Providing tailored solutions for retailers is what we excel at – whether it’s through our category management and insight, technical support, manufacturing, development expertise or warehouse and logistics.
Effective end-to-end supply chain management is also critical to the success of any successful relationship.
In February 2020 we began to see the spread of COVID across Europe and its subsequent impact. This posed a challenge for our continental meat supply on two fronts: Firstly the potential impact on supply coming from countries where lockdown was already in place. And secondly, the impact that lockdown would have with regards to customer buying habits. Announced ahead of the UK, Ireland’s lockdown gave us some insight into emerging consumer behaviours showing bulk buying and an uplift of certain lines.
Our technical and supply teams took on the daily calls to over 100 supply partner locations to understand what was happening regionally and also what mitigation they were putting in place to ensure consistency of supply.
We also spoke to our customers and got commitment to increase buffers of specific lines (ingredients, sliced meats), meaning we could deal with increased consumer demand and ensure consistency of supply in case of transport issues. And if there were closures, we would have stock to bridge that gap.
Six of our main hauliers were also updating us with their challenges, so we could re-route depending on where there was regional impact. As a result, some of our products were moved by sea, as some roads were closed due to regional lockdowns.
As a result of these close customer relationships we were able to remain on top of what was happening, manage the surge in demand, and transfer it into supply planning, resulting in an uplift in sales.
Remote working technologies played an enormous role in our ability to continue to work. However the benefit of the daily calls cannot be underestimated. Keeping close to our supply partners and customers was so essential and, as a result, we have built even stronger working relationships.
Had we not had the infrastructure, skilled workforce and relationships with our supply site partners, we would not have been able to react as quickly and efficiently as we did. This was a success driven by the DNA within our business and the drive to deliver for our customers.
As the country went into lockdown the majority of Vegetarian Express’ foodservice customers shut down. Like many Foodservice operators, whose route to market had disappeared over night, they decided to rapidly bring forward longer-term plans to launch a direct-to-consumer proposition. With consumers struggling to get retail delivery slots, plus retailers range rationalising, they also wanted to support consumers who were struggling to access plant-based products.
Although Vegetarian Express has huge experience within foodservice, the consumer-facing sector was foreign to them. How would they get their message out to the consumer?
They came to us with the dilemma and asked how we could help. Keen to add value we took the challenge to our plant-based PR agency who was able to utilise it’s network of journalists to generate interest in the new service.
As a result, and for no additional cost to Vegetarian Express, the new offering was featured in Vegconomist, Vegetarian Recipe, Evening Standard, Food Manufacture, Veganuary, Merton College, Forbes, The Telegraph. This news reached over 20.2 plant-based consumers.
This project built on the strong collaborative relationship we have with Vegetarian Express by effectively ‘lending’ them some of our marketing and PR resources. Not only did we support them at a challenging time, but also helped launch them into a new channel of home delivery. They have since gone on to work directly with the PR agency for future opportunities.
Subsequent marketing activity has headlined another of our plant-based brands at no cost to us.
This reactive project required internal investment and our business needed confidence that we had the capability to reach an entirely new customer, despite us being an unknown in this market.
Winterbotham Darby gave us confidence to launch into the channel with their retail experience. The whole team were phenomenally supportive, and went above and beyond, at incredibly short notice, to offer their expertise and support us.
Winterbotham Darby are much more than a supplier to us; we view them as a strategic partner. The team’s responsive, collaborative approach are a huge point of difference vs others in the market. They are often our first port of call to explore opportunities with, and are exactly the type of supplier we want to continue to grow our business with.
The resulting press coverage we secured for the launch of the Vegetarian Express home delivery service was very well deserved in recognising the innovation and reactive thinking from both companies in helping the wider community, while ensuring food destined for catering outlets was put to good use.
At a critical time in the foodservice industry, this project really demonstrates the added-value benefits that we at Winterbotham Darby can provide to our customers. We are more than just a supplier of product, we are a collaborative partner who can help support the growth and development of our customers’ business
One of our manufacturing customers, using our Spanish chorizo in sandwiches, was carrying out a pasteurisation process on the raw material to ensure a zero listeria reading. Whilst ensuring technical adherence, it was affecting the taste and quality of the product.
We decided to trial high pressure processing (HPP) to reduce the need to pasteurise. Therefore, we challenged our Spanish partner, to be able to provide HPP-ready products.
We were both new to this process and so our partner came to the UK to visit another HPP site to learn more. It was a steep learning curve to trial the new process. Teething issues and challenges included correct weight formats and adaptations to packaging that was either being damaged or didn’t fit into the baskets that went into the HPP unit.
Trials took place at multiple sites and involved many visits back and forth, across a 4-month process.
However, we discovered that the HPP was providing the results we wanted with zero listeria readings for our manufacturer.
The project was a win/win for both. Our supply partner learnt about a new manufacturing process, allowing them to strengthen their capability. We were able to future proof our end-customer business – also providing an excellent example of our flexibility and willingness to find the right solution, with the right partner.
In addition, we have seen that the process doesn’t affect organoleptic properties and can also expand the life of some products – which could be useful for other customers
This project is a great example of existing and new partners plus internal stakeholders coming together to find a suitable solution to meet our customers’ needs. The flexibility and teamwork demonstrated to get the result, and to the required deadline, was second to none.
From a technical perspective, HPP inactivates pathogens by changes to the cell envelope and effects on cellular activities. However, as it does not damage covalent bonds, the flavour and nutrition are minimally affected. This was an excellent result for us, as it enabled us to change our parameters on listeria without compromising product safety.”
We work with over 135 different supply partners across Europe. These can range from small artisan producers to artichoke growers to large European farming groups.
Maintaining strong relationships and regular communication is key to successful relationships, as well as the support we offer with regards to NPD, development, technical support, and logistics provision.
We received a brief from a premium retailer, who were looking to re-design their premium tier continental meat range. The products in the range had to meet the specific criteria: A great provenance story, artisanal production, or an historical recipe.
One of our French partner sites had a walnut saucisson which we loved. We wanted to make the recipe extra special, so we worked with them to adapt it- switching to higher welfare raw material encased in a natural casing. We also challenged them to produce a smaller 180g pack weight. They rose to the challenge and consistently produced a perfect premium tier product.
Working with the partner site enabled us to provide something different and bespoke to our customer. Our partner was prepared to adapt a product to create something with a unique and artisanal feel. Meeting the high standards expected of a UK retailer and delivering a higher welfare product is an even bigger bonus.
This was a great project for us to work on with Winterbotham Darby, and we were confident in delivering as we have a range of great products. We could already guarantee provenance, quality, and flavour, so we just worked together to create the bespoke element – adapting the product size and selecting the type of nut. We were happy to be able to supply another fantastic product to a major UK retailer so that more people can taste our delicious saucisson.”
This was an exciting project to work on with our partner and we’re really pleased with the products that have been launched. The finished products combine innovative flavours, provenance and attractive packaging. Consumers love the new products and sales have exceeded expectations.