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Distribution and disruption at RH Amar, a family firm of over 70 years that has ensured that it stays ahead of new trends in food shopping and eating. RH Amar started life 70 years ago, when Raoul Amar started importing continental foods and selling them in the UK, at a time when food was still rationed. As the founder’s grandson, Rob Amar, says, “He was a real entrepreneur – he spotted an opportunity, and borrowed a couple of thousand pounds to set himself up. That’s the only money the company has ever needed to borrow.”

Over the years the focus has shifted to building premium brands, with a strong emphasis on imported and speciality products. RH Amar is now the UK distributor for household names like Crespo olives, Starbucks coffee, Ella’s Kitchen baby foods, and Kikkoman sauces.

And over the years it’s helped shape the way Britain eats: “The product that really put us on the map was Filippo Berio olive oil. When we started distributing for them in 1983 the only place you could buy olive oil was in a pharmacy. We were instrumental in creating the whole olive oil category. We did a great job with Filippo Berio for 25 years – it was a great relationship.”

Relationships are at the heart of the firm’s success story. “Grocery is one of the biggest industries in the UK and it’s one of the toughest too. To be a success in this sector you need to build really strong relationships with your partners – relationships built on performance, and on trust. Otherwise there’s a risk they either go elsewhere or think they can do a better job themselves.”

“One of our great strengths – which we’ve built up over not just years but decades – is taking smaller challenger brands with limited budgets and competing against the big boys. The quality of the product itself is the foundation for that; the value we add is our understanding of the market, and our distribution capabilities.”

The company is now applying those same skills to a growing range of its own food brands, as well as those it distributes for other companies. “Being a brand owner as well as a distributor is something that started back in the 1990’s, but it’s become much more important in the last few years, highlighted by our acquisition of the Mary Berry’s grocery brand in 2014. One of the great things about being a family firm is that you can move really quickly when you need to. That was absolutely key in 2009, when the opportunity came up to partner with two big brand owners that fitted really well with our portfolio: Del Monte and McCormick, who own the Schwartz herbs and spices brand.”

Since then, the company has ensured it stays ahead of new trends in food shopping and eating, including the emergence of the new ‘dinner in a box’ companies like HelloFresh andGousto, both of which are now customers. It also expects Amazon to be a top 10 customer before too long, having supplied them since their entry to UK grocery in 2010. “All these players are disrupting the way the market works, using technology to offer people something different, that fits into their lifestyle. And in terms of product, they’re a perfect fit for us. It’s also a great way for us to diversify our revenue stream, and tap into a rapidly-growing part of the market.”

Rob joined the business in 2001 and has been MD for the last six years, though his father is still actively involved. “It’s a challenge all family firms go through, as the business transfers from one generation to the next. We do have different management styles, but we both believe passionately in this company, and we both share the same values, the same values that inform the whole business. The most important of those is integrity, which is about how we do business, how we behave, how we work with customers, and how we treat our colleagues. It’s also the thing that a few years ago led us to commit to giving 10% of profits to charity. We call it: Winning the right way.”

This piece was featured as part of the PwC Family Business Survey and has been reproduced with their permission. Find out more about the survey here.


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