Below is a Q&A from Scotland Food & Drink Fortnight with our Managing Director, Craig Stevenson, talking to him as part of their #LocalLegend campaign...
Can you tell us a bit about your business?
Braehead Foods are a national food wholesaler who have been in operation for over 30 years. We supply many different areas of the hospitality industry from small, family run cafes in the West of Scotland to large corporate events and stadia facilities in London. I’m also a Brand Ambassador for our sister company, The Cook School Scotland, which is run by my daughter, Aileen. The Cook School was formed in 2009 and hosts many different themed cookery classes.
No matter the size of the customer’s business, the answer is always yes, and we endeavour to supply them with the highest quality of produce. I, Braehead Foods and The Cook School Scotland have been avid supporters of the Scottish hospitality industry, supporting many causes, events, and people in the industry over the years.
How has the Coronavirus crisis impacted your business so far?
The whole hospitality industry grounded to a stop and basically didn’t move for 4 months. Our business had previously been a 24/7 operation, and this was no longer required. No hotels, no restaurants, no events, no football didn’t leave much for Braehead Foods to do.
The stark reality hit that I had circa 150 staff to look after and massively depleted revenue inflows so unfortunately, we were looking at lots of employees losing their jobs until the government furlough scheme came into place and offered us a lifeline. Over the years I’ve let people go that weren’t performing, which always bothered me, but it was really hard to let go of good people that were performing, working hard and were doing a great job. It’s one thing building a business up but being faced with having to wind it down is really difficult. From the outset I received overwhelming support from staff, customers, suppliers, banks and Scottish Enterprise.
The Cook School officially closed their doors in the middle of March, before any official government announcements were in place, in order to protect staff and the public. As yet, those doors remain closed. The nation really seemed to get a passion for cooking during lockdown which was the inspiration behind the introduction of the Cook School @ Home online Zoom classes. These classes allow the team to continue teaching our customers to cook whilst offering a social sanctuary during a time of worry and uncertainty. People were working from home, self-isolating, missing friends and family. We felt these classes would help to overcome some of these barriers and give people something to look forward to. The classes have proven to be so popular they’re now on our calendar to stay!
How has your business needed to evolve and change to operate in this environment?
There are many negative ways that Covid-19 has impacted my business, but there have been a lot of positive changes that have been implemented to the way the business is run that will remain in place even after this crisis is over. l had the time to pause, take a step back and look at the business from top to bottom and make changes to the way we do things. I was self-isolating so by physically stepping back from the business it allowed me to concentrate on strategising and rebuilding. I made changes to delivery schedules, staffing levels, shift patterns, product mixes: all of which had been on the cards for a while, but day-to-day operations stalled the implementation. The enforced lockdown allowed me to rip the plaster off and action these changes, without which my business would not have survived.
Has it presented opportunities which you would not otherwise have considered?
Our wholesale business basically reduced to nothing overnight. Panic buying had set in across the nation and being a food service business, I knew that we had the infrastructure in place to support the local community and the vulnerable within it. We started a phone and collect facility where local residents could phone their order in, drive past our factory in their cars and staff would put their goods in the boot of their cars; complying with social distancing rules and keeping both the staff and the customers safe and expanding wholesale into retail. We were sitting with thousands of pounds worth of fresh produce in stock, so this allowed us to reduce the volume of food waste that was facing the bin.
We started offering home deliveries of our produce to help those who were isolating and unable to leave their homes. With most staff out of the business, I was light on the manpower to actually carry out these deliveries. This challenge saw us collaborate with a local taxi company and they facilitated the deliveries; it was a win/win situation for both companies as I was short on drivers and they were short their usual customer base. The taxi drivers are used to navigating themselves round the back roads and cul-de-sacs of the local area whereas my drivers are more likely to be reversing a lorry up outside a five-star city centre hotel. I would never have previously considered using a taxi company to deliver Braehead produce before, having a fleet of over 20 refrigerated vans, why would I need to? Due to the location of Braehead Foods factory, the fleet of taxis turned up at 4.30am every day and all the food parcels were delivered by 5.30am, which allowed the temperature and integrity of the products to remain in place.
I’ve always been a big supporter of the local community in Kilmarnock and surrounding areas. The local hospital is visible from my premises and many of the Doctors and Nurses who work there have been loyal customers of The Cook School Scotland, the Café and the Shop over the years. I wanted to show my appreciation and support for the amazing frontline staff, so we donated food parcels with ready meals and other essentials and offered discounts and flexible collection times to accommodate their long shift patterns.
Finally, how are you celebrating this Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight?
Braehead Foods have a strong affiliation with Game produce, with the processing and supply of Game a significant part of the operations of the business since inception. Despite 2020 being a challenging year for the Game industry, there is so much fantastic grouse, pheasant, venison etc across the estates in Scotland that needs to be sung about from the rooftops.
We kicked off the Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight in conjunction with The Cook School Scotland where we hosted a special Scottish Larder menu as part of our aforementioned, online Cook School @ Home classes. In the class we showcased and celebrated lots of different Scottish produce, how to cook it and where to source it. I even joined the classes myself to share interesting tales from my time in the industry.
To encourage chefs to be more open to having Game on their menu, we have been running a promotion on selected Game items made by our Production Kitchen. The promotion has been well received and is helping to raise the profile and inspire chefs of what can be created with Scottish Game. We have really enjoyed seeing what these skilled chefs have been creating with our fresh produce across theirs and our social media channels.
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