As a company that has always had strong traditional values at its core, Churchill Catering has been able to build a solid foundation of contracts spanning a number of different sectors.
“The company was set up around 20 years ago by my father, who originally ran the business out of a spare room in the family house,” explains Stuart Nicholl, Operations Director. “He signed our first contract with Palmer & Harvey to look after their staff restaurant and from there we’ve gradually branched out into other areas of the marketplace. Our contract base is now split between 40 per cent business and industry clients and 60 per cent commercial and leisure space.”
In terms of how this successful diversification process has been achieved, a major factor is the fact that the major national catering operators have a tendency to overlook many sectors, a situation that Churchill Catering has been quick to capitalise on. “The major players just didn’t seem to have any interest in going down these avenues, perhaps because they felt the contracts weren’t large enough,” adds Mr Nicholl. “As a consequence we’ve been able to step in and build excellent links with many clients in these areas.
“We’re very fortunate to have excellent relationships with our supply chain, particularly with the likes of Bidfood. They may have undergone some name alterations and changes of ownership over the years but their continued support has been invaluable during the 15 years or so we’ve worked with them.”
Stuart Nicholl, Operations Director
“One particular example has been the very close working relationship we have developed with the Forestry Commission, both in England and in Scotland, which has allowed us to get hold of several high turnover country parks that host live bands in the summer. This is an area that is often overlooked because it is so seasonal, with the peaks of the summer being countered by a lull during the rest of the year. Thankfully our business model includes a consistent element of commercial business from January through to December, ensuring that we not only benefit from the peaks but are also insusceptible to the troughs. We have a nice diverse mix throughout the 12 months of the year, especially with the catering contracts we have for the police forces of Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire, in addition to some of the large sub-stations we work for.”
As befits a company founded on customer-focused values, Churchill Catering’s strong relationships with its client base are mirrored by the partnerships it has developed with its own suppliers, as Mr Nicholl outlines: “We’re very fortunate to have excellent relationships with our supply chain, particularly with the likes of Bidfood. They may have undergone some name alterations and changes of ownership over the years but their continued support has been invaluable during the 15 years or so we’ve worked with them.”
This level of support has played an integral part in Churchill Catering’s forward-thinking approach, as it has always been a business that continually evolves in order to improve its offering.
“As our customer base has developed over the years so has the range of products and services we’re able to provide. This wouldn’t have been possible without having a strong supply chain behind us.
“As country parks and leisure-based sites aren’t really destination eating establishments, there’s a greater need for catering options that are quick and convenient. The ‘grab and go’ market has also grown significantly in many other areas, particularly with the business and industry sector, as traditional heavy lunches increasingly fade away to be replaced by lighter, healthier snack options. This has been driven by a number of factors, such as the growing emphasis on healthy eating and the greater pressures on people’s time these days. These trends have had a major impact on the types of catering solutions that are required and we’ve been able to respond with suitable solutions thanks to the strength of our supply network.
“Thanks to our strong infrastructure and the excellent portfolio of suppliers we can draw on, we’ve been able to move with the times and accommodate the changes that have taken place within the catering landscape. What’s more, as we’re so prominent within the commercial sector, we’re well experienced when it comes to keeping track of the latest high street food trends. By having our fingers on the pulse we’re able to react quickly and provide solutions that meet the latest requirements.”
Another area where Churchill Catering is particularly proactive is sustainability, something that has been exacerbated by the company’s growing links with local authorities and the Forestry Commission. “Due to our growing relationships with these types of organisation we’ve been especially keen to help out as much as we can from a packaging perspective, particularly in terms of improving recycling rates and reducing the amount of plastic we use. We’ve significantly increased the amount of vegetable-made packaging and this has proven particularly popular with councils and the Forestry Commission, while many of the police forces we work with are showing higher levels of interest because of their own sustainability targets.”
Continually ensuring its customers’ needs are met may have proven to be a winning formula for Churchill Catering, but despite the ongoing growth it is seeing, the company is continually striving to add to its existing client base, while at the same time identifying new opportunities in other sectors.
“We’re expanding all the time and have recently secured a couple of new contracts, one in business and industry and the other in commercial,” says Mr Nicholl. “We’re also looking at dipping our toe into the soft play market, which is a developing sector.
“The leisure market is another area that is demonstrating high levels of potential, particularly as it tends to see strong demand for both healthier options and confectionary items. People will always fancy a Mars Bar after a work out or want to treat their kids to a Star Slush after they’ve been for a swim. At the end of the day it’s a customer-led marketplace so it’s important that we’re able to strike a balance across our offering that accommodates all every requirement.”
Even with the ongoing growth that Churchill Catering is enjoying, as a company with two decades of operation under its belt it has the necessary experience to not get too carried away. “One of our biggest challenges is ensuring that the growth we’re seeing is ultimately sustainable. We therefore don’t want to grow too quickly. Key to our progression has been the relationships we have cultivated with our customers and our suppliers, some of which extend for ten years or more. However, even with the growth we’ve seen we remain a small family business. It’s certainly not a numbers game for us, as we’re all about developing relationships that will last in the long term. Rather than grabbing as much business as we possibly can, we want to nurture relationships with our clients so that we fully understand their needs so that we’re in the best position to meet them.
“My father is still very much involved in the business but is gradually taking more of a backseat role so I’m increasing my own responsibilities. We’re also building up the wider team, having recently recruited a new junior operations manager to assist with the new contracts we’ve taken on. Getting the structure right in terms of staffing is vitally important, as is ensuring that we have young people joining the company to provide fresh ideas to carry the business forward for the next 20 years.”
With such a forward-thinking approach it’s not hard to see how Churchill Catering has been able to chalk up two decades of operation. What’s more, it looks ideally placed to keep building on its leading reputation in the months and years ahead.