Letter from America

Posted: 30/06/2014


I am currently at Fancy Food Show in New York, but possibly more importantly a few days out of the office to clear my head and get my head out of my laptop, and get an overview and fresh perspective. There is no better place than the USA for picking up new ideas and hopefully a few new products, and there are a couple of products I am specifically seeking for an important customer, and before you say anything these products aren’t available in the UK otherwise we would have bought them already.

I have been thinking about that dilemma recently. Cotswold Fayre is primarily a wholesaler of British and Irish speciality foods and that is the way it will always stay. However, with many of the British brands we sell throughout the UK through our field sales team of 8 and office telesales team of another 8, we are often only dealing with the small accounts. (more…)

Summer Holidays

Posted: 09/06/2014

summerholidaysI always know it is summer when I arrive at the office at 7 a.m. on a Monday morning and have to open some of the 18 windows to let the weekend heat out! And that was the case this morning! What a weekend - although punctuated with the odd tropical downpour for some of us. Our sales suddenly jumped upwards last week in preparation for the forecasted warm weekend and long may this continue for all of us.

Certainly for Cotswold Fayre this promises to be a very busy summer, with all the usual activities going on: busy season for sales, trade shows, Christmas sell-in etc. and also for us this year a big new IT system going in, which will keep us all out of mischief for a few weeks! All this has led me to think about work-life balance over the last few weeks. Mine has gone to pieces recently, having been something I was relatively happy with a couple of years ago. (more…)

Expansion & Investment

Posted: 28/04/2014


It’s been a busy 2-3 weeks since coming back from Italy, with a weekend away in Prague (not work), a 24 hour trip to Ireland and our residential Christmas Sales Meeting. More of that later, but the feeling I am getting from those I talk to increasingly is that business is good and set to become better during 2014 and into 2015. Expansion plans for retailers are everywhere and suppliers are investing in new production facilities.

Take Ireland, for example. Those I talked to last week were feeling that for the first time since the demise of the Celtic Tiger, the economy was growing and there was a new confidence. This was from both food producers and the cab drivers who took me to and from the airport - and are much more talkative than their UK counterparts! (more…)

Summer 2014

summer14Well, we have just had the hottest weekend of the year, so I am expecting a large upsurge in our soft drink sales this week. It’s time to think about summer merchandising. Aside from Christmas the months of June and July are often the best of the year for speciality food retailers as the warmer weather means that people in the UK are out more, tend to treat themselves and their guests for parties and barbeques and sales of snacks, drinks and barbeque-type products especially can go through the roof.

This year is a World Cup year, and whilst England traditionally have no chance at all, in previous years when this also has been the case, football world cups more than any other event tend to have a negative effect on speciality food sales. I am not quite sure why this is, but perhaps possibly that people go out less as they are glued to their TV sets. (more…)

Summer 2014

The art of patience


I am writing this at the airport, waiting for my plane back to the UK, after an interesting few days in Italy in Verona. What a splendid city, one I haven’t visited before, but must do again when not working. Although sampling the local food and wine can hardly be described as taxing! One main thought is in my head as I travel home, and that is how much more the Italians value food than we do in the UK. In case you think that is an over-statement, I really don’t think it is. Of course, there is a small percentage of the UK who do exactly this - and they are our customers, in the main. But generally a much higher percentage of the population here, I am sure, care about their food, invest in their food and are prepared to wait for good food, rather than it being something that is a necessity before moving on to do something else more useful. (more…)

The art of patience

spring is here


So, the first national trade show of the year is over and the hard work of following up all the new enquiries begins. I must say that there was a great sense of buoyancy at the NEC and people are looking to the food sector as one of the areas to drive growth in the UK at present. For example, there were several film crews at the Farm Shop & Deli Show, and you can see my debut on Irish television at 6pm this Wednesday (2nd April) on RTE. It was filmed after a straight two hours on the “Farm Shop and Deli Live” stage, so not sure how coherent I was!

So as I said many pluses on this show, which has a high percentage of people coming through the door, who are relevant to the sector. Let’s face it, whilst the NEC is central to many, it is a venue you have to plan to come to. The venues in London are more conducive to members of the public dropping in, so attract more time-wasters. In other ways, however, the NEC is a complete joke. Why when there are acres and acres of car parks do they charge punters to park? (more…)

spring is here

From Bala to Birmingham


I am in the middle of a gear change - desperately trying to catch up with lots of projects after coming back from Kenya earlier this week, before heading up to the NEC on Sunday for the Farm Shop and Deli Show (part of Food & Drink Expo). By the way I am only setting up on Sunday, the show this year has changed to Monday-Wednesday, rather than Sunday-Tuesday. I have already encountered a number of people who told me they were going to the show on Sunday - you can but only if you want to help us set up our stands! Perhaps William Reed lacking a little in communication here?

My regular trips to the orphanage in Kenya do add a good perspective to all I do, and I would thoroughly recommend anyone to become involved in something other than your day-to-day business activities. This time I took two colleagues with me, and both have told me that it was a “life-changing experience” and are very pleased to have that opportunity. (more…)

From Bala to Birmingham

FARMA Awards

farmretailawardsThis week I was privileged to be at the FARMA conference and awards. This annual event helps farm shops grow their businesses as well as awarding the best farm shops in the land. As one of the fastest growing retail sectors in the UK and key customers always for any producer of speciality foods it is a good event to be at. Whilst farm shops should primarily focus on their own produce, followed by other good local produce, the key to making these businesses more profitable is to stock the “best of the rest” in terms of speciality food from the UK, and have some well-known speciality food brands that encourage customers to increase their basket spend, which is often far too low.

Many of the initial large farm shops developed in the South of England 10-15 years ago, but the north of England, Wales and Scotland have certainly caught up in recent years, and some of the best examples of good practice are now to be found north of Birmingham. This is certainly reflected in our growth over the last 2-3 years. Just look at this year’s winners: (more…)

FARMA Awards

Good PR – Bad PR


A comment from Deborah Meaden last night on Dragon’s Den has prompted this week’s blog. “You can’t do anything with £3,000 per month spent on PR”. I think this was in connection with a business, called Rustic Indian, that did get a rare investment from Piers Linney. A lovely range of chilled curry sauces - samples have been sent and devoured by members of the team at Cotswold Fayre - delicious. This was before we started thinking about chilled!

Actually, guess what, I disagree. Admittedly more funds would be great, but with a good product with eye-catching packaging, you can achieve quite a lot with this kind of money. Articles from the Telegraph appear on my desk every Monday morning from one of my colleagues who is an avid reader of this particular broadsheet, and I am sure the same is true of other broadsheets, in particular. This national coverage is often for relatively small brands and is achieved for a tiny fraction of what it would cost to advertise in said publications. (more…)

Good PR – Bad PR

Supplier & New Supplier of the Year Announced


Apart from continuous rain, the last two weeks have seen me first in Scotland, as you know from the last blog, followed by the annual pilgrimage to ISM in Cologne. The latter event always involves prolonged periods in the evening keeping warm in the local beer taverns, so best that I was only there for two nights! (No - I am not getting too old, just a little more health conscious these days!) ISM is one of the more innovative shows I go to, and whilst it seems smaller than it used to be, there is nothing in the world of confectionery and bakery products that doesn’t happen there. Lots of innovation - we just need to work out which products are priced respectably enough to sell in the UK market. You will have to wait for our Christmas 2014 catalogue to see what we chose!

Back to Scotland and I took the opportunity whilst there to present our two annual awards to our suppliers. (more…)

Supplier & New Supplier of the Year Announced