in a move which heralded a new era for Caterforce, the commitment to developing a progressive data platform was always there. Covid simply accelerated that commitment as it quickly became obvious that the members’ customer base was changing and members needed data to help them make informed decisions about how they could adapt:

“Yes, it was a difficult trading period – and it will come as no surprise to readers that our members were having to massively pivot their business to meet changing customer and consumer behaviours.   The growth in online ordering in the sector is well documented, as well as the growth into certain markets for our members such as care homes and education.

“Our intention, prior to Covid was to invest in digital strategies that would set us apart for the future and support our members.  Under Covid, the need for insight that data can provide became even more critical to meet accelerating change – it was time for new beginnings, and fast.

“After the obligatory beauty parade, we chose TWC as our specialist partner due to the team’s immense knowledge of both the wholesale and supplier side, and their deep understanding of the broader industry.   TWC works with many of the biggest names in wholesale and for us, as a progressive consortium that has ambitious growth plans, we wanted a progressive tech partner who would share our vision.

“We also wanted complete financial transparency.  That meant no hidden costs, no surprises along the way or suddenly finding that we needed something which had not been quoted for like building a house when you often end up way over budget due to the ‘unforeseen’ and extras.

“This investment was a huge undertaking for us and alongside that decision was a big element of trust.  For us, it was a leap of faith.  That trust was rewarded with service excellence and a platform that was delivered on time and exceeded our expectation in its ease of use and the information it provides our members and suppliers.  My team and I use it all the time – it’s wonderfully easy to use and it is proving invaluable in influencing our business decisions, and that of our suppliers”.

“Implementation was seamless – TWC made it easy…”

Further to Caterforce giving the go ahead in October 2020, TWC gathered all the data from members, processed it and cleansed it.  Members then had to test the system and validate that the sales figures were correct.

At the same time, Caterforce and TWC were working together to demo the new Sales Hub to suppliers to get them signed up and ready for the official launch, which was scheduled from day one as April 1st 2021.

Gary says that he fully expected deadlines to slip, but in the actual event all the timelines were met, as promised – every step of the way:

“There was no slippage, if TWC committed to a date – the team met that date”!

Tanya Pepin, Managing Director of TWC says that when the company commits to a series of actions – it always meets its promise.  She praised the commitment across the Caterforce’ members saying:

“The discipline across the Caterforce members was impressive.  In fact, it was fantastic.  When you create a data service, it’s a complex undertaking and everyone goes into them with a degree of trepidation.

“From our side, as innovators, you are only as quick as your slowest member and even then, we still have to check the numbers and the voracity of the data we have been given.

“As much as we are proud that we met all the deadlines, we could not have done it without the attention and support of the members”.

But what advantages does the new Caterforce Sales Hub deliver to its users?

Getting ahead…

Gary emphasises that all suppliers have been offered the opportunity to access the system and confirmed that everyone has ‘bought in’…

“There are three tiers of reporting that our suppliers can access but we are finding that the main thing they all love is the gap analysis.  This gives them so much insight and they can immediately see trends.  Personally speaking, I find that the interface is incredibly intuitive and easy to use.  It’s not one of those awful spreadsheets which everyone was previously using and I’ve yet to find someone who likes those.

“Understanding the customer types is really important for every single part of the business.  It helps us to understand the products we are buying, and helps us analyse the trends and opportunities to grow our own brand range, and it helps the buying team identify new suppliers and highlights people and brands that we may want to engage with.    It really does help us identify business opportunities.

“For example, over the past few weeks, we have been looking at some of our brands and the customers that we have from pre-Covid have changed.  We can now target our marketing in the right way and we wouldn’t have been able to do that before.

“Now we have the platform, we can compare and evaluate trends and shifting behaviour month on month or year on year and we can keep learning about our customers.  It means we get better on jobs at our end.  We are using it to see how fast the business is coming back and analysing our customer types across the whole group, from which it was blatantly obvious that our growth was coming from education and care homes.

“The feedback from suppliers and members has been unanimously positive.  I was talking to someone last week who was quick to say the new Sales Hub is ‘seamless and efficient’, which is a great accolade and sums up what we wanted to achieve.

“Data is informing everything we now do – even as far down the line as photography!  We can now drive photography in line with customer profiles to further boost our business through visual aid”.

Gary concludes:

“The Caterforce Sales Hub has certainly matched the promise and best of all, it’s easy to use.  The functionality is absolutely straightforward and it can be used by anyone.  I’ve been using it on many presentations and meetings with suppliers and our marketing department to good effect.  The other side is the support that we have had from the team at TWC.  If we need any tweaks or changes, these have been resolved really quickly”.

“Our Caterforce Sales Hub is just the start of a much bigger journey, and we intend to drive further innovation through technology as part of our promise to work with our members and suppliers in a way that benefits everyone, right down to the individual customer”.

Article (page 42/43)