June marks the end of a momentous year for Stubbins Food Partnerships (StubbinsFP), which has been celebrating 50 years of excellence; a half-century of hard work and dedication that has seen Stubbins develop into one of the biggest salad suppliers to the UK’s supermarket sector. It also marks the official beginning of a new and exciting chapter in the company’s evolution, one that it has been developing for some time. Tommy Leighton talks to StubbinsFP managing director Peter Turone
Can you tell me why StubbinsFP has restructured and refocused in the way it has?
Peter Turone (PT): After 50 successful years that have seen us evolve into one of the largest suppliers of salads to the UK’s large supermarket chains, we have respectfully celebrated our historical achievements in the last 12 months, while we have also been quietly repositioning ourselves as supply chain specialists and a wider food group.
The retail grocery environment is finally bottoming out and repositioning for hopefully slightly better times. The discounters and the ‘high end’ retailers have established themselves through continued growth while the mainstream retailers are still facing challenges but are adjusting to this new order.
While we are established within this traditional market, as Stubbins FP, we are now taking the experience, knowledge and expertise we have built up and transferring it into other retail channels, as well as the wholesale, foodservice and catering sectors.
Over the years, our commitment to long-term partnerships has allowed us to forge exceptionally close ties with local, national and international growers, and underpinned the relationships at our own growing facilities in the UK and overseas, in Italy, Spain, Turkey, Poland, Israel and Holland that have allowed the company to be a reliable supplier of top-quality produce year-round.
We have committed to long-term partnerships with the industry as a whole too – and remain proud to be able to display accreditations such as Red Tractor and L.E.A.F, to be affiliated with organisations like the British Tomato Growers Association, the Cucumber Growers Association, the Pepper Technology Group and the Fresh Produce Consortium. We have also made a long-term commitment to employee welfare and development through our own Ethical Trading Policy, which applies not only to all staff, but also to every one of our suppliers in the UK and overseas.
We are fortunate to be able to look forward from such a strong historical base and have this opportunity to build on a rock-solid infrastructure, award-winning service levels, and the ability to deliver consistently world-class product from a controlled and integrated supply chain, at a competitive price.
We recognise that this is a challenging time for many people looking to supply food to the UK consumer. We also see that many of the customers working with consumers at the coalface are in need of solid partnerships and the type of assistance we are well equipped to provide.
We have no intention of abandoning our fresh produce roots, but we do believe that the principles that have made our approach to partnerships in the produce world so fulfilling can be applied to make our services available to a far wider network of customers, with a broader range of exciting new products.
We are already doing that, having expanded into ambient and frozen, dairy, fish and confectionery, and we have plans in place to extend the range further in the near future. We are interested in talking to anyone in the UK or overseas who feels working with us can enhance their business potential – we know it will and we’d like to show you how.
What is it specifically that StubbinsFP has to offer partners?
PT: Through our products, services and people we aim to forge partnerships that allow producers and buyers to join up and sell to customers, wherever they are.
Our principle goal is to understand what customers want and provide the practical and innovative solutions that will make it happen. Our skillset is to know how to find and provide those products and services we have identified, delivering them and in turn creating an efficient and effective partnership that creates value for all parties.
Looking at our facilities first – our BRC Grade A+ WX Hub (WX is Waltham Cross) is a 150,000ft2 food facility, and operates as a 24-hour, fully secure site right next to the M25, with easy access to London and the major arteries of the UK’s road network.
Stubbins established background as a pan-European distribution company, as well as a supplier to the UK supermarket chains, means we have the cross-dock pallets for suppliers to reach retailer’s Regional Distribution Centres (RDCs), as well as a modern “Euro 6” fleet of trucks that enables us to access anything from local London deliveries through to European groupage destinations.
And while we have been best known for our capabilities within the fresh produce sector, our refrigerated storage facilities are equally well equipped to handle fresh, frozen and ambient foods (there are seven separate chambers and 11 possible temperature regimes).
We also have a tremendous group of people. Stubbins Food Partnerships has employed and developed a specialist food team to manage the operation with a wealth of knowledge in areas of supply chain, distribution and packing, as well as strong contacts in the wholesale, foodservice and retail arenas. We also have access to specific market data and retail trends as an internet retail data facility.
Our fully-trained team has wide experience of various packhouse and product management regimes, through quality inspection, washing, grading, prepacking, date code and barcode management, QA [quality assurance] and dispatch, and we also have a shelf-life and print room.
In fact, the on-site scope and expertise runs to more than handling product for customers; one UK retailer is already operating its own RDC Hub from our WX Hub. The site can also be an effective and efficient foodservice hub, a consolidation hub for exporters and importers, a dedicated dry goods storage facility or a recycling centre.
Put simply, we are leading with innovation and creating value for our customers through our services, infrastructure and people. We help businesses to turn a small proposition into a big opportunity by bringing great local products and brands to customers.
We can be our partners’ one-stop solution supply chain specialist, whether that be in the fresh, chilled, frozen or ambient product sectors.
There aren’t many firms out there that can say that.
How can buyers engage with this approach and utilise your expertise?
PT: Firstly talk to us, contact us or come and see us.
We have always found that customers enjoy visiting and seeing the products being produced and tasting them and amongst many other things our goal is to bring great tasting Mediterranean local foods to the UK consumer through a variety of channels.
Already we have created first time opportunities for several exclusive Mediterranean brands in the UK and there are plenty more of those for people who want to explore them with us.
You said you’ve branched out into the wholesale and foodservice sectors. How have you done that?
PT: There are many examples that I’d happily share with people, but just one is Fresh Salad Box, which was opened in New Spitalfields Market in East London in 2007 with aim of selling our own products and operating through one wholesale facility.
This busy London market has brought us closer to customers, in particular the restaurant and foodservice industry as well as the fast-expanding ‘ethnic’ market trade in and around London. In just eight years, sales have quadrupled on our first year and we sell the total range of produce from fruit to exotics and vegetables to salads.
We have invested in a modern, high food standard facility across six stands, equipped with mezzanine storage areas and fully temperature controlled storage. In January 2015, we introduced freezer display cabinets to range our first ever frozen fruit and vegetable offer, and the first in New Spitalfields.
We procure from growers around the world to supply a broad range of ever-growing UK catering and wholesale customers and give those customers the unique opportunity to purchase the complete range of fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables to supply to their own UK catering and wholesale customers.
You’re an Official Partner of the London Produce Show and Conference (LPS15) in June. Why have you chosen to market your company in this way?
PT: Our main objective as an Official Partner of LPS15 represents a national and international brand position from which we can communicate, interact and network with our industry counterparts and find new partners for Stubbins Food Partnerships as we move the business forward.
Partnerships forged at last year’s London Produce Show and Conference have allowed Stubbins FP to create new avenues to market for both ourselves and international firms looking for potential and opportunity for their produce in the UK.
As an Official Partner of this year’s show, Stubbins FP looks forward to meeting everyone who comes to London in June and creating the new partnerships that will drive this business forward over the next 50 years.
At last year’s edition of the event we were introduced to a leading producer from the US, a global supplier to one of our international retail customers. This producer while operating in mainland Europe wanted to service his customer demand in the UK as well as developing the market in the UK.
We provided the infrastructure to allow them to achieve their aims by managing the supply programmes, warehouse storage, packing facilities and distribution network for a range of products to their customer.
In just one year they have been able to establish through our Food Partnerships structure a platform to develop a strategic supply and marketing proposition in the UK.
This is now an emerging market for them where they are creating opportunities rather than looking at them, as they were this time last year.
Stubbins Food Partnerships is an official partner of the London Produce Show and Conference and the host company of the Opening Cocktail Reception on June 3.