A fantastic family business that started from a single barrow in an East End fruit market just after the Second World War, and that very same barrow is still there in Reynolds’ reception! Reynolds’ strapline is ‘more than just a greengrocer’. These days it’s one of the UK’s biggest suppliers of fruit, vegetables, and dairy products to restaurants, hotels, schools and caterers, though the business started from a single barrow in an East End fruit market just after the Second World War (and that very same barrow is still there in Reynolds’ reception).
Tony Reynolds, the third-generation MD, started working weekends at the firm in 1988, while he still had a fulltime job at a bank. “It was right at the beginning of the move towards themed restaurants – the first one we supplied was TGI Friday’s in the West End. And at the same time the big supermarket chains were just starting to make inroads on the traditional High Street greengrocery shops. So between those two trends, I spotted an opportunity. That’s how we’ve ended up in the sector we’re in.”
And very few firms are as good at it as they are: the key to success in fresh food is fast, efficient distribution. “When you’re delivering fresh produce, you have to be able to deliver it seven days a week, because the product life is so short. Especially when your customers are at the premium end – quality is absolutely vital. That’s why we’ve invested so much in our infrastructure and our technology, and that’s why we took out our first-ever loan to increase our warehouse space – and that was a really scary moment. But it’s all geared to meeting really, really high levels of service on a very consistent basis across the whole of the UK. My mantra has always been that I never want to lose a customer on a quality or service issue. It sounds so simple, but it is all about your logistics.”
The demand for fresh and nutritious food is rising: it’s the growth segment of the market and Reynolds has the business model to make the most of it. “We’ve been supplying quinoa for years, for example, so superfoods are not a new thing for us. And we also work alongside our customers to help them capitalise on new ideas and keep their menus fresh – we’ve got our own chefs and our own food development team too, which helps us keep ahead of trends in the eating out market. And in the last years we’ve been through a big exercise looking at what new products could complement our existing range. You have to keep it fresh.”
New ideas are important in other ways too: “We talk a lot now about millennials as a key consumer group for the restaurant sector. They’re adventurous, and they’re very demanding, and all the trends of healthy eating, freshness, and provenance are bang on for them. You also have to use different channels to reach them – especially social media, – and that’s why it’s great to have young people in the business. That’s where my son Tom really brings something different – he can add so much more through his network and how his generation are thinking and shopping and eating.”
Tom worked in Wagamama for two years before joining the family firm, which gave him an invaluable insight into how customers in Reynolds’ sector operate. He’s now being mentored by one of the other senior Reynolds team – Paul Pegg, the operations director, who used to be CEO of the McDonalds supply chain for the UK and Europe. “I think it would be a lot harder for Tom to report directly into me,” says Tony, “but he’s learning a fantastic amount from Paul, as well as giving us that extra bit of dynamism that comes from the younger generation. Every business needs agitators – you always need disrupters, you need people who are going to make you think differently. And you need some humility too – just because my name is Reynolds doesn’t mean I have a divine right to sit in this chair.”
The biggest challenge right now? “Realising our potential,” says Tony. “We’ve made huge strides in the last few years in areas like brand positioning, infrastructure and customer satisfaction. The challenge now is to make sure the benefits of all that hard work flow through to the bottom line.”
“As for the future – who knows? We’re making sure we stay flexible, and agile, and open to new ideas. You never know, we could end up being bought by an overseas investor – not because of what we sell, but the incredible platform we’ve built to sell it from. That’s a bit like being more interested in the barrow than the fruit. That would have made my Grandad smile.”
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.