Fresh thinking

True to its roots, Oliver Kay Produce believes not only in the benefits of fresh, quality produce and first-class customer service, but also in the need to be a sustainable business that leads from the front

When Oliver Kay established his own company some 25 years ago, which at the time operated under name Rediveg, he based it on the concept of selling high quality, fresh, seasonal produce from what was then a small warehouse in Bolton. Oliver’s vision was simple – he was committed to supplying the very best produce from around the world to chefs in hotels and restaurants throughout the UK.

Surrounding himself with a passionate team of people to help him to deliver this vision, Oliver Kay Produce – as the company would come to be known as, quickly grew to become one of the leading suppliers of high quality fresh produce to the catering and leisure sectors. It was then, in November 2012, that Bidfresh Limited acquired a considerable stake in the company, which in the process made Oliver Kay Produce the core part of its produce arm, supplying a wide range of fruits and vegetables, dairy products and various other key ingredients.

Ian Stuart is Managing Director of Bidfresh’s Produce Division and he has been with Oliver Kay Produce for just over two years now, and in that time, he has had the chance to spend time with Oliver and work closely the wider team, and to learn what it is that makes this proud business tick. “It quickly became apparent that everything this company does revolves around the quality of its products, where they come from, who we purchase them from, how we treat them through the supply chain, and most importantly the experience our customers receive at the end of the process,” he details. “This ethos very much originates from Oliver himself, who every morning and night would walk the floor of his facility checking the quality of his produce, and has resulted in a company that today comfortably serves some 2000 customers a week, and is now enjoying a turnover in excess of £50 million per year.”

With turnover steadily increasing year-on-year, there was inevitably challenges afoot with the company operating from a single stock holding site in Bolton, albeit one that had grown in size to 44,000 square feet. “From here we would ship our produce to various transshipment sites across the UK as overnight deliveries, and while this continued to work well for our customers, as volumes grew so too did warehouse space decrease,” Ian explains. “Strategically, we needed to decide how best to facilitate the growth of a strong brand like Oliver Kay and to ensure our customers’ needs continued to be met, whether that be further extending the site in the North West or building a second stock site.”

Focus on sustainability
Together with his management team, Ian choose to go down the latter route, and in July 2017 the doors to a new 60,000 square foot facility officially opened in Wednesbury in the West Midlands. “Our new site provided us with what was essentially a blank canvas to build upon, and is situated in the perfect location for us to move volume down from Bolton with which we can serve our significant client base in the south of the country,” he continues. “Here we went on to invest a considerable amount of capital in areas such as a vast refrigerated space that currently measures c30,000 square feet, a banana room, and dedicated staff areas to make it a fully-functioning facility that takes care of our customers as well as our people. As a result of meticulous planning we have successfully delivered a big step change for the business with the opening of our Wednesbury depot, and we look forward to adding to it in the future by means of a new presentation area, kitchen and training centre, which we hope to realise during the first half of 2019.”

Meanwhile, away from its new depot, the relieving of some of the pressure of the Bolton site has allowed the company to invest in a brand new, state-of-the-art development kitchen, which also comes with space to seat up to 35 people for demonstrations or to provide a hands-on environment to try out some of its finest produce. It is also from here that the company’s in-house, Michelin trained chef, Laurence Tottingham is able to devise new offerings to cater for the changing tastes of consumers, such as the growing demand for vegan options.

Not content with simply growing as a business, the management team of Oliver Kay Produce have also stepped up their sustainability efforts in recent times, with one of the big decisions being to appoint Paul Leyland to the position of Commercial & Sustainability Director. “A business of this size obviously generates a certain amount of waste in the form of packaging, and in recent times we have been making great strides in addressing what we can do to be a more sustainable and responsible business,” Paul says.

“In the past, we have found ourselves using a large amount of cardboard as well as polystyrene trays to pack items, which were then wrapped in clear plastic to protect the produce. We looked at ways that we could remove these materials from our packaging process, and we found the answer in the form of compostable, biodegradable and food safe trays made from sugarcane, called ‘Bagass Trays’, which we now accompany with food film made from 100 per cent recycled plastic,” Paul continues. “We also wanted to address the large volumes of plastic netting that we used to pack items such as oranges, lemons and onions, and we have done so by introducing a stronger, fully compostable form of netting made from Beech wood fibre.”

Working in partnership
Oliver Kay is also closely working with Re-Source Waste Management, which offers a bespoke solution to all waste produced on site. Thanks to the segregation and sortation process, Oliver Kay now sends zero waste to landfill. Also, a new process has been introduced to the business, which involves the separation of Organic (all waste produce) to go through a Screw Press. This reduces the density of the load by 90 per cent, leaving behind just the Organic material, which can then be processed to be used as compost by farmers.

“We are proud to be partnering with Oliver Kay on the next stage in our joint program to have the cleanest, greenest and most cost-effective system in the UK,” said Paul Ellison, Operations Director at Re-Source. “The ‘can do’ attitude of Oliver Kay’s team helps us achieve the exciting goal we have set ourselves. We at Re-Source see waste as a challenge that doesn’t require a few bins and a truck popping in, but a much more hands-on focus. We take a pragmatic study of what should be done and make that system available to all businesses. The market sector that we are in has so many new technologies and it is exciting that Oliver Kay have partnered with us.”

As the aforementioned efforts also prove, Oliver Kay Produce is a business that wants to take the lead in its field of expertise, and with that in mind Ian, Paul and the rest of the team have high expectations for 2019, and beyond. “For me, 2019 is when things will start to get very exciting,” Ian enthuses. “The hard yards have been run, we have the new depot in place and the right teams on site to operate 69the business. This will allow us to push forward with our plans to enhance the brand, while always harking back to those ever-present themes that we are so passionate about – those being the quality of our produce and the service we deliver to our customers. Now, with the required infrastructure in place, we are able to fulfill our goal of being seen as a dedicated local business that operates on a truly national scale.”