Staying the right size

You may have seen our recent announcements about Cucina’s new contract wins. These bring us up to 47 contracts now – just three short of our targeted ceiling of 50 partner schools.

It may seem strange that as a company we don’t want to ‘take over the world’ and become one of the giants of school catering. In fact, growth will always be vitally important to our company – long after we gain that 50th contract – but this is growth which has far more to do with quality than with size or scale.

Because many of our competitors are funded by third party investors, they must respond to pressure to grow in scale so that they can deliver the returns demanded of them. But many times, I have witnessed the cost of this kind of growth at speed. In days gone by, smaller companies grew to 100 or 200 sites and then looked to be snapped up by larger ones.

Our growth, on the other hand, comes from doing what we love. We are in the fortunate position of owning our company, so we can take decisions which are true to our beliefs and values, rather than having to compromise principles to deliver business growth.

The freshness and quality of the food we serve is well documented. But alongside that we have been able to drive sales by offering a wide range of daily choices unmatched by any of our competitors. We are always growing the quality of this offering, aiming to set the benchmark higher year after year. To help us go on achieving that, we have set 50 as our optimum number of contracts.

We’ve also been careful with the pace of our expansion. Every year, my team and I see around 30 schools tendering their catering services. The vast majority of these (around 25) we turn down as possible partners for Cucina, because we don’t feel they place a high enough priority on catering.

I appreciate that schools have a packed agenda and Heads and Principals have a very difficult job to do in setting priorities. But for us to succeed in any contract, the senior management team and the governing body must have catering and its many benefits right up there as a priority.

This explains, in part, how we have been able to achieve so much over and above just ‘catering’ in our partner schools – helping to create school gardens and allotments and working with teaching staff to educate students about food and healthy eating.

Another major factor in implementing our ‘quality’ vision is to do with our choice of chefs. Each of our school kitchens is run by a Head Chef with a proven track record working in a good restaurant or hotel. If we are to deliver consistently every day, our chef team must be of the highest calibre – and rest assured, it is.

In a competitive business world, we are very fortunate to be able to make all of these choices – I appreciate that. It is only because our business model has food right at its centre that we are able to do it.

Our growth comes not at the expense of quality and service. It comes from looking backwards and forwards in our supply chain and sideways in our industry. So we now have a fast-growing purchasing company offering great food prices to others. Our frozen slush/granita machines offering 99.9% fruit drinks (and one of your five a day) now total 400. We have opened our first high street restaurant and we are now looking to add a farm as well.

Do any of these distract us? Actually, that could never be the case because all of these activities are complementary and interdependent. Working together, they help keep us fresh and innovative, adding strength to how we deliver our brand values.

Till next time,

Steve

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