BWG Foodservice recently announced its intentions to surpass a sales figure of €100m in 2017, for the first time in its history.  A changing industry backdrop has allowed the company to flourish and its specialisation in product innovation and the supply of multi-temperature produce has been met with a positive reception.

BWG Foodservice caters to over 20,000 retailers, restaurants, cafés, pubs, clubs, delis and more across the country, from seven key depots in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Letterkenny, Killarney, Ennis and Dundalk and with the support of additional Value Centre wholesale cash and carries.

John Moane has been Managing Director of BWG Wholesale for over ten years.  Food for Thought recently sat down with John to discuss how BWG has capitalised on the sector’s growth and his thoughts on the increasing speed of evolution amongst foodservice operators. Ordering methods are changing rapidly – it took a long time for fax to be phased out, yet with the onset of digital ordering it looks as if the days of telephone call-ins for supplies are nearing an end. How does BWG see this playing out over the coming years?

John Moane: Like all other sectors of the economy, we in the foodservice industry are evolving fast, leveraging technology as a means of offering new and improved services to our customers.

In BWG Foodservice, we have put a huge emphasis on technology over the past number of years and have been investing heavily in enhancing our digital capabilities. Right now, we’re preparing to launch a very exciting new online ordering platform which will transform the way in which our customers can order and manage their purchases.

At the same time, we won’t be taking a standardised approach. After all, many of our customers still opt to put their orders through over the phone. We still take fax orders from some businesses so nothing’s off the table for now. The reality is we work with a wide variety of businesses, big and small, so our focus is on delivering on each of their unique needs by providing a suite of options, while constantly optimising our digital offering.

You preside over a huge network of very diverse offerings – what do you see right now as the primary differences between retail and foodservice, which is more on trend, where is the primary growth coming from?

The lines are very much blurring between retail and foodservice. BWG Foodservice is part of BWG Foods, which comprises a number of Ireland’s leading retail brands including Spar, Eurospar, Mace, Londis and XL. These brands are leading the way in transforming the retail market by offering innovative food solutions such as in-store cafes and prepared meals, previously only associated with traditional foodservice businesses like cafes and restaurants.

Bord Bia recently highlighted limited service restaurants, i.e. fast food and food-on-the-go, as the fastest growing foodservice category up to 2020, and this trend has been driven by our partners in the retail space.

In common across both industries right now though is the major focus on health and wellbeing. Consumers today expect businesses to provide healthy options and are more interested than ever in the quality of the produce. We identified this trend emerging a number of years ago and put in place a plan to source the best food products on the market.

BWG trucks outside a depot.

How much crossover is there from your retail to your foodservice offerings – can one be transferred, in part or whole, to the other?

The crossover that exists between retail and foodservice is what gives BWG its competitive edge. Through our retail estate we’re able to monitor consumer trends in real-time and adapt our foodservice offerings accordingly where it makes sense. Access to on-the-ground consumer insights means we’re always in touch with what’s selling and what’s not, meaning we’re able to provide expert advice to our foodservice customers.

There’s a constant deluge of new trends and consumer demands, driven by increased awareness of international markets.  How does BWG keep on top of this, especially as the requirements are increasingly diverse?

Everyone in BWG Foodservice strives to be a food expert.  We pride ourselves on having the deepest knowledge bank in the sector, and that’s partly due to our unique ability to leverage insights from our retail business, which includes over 1,040 stores nationwide.

We take a partnership approach to our customer relationship because no one knows their businesses better than our customers. Generally our customers are hugely knowledgeable and know exactly what they want and when they want it. That doesn’t mean we don’t challenge them with new ideas. We invest significant resources into monitoring industry intelligence to ensure that our offerings remain relevant to our customers and cutting edge where appropriate, particularly in high trend categories such as coffee and alcohol.

In tandem with this we work hard to ensure collaborative partnerships with our suppliers too, meaning we’re the first to know when there’s a new product about to launch in the market, or if there’s a certain food that’s about to become the next big thing.

We also take time to stand back and look at trends on a global scale. We’re an Irish business but we have a unique global reach through Spar International which allows us to tap into insights from across the world and forecast trends on the horizon across other markets.

BWG Foodservice Chef’s Book was launched at Catex 2017.

The recently launched Chef’s Book was a fantastic step forward for BWG Foodservice.  How has the reaction been so far?

We officially launched our BWG Foodservice Chef’s Book at Catex 2017 and it was a massive success from day one. A huge body of work went into the production of the book and we are extremely proud of the finished product; not just the look and feel but the level of vital information for those working in the foodservice industry. The inclusion of calorie information is an important element of the book because of the proposed industry guidelines, requiring food businesses in the future to provide calorie information for the consumer which can otherwise be difficult to evaluate when creating new dishes.

It’s a hugely comprehensive reference guide for our customers that would compliment any kitchen or foodservice operator across the country. Flicking through it you’ll quickly come to realise the volume of Irish suppliers we work with. I think it underlines our commitment to delivering the best quality, home grown fare on the market.

So far we’ve shared almost 2,000 copies with our customers but that number keeps on rising as momentum gathers behind it and customers realise the absolute benefit of having it as an essential resource.

How does BWG Foodservice source its products and ingredients?

BWG Foodservice has an expansive product range comprising over 8,000 product SKUs and we are constantly adding to that in line with market trends and specific customer needs.

We have our own dedicated trading team that is focussed on delivering great quality and value to our customers. There’s a wealth of expertise right across that team but what makes them really special is their taste for innovation.

They’re always keeping an eye out for new products that might benefit some of our customers and they aren’t afraid to push our suppliers to develop new offerings where they see an opportunity

We have a dedicated Recipe Kitchen at our Dublin depot and this is where our team regularly tests new concepts and flavours, giving them a unique opportunity to assess how new products might align with our customers menu pages and overall business strategies.

What does BWG see as the challenges facing the industry in the short term?  Especially as there is a lot of uncertainty regarding Brexit.  Do you believe this could affect the indigenous foodservice industry to any great degree, and if so how.

Negotiating the choppy waters of Brexit is without doubt the greatest challenge facing the foodservice industry today. Apart from the obvious challenges Brexit poses to the food supply chain, we also have to contend with a significant fall in the number of UK holidaymakers coming to Ireland. Our neighbours in the UK account for approximately 30% of our overall tourist intake per year but the short trip is becoming increasingly expensive to visitors due to the weakening of the Sterling and this will undoubtedly impact negatively on Ireland’s hospitality sector.

This links into the broader issue of competitiveness and the need for the hospitality sector as a whole to remain economical so that Ireland can continue to attract the high volume of tourism that it has enjoyed in recent years.

The other challenge facing the industry is the general cost of doing business. Recent commercial rates revisions have put some businesses under considerable pressure especially when you combine this with increased regulation.

Pic: Naoise Culhane.

What can the industry look forward to in the coming period, what can it do to continue to maximise its growth and profitability as it has been in recent years?

Forecasts suggest that the Irish foodservice sector will grow by 5% per year up until 2020 thanks to strong economic performance, falling unemployment, and the continuation of the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality industry. This provides significant growth opportunities for businesses up and down the country, including ourselves in BWG Foodservice.

The key to exploiting these growth opportunities will be the continued evolution of customer offerings through innovative and experiential experiences, maintaining relevance to the changing dynamics of food culture in Ireland. Step one in this process is to stay in tune with local and global trends. Irish food culture is mainly driven by foreign trends so it’s imperative that we as an industry track what is and isn’t working abroad, taking inspiration where we can.

Finally, what do you believe to be the outlook for BWG Foodservice over the short medium and long terms, what are the plans for the future especially with a projection of €100m revenue for 2017?

We have one simple goal and that is to deliver great quality food on time every time at market leading prices. Successfully delivering on this goal has allowed us to grow our business significantly in recent years and we now expect to surpass sales of €100m for BWG Foodservice for the first time in the company’s history, reinforcing our position as a major player in Ireland’s foodservice industry.

We’ve recently secured some major contracts representing a significant addition to our nationwide business. It’s hugely exciting because it gives us access to some of Ireland’s leading organisations, their staff, and their customers.

Looking to the future, our greatest strength is our ability to keep pushing forward. We’ve just completed a €5m investment programme which included enhancements to our nationwide logistics, upgrades to our IT systems, and the expansion of infrastructure through state-of-the-art warehousing developments. We’re nowhere near done though and we will continue to invest in our business, evolve our product offering and enhance our services, propelling our business to the next major milestone.

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