‘We’re very much in demand’ – Martin Ward of Country Range Group

In the year to date, Country Range Group is trading 20% up on the same period last year, and in May it had a record trading month at £82 million, reported chief executive Martin Ward (pictured) at the organisation’s annual exhibition and conference, held last month at Telford International Centre.

“We are performing very well indeed,” he commented. “We exited 2023 with a turnover of just over £850 million. We targeted ourselves to do £1 billion by 2026. At the moment it looks as though we could be close to this at the end of 2024. Some of this growth is from food inflation but a lot of it is from new business wins by our members.”

To support this growth, CRG is maintaining its focus on its four pillars: sustainability, own brands, data and scale.

Later this summer, the group will launch an individual member sustainability guide to help communicate to customers and suppliers the work that is being done by its member wholesalers to reduce their carbon footprint.

In the own-brand space, CRG now offers the entry-level Catering Essentials selection alongside its main Country Range portfolio, and it is continuing to develop its premium Signature brand. “It’s all about giving caterers more choice,” Ward explained. “82% of our customers buy our own brands and 65% of caterers are now using own-brand foodservice products.”

From July, CRG will be repeating the member roadshow it held last year. The marketing team and development chef Paul Dickson will visit members across the UK and Ireland to deliver personalised presentations and product tastings.

In addition, a new sales portal is in the early stages of development, said head of marketing Emma Holden. It is being designed to provide members’ sales teams with a whole host of information, including an own-brand product bible and sector-specific tools.

She added that CRG is aiming to introduce new non-food products in the coming months, as well as a new front-of-house range early in 2025.

The public sector landscape is changing. “This is mainly due to a change in demographics,” reported Ward. “Over 65s will see the largest growth, and young children will see a decline in share, which will mean the landscape will shift from education to care and hospitals.”

In response, said Holden, CRG has created sector champions to work more closely with members’ sales teams and specific cost-sector customers, as well as develop partnerships with groups like LACA (formerly the Local Authority Caterers Association) and the National Association of Care Caterers (NACC).

As far as data is concerned, initiatives including the CRG directory, Enable and CRG Insight are helping to increase the efficiency of the group’s internal processes, while also providing clearer information for members, suppliers and customers.

In terms of scale, CRG has brought in two new members in the past six months – Arthur David and Waterdene Foodservice. “We haven’t stood still; we’re very much in demand,” said Ward. “We are in changing times and there are lots of disruptors out there who want to imitate what we do so successfully. They can copy what we do, they can acquire our businesses or even some of our personnel, but they can’t have our mindset or our culture.”

On the subject of attracting members, CRG chairman Philip de Ternant added: “Our market is ever-changing and we will only accept new members into our group who can and will strengthen our position. Interestingly, the board of CRG says no, more often than yes, to wholesalers wanting to join. This may sound strange when one of our core strategies is ‘scale’ but it must be the right business – one that will assist us all and the strategic objectives that we set, one that will comply with our code of conduct, be open minded, financially strong and able to have fun.

There were 110 suppliers and over £2.5 million in orders placed at the event.

“Our strength comes from our disciplines: similar-minded companies with shared values, integrity and vision.”

More than 500 delegates from CRG’s 13 members attended the annual exhibition and conference, and orders worth over £2.5 million were placed on the day with the 110 supplier exhibitors.

“We love working with our branded partners; we love having those ‘more for more’ conversations,” said Ward. “Whilst nowadays we are so much more than a buying group, buying is really core to our business,” he reminded delegates. “As long as our buying is right, we can continue to add value to our members’ businesses in lots of other areas, but it must be buying first.”

• The 2025 CRG annual exhibition and conference will be held in Belfast. Other forthcoming events include the 2024 ‘An Evening With’ the Country Range Group, which will take place on 12 December at Frameless in London. “This year we’ll be taking our guests on a truly immersive culinary experience around the globe – without leaving London,” Holden promised.

• More than £6,500 was raised at the CRG event for The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation.


Published Date: June 24, 2024
Category: Wholesale Industry News