Woods Foodservice: Taking a fresh approach
Like many others, the pandemic hit Woods Foodservice hard but the decision to introduce fresh produce has seen sales bounce back and more. Wholesale News visited Woods’ headquarters to find out the secret of its success
Photography: Roy Kilcullen
Like many in foodservice, Woods Foodservice was flying high before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK, with customers expanding into new outlets and looking to the wholesaler to provide products.
“The period before the pandemic was really fast-paced,” remembers Lana Bhikha, Deputy Managing Director (pictured top).
“In addition to many of our customers expanding into new outlets, two of our main competitors had gone into administration, creating huge opportunity for us. It was a real boom time and we had lots of plans ready to put into action to run with this momentum.”
However, the pandemic was about to hit, which made the reality for the Uxbridge-based business a little different.
“Almost overnight our turnover plummeted by 90%,” admits Lana.
“While some customers embraced retail or delivery options and we continued to serve them, they were incredibly difficult times.”
Decisions made by the Woods Foodservice team during the pandemic enabled it to spring into action as soon as restrictions were eased, which some foodservice wholesalers were unable to do.
The decision to introduce fresh produce to its listings proved to be the secret weapon for Woods’ impressive bounceback.
“It had always been our intention to offer fresh produce, but we had always said we would only do so if we could do it as well as our competitors,” says Lana.
“With the closure of hospitality overnight, fresh produce suppliers faced challenges in continuing to operate. This meant customers were without supply and so we sprang into action.”
From humble beginnings with a relatively small fridge (now a dedicated chocolate room), the wholesaler’s fresh food offer has grown exponentially.
“We started with a select few customers, and it grew and we’ve not looked back. In fact, we’ve just been named Restaurant magazine’s Readers Choice for Fresh Produce, which is a meaningful award to win,” says Lana. “We also won the Top Supplier and Foodservice awards, so we’re absolutely over the moon to score three!”
Winning an award like this is testament to the hard work of the team, as Lana recognises that it’s not just about the range of products on offer but the top-quality service that goes alongside.
“Our team really is exceptional,” she says. “Everyone here cares about doing the job to the best of their ability, going the extra mile and making sure our customers know they can rely on us to have what they need, when they need it.”
Many of the workforce, Lana included, have been with the business for years. Lana joined straight out of university as an order taker, before working across a number of departments. She became commercial director before being named deputy managing director a year ago.
“So many of us have started our careers with Woods, and we’ve never left,” she laughs. “It shows just how special it is here. For our staff, there are always opportunities. We want them to progress, develop and try new roles, We invest in our people and strive to make small improvements every single day.”
It’s clear that for Woods, data and analysis is key to all decision making.
“We’re very analytical,” says Jade Jones, Brand Ambassador.
“Everything has to be rooted in data because that’s where the answers are. We’re continually reviewing policies and procedures to ensure the business is as efficient as it can possibly be.
Lana agrees: “We even have a book that all we swear by – Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed – we often quote it!
“If a problem keeps happening, we don’t just look to fix it, we need to find the cause so we don’t make the same mistake again. This outlook is applied to any problem that arises across the departments.
Everything from picking orders to forecasting supply. It helps the team identify the root cause, and from there we can work on fixing it, either by reviewing existing processes or implementing new ones.”
While many of the staff, such as Lana and Jade, have been with Woods for decades, so too have customers.
“Our customer base is loyal, but that’s because we prioritise communication and we work with them day in, day out,” says Lana. “It really is a two-way street.”
With 39 Michelin stars across its customer base of top hotels, restaurants, gastropubs and independent caterers, it’s clear that Woods’ customers expect the very best.
“They are experts at what they do and they rely on us to be the same, and I’m delighted our team is exactly that – we genuinely are experts at delivering excellence, and are multi award-winners.”
Customers can order up until midnight for delivery within hours, plus the ease of ordering all categories from Woods means there’s just one point of contact, one order, one delivery, saving the customer time. The wholesaler also prides itself on providing the best-quality products, such as 25 different variations of cress.
Availability is also key. The team’s target is 99.1% but actually consistently hits 99.5%. A result Lana says is down to the team’s approach to suppliers.
“While data and analysis plays a crucial role in forecasting, we also pride ourselves on being as likeable as we can. People buy from people, and we want suppliers to enjoy working with us. We will go out of our way to ensure orders are fulfilled, even if it means sourcing a product at a loss. Our stock levels must be maintained, and we don’t veer from this. These are the basics that we have to get right and it’s not let us down yet.”
With deliveries now reaching new geographical locations, including Birmingham, Manchester, Brighton and Bristol, it’s clear that Woods has big ambitions.
“The new areas we are targeting are top food spots in the UK. There’s so much emerging talent in these cities and we want to be able to support them as much as possible,” says Lana. “We try to be one step ahead and we want to support our customers looking to expand as much as possible. Longer term, we’ll look to open delivery hubs in those areas too.”
The business has long had sustainability at its core: “We’ve been carbon neutral for three years already,” explains Lana.
The wholesaler has rolled out a salary sacrifice scheme for staff to purchase an electric car, ideal as Woods is within the ULEZ zone. It hopes that half of its delivery fleet will be box vans and lorries, and the other half electric, while its company car fleet is all electric.
The building itself has solar panels on the roof, sensor LED lights and water harvesting.
“We do everything we can to be as green as possible,” says Lana. “We want to be sure we’re doing the right thing by everyone – our customers, our team and the environment we operate in. It’s that simple.”Foodservice fresh produce FWD members Jade Jones Lana Bhikha meet the member sustainability Woods Foodservice