A team effort

17/10/2013 - 10:49
Almost 100% of Talkington Bates sites offer a grab ‘n’ go’ facility. Lunch Business talks to Fiona Hopkinson about that side of the business

Tell me about your background?

I grew up in a village in Suffolk wanting to be a chartered surveyor like my father. My love of food was instilled into me from an early age – my family were often entertaining and my mum loved to cook.

At 16, I left school and went to college to learn Cordon Bleu cookery. I soon realised that I had a natural ability and cooking was something I enjoyed. This made me determined to get a job and carve out a career in the industry. I  became a private cook for various families and then got a job as head chef at Joe’s Café, London. Although it was hard work and long hours, I thrived on the demands of working in a busy restaurant.

My next job was at a prestigious hospitality location in London, with large budgets for high-end events. This is where I learnt about the importance of front-of-house detail.
Aged 25, I moved into a sales role at a contract caterers – I found my niche and realised that catering and sales was the way forward for me. I’m now managing director at Talkington Bates Midlands, as well as group sales director, responsible for all sales across Talkington Bates.

What does your day to day job involve?

Every day is different – from visiting potential clients, working on-site with the catering teams, preparing tendering proposals and I have been known to step in at the last minute to cook at some sites!

My role is very rewarding and very much a ‘team’ focused job. It is great to be part of something that is so important to everybody’s lives – food and nutrition.

I believe it’s essential that you enjoy work and are able to laugh, as it’s such a large part of your life.

What is your biggest achievement?

Before I joined Talkington Bates, I was involved with two contract catering companies and built them both up to £10m+ businesses. I’m now enjoying bringing the same success to the Talkington Bates business – during my four years here it has grown by about 30% through new sectors, such as ‘Extra Care’. It’s all about creating opportunities internally, as well as externally.

How do you measure success?

Success is ultimately measured in terms of new business wins and site sales, but here at Talkington Bates we believe that success is also measured by client, customer and team satisfaction. We conduct regular client satisfaction surveys and have feedback forms at all our sites for diners to complete.

We have a very high retention rate – 96% in the last 12 months – and much of our business is gained through referrals and word-of-mouth, which speaks volumes.
I was recently at a pitch talking to another contract caterer, who told us that if they find out beforehand that Talkington Bates is pitching for the business, they don’t usually go ahead and tender.

What are the top sellers in food to go?

Top sellers are seasonal; in July for example our Scandinavian influenced sandwiches are proving very popular. They are made using three tiers of speciality breads – such as Polarbrod, a soft flat bread or Lompar, a pancake style bread – with traditional fillings such as salmon gravalax, baby gem hearts with honey mustard dressing or prawns with cream cheese and a salad garnish.

In addition, our recently launched ‘Salad Pots’ are selling well, especially the salmon and noodle salad – they’re perfect for hungry workers to take off-site and enjoy in the sun.

What are the challenges and opportunities for Talkington Bates?

•    Food costs continue to be a major challenge due to poor crops, which have affected the cost of animal feed and increased almost all food prices. We work with our chef managers to combat this and look at smarter, seasonal menus, which have meant minimal and in most cases no price increases for customers.

•    The high street is also a threat, but again by working with our chefs and managers to bring the high street into our restaurants we’ve created new opportunities. We try and better what the high street offers, competing with meal deals and delivering a wider choice, fresher produce and better value.

•    We provide bespoke solutions at each site – we look at the competition in each area and evaluate what challenges need to be overcome. We look at average spend per head and create suitably priced eating opportunities which are innovative, different and exciting. It’s not just about the food offer but about adding value to our diners as well.

•    Summer is always a challenge because people are either on holiday, saving up to go on holiday or dieting for their holiday! This gives us an opportunity to provide lighter options such as ‘Salad Pots’, ‘Chopped Box Salads’ and soups – hot and cold – which sell very well, due to their low calorie content and cheaper price point. Our mini desserts are also popular in the summer months.

Identify where your grab & go sites are. Any plans for any more?

Nearly 100% of our sites offer a grab ‘n’ go’ facility. Grab ‘n’ go is a key part of our catering solution and we will continue to offer, expand and improve this facility wherever we deem suitable.

How is Talkington Bates innovating as a business?

We like to keep up with food and industry trends, an example of which is our innovative packaging for our pre-boxed sandwiches in the ‘grab ‘n’ go’ facility; these are 100% recyclable, biodegradable and compostable ‘stacker’ boxes. These boxes allow for all types of sandwiches including bagels, baguettes and toasties. This new style of box has generated packaging cost savings of over 30% compared to the old style wedge boxes and with 15 types of breads and over 25 fillings, they are able to accommodate a large selection as required for the demanding ‘grab ‘n’ go’ sector.  

Identify the latest trends in the sandwich market

Trends which we’ve identified and tackled as a business include: offering more flavours from around the world (see ‘International Sandwiches’ in initiatives answer), providing more substantial hot sandwich solutions and catering for the budget-conscious customer with the introduction of our ‘Simple Sandwich’ range.

How are the deli bar and grab & go facilities doing at your sites?

Our deli counter sandwich offering has seen a growth of 18% in the last year. This is largely down to the premium quality offered – the service makes sandwiches to order, using freshly baked bread – delivered every day – with over 25 tasty fillings and the choice to eat your sandwich hot or cold. All ‘Deli Bar’ sandwiches come wrapped in biodegradable paper.

How was grab & go introduced into the business, and why?

Our ‘grab ‘n’ go’ offer reflects our client’s needs, which we tailor according to each site. ‘Grab ‘n’ go is especially important at our many B&I sites because it is essential in the workplace desk environment.

Who are your competitors and what do they do best?

We compete with the high street and are always looking at what they’re doing so we can replicate and in most cases do it better and cheaper.

We’re able to react much quicker to food trends and changes in the weather because we don’t have to go through the red tape high street chains have to deal with. A great example of this was during the heat wave, where we were able to offer bbq lunches at short notice.

How is the grab & go sector faring?

The ‘grab ‘n’ go’ sector in our sites is growing and is based around the requirements of our diners. The very term ‘grab ‘n’ go’ means that most people want to get something to eat in a hurry and either get back to work or run an errand – our facilities usually provide the most extensive, convenient and value-for-money, option.

How much of your business is now grab & go?

‘Grab ‘n’ go’ accounts for around 12% of our turnover.
Talkington Bates was recently shortlisted and awarded ‘Highly Commended’ at this year’s ‘Sammies’ Awards.

What next for Talkington Bates?

Talkington Bates is dedicated to maintaining the quality service and excellent food offering to our existing clients as well as continuing to grow the business.

We will endeavour to jump on any food trends and develop our ‘grab ‘n’ go’ facility as the food universe evolves.

How important is CSR to the business?

CSR is very important to Talkington Bates – we’re an environmentally conscious company, dedicated to using fresh, local, seasonal and organic produce that is sustainably sourced.

We focus on ‘hyper sourcing’ to minimise the number of food miles generated – most of our sites grow their own herbs and some of them operate allotments or vegetable patches in order to grow vegetables.

We also work in partnership with an operational farm, Bolton Park in Hertfordshire, which produces meat and eggs for our local sites. All meat is sourced locally and the pork we use is British Red Tractor accredited which is a reassurance of quality.

Our environmental awareness extends beyond food to encompass the whole organisation. Our policy focuses on six key areas we believe represent the best chance of making a real difference with key stakeholders and the environment. The areas ensure a 360 degree approach to CSR making sure there is full commitment and practices in place.

Describe some of the grab & go initiatives Talkington Bates is offering

•    Hot Deli Sandwich – diners can enjoy a roast as a grab ‘n’ go option. Operated at a live station, chefs carve the daily roast e.g. Boltons Park Farm Roast Pork, Dorset Braised Salt Beef, Lancashire Roast Chicken, Boiled Hertfordshire Gammon and add to bloomer bread with accompanying sauces e.g. apple, horseradish.

•    International Sandwich – developed bespoke Deli specials taking the popular tastes from around the world such as Asian and North and South American. A very popular sandwich introduction has been from Scandinavian influence. This sandwich is made in three tiers using speciality breads such as Polarbrod, a soft flat bread or Lompar, a pancake type bread folded over. The traditional fillings are salmon gravalax, baby gem hearts, honey mustard dressing, garnish and prawns spread with cream cheese but these can also – and often are – be adapted to create a bespoke filling.

•    Simple Sandwich Range – introduced to cater for the more budget-conscious customer. The same high quality sandwich, but made using every day white or wholemeal bread plus a filling – ham, chicken, cheese, tuna or egg. Meal deal offers are operated alongside the ‘Simple’ range.

•    Meal Deals – Free packet of crisps or piece of fruit with any ‘salad pot’ or free packet of crisps when customers buy a ‘Deli Special’ and bottle of drink or soup and a ‘grab ‘n’ go’ sandwich from the favourites range at a special price.

•    ‘To Go’ bags – customers can buy re-usable, cotton ‘bags for life, which is a lunch bag, with separate sections to hold two cups of coffee as well as sandwiches, ensuring no more juggling!

How important is health in food to go offerings?

We work very closely with a nutritionist to ensure we provide an extensive selection, catering for all dietary needs such as vegetarian, low-fat and gluten-free, with a non-bread alternative of open sandwiches using rice cakes or crispbreads. This is tailored per site to meet the specific requirements of customers and is constantly reviewed.

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