2020 sees the anniversary of iconic Cumbrian food business, WM McClures.
In 1945, Bill McClure was de-mobbed from the RAF and returned home to Flookburgh, looking for work. He started picking cockles and shrimps on Morecambe Bay, selling them from a cart at Kendal market and the local area. Bill was one of the original entrepreneurs, who in later life won Cumbria Business Personality of the Year.
McClures today remains a family business, with Bill’s simple business ethics at its heart. It is run by Bill’s son Keith and grandsons Matt and Ben.
Keith says: “We believe strongly in customer service and treating people how we’d like to be treated! We’re proud to be Cumbria’s Number One fresh and frozen food supplier to the catering and hospitality industry, delivering not only to our Cumbrian customers, but to North Lancashire and North Yorkshire as well. The business continues to grow and flourish.”
Keith joined the family business at 16, when his dad brought him in to look after the Nutwood Market Gardens and shops at Grange-over-Sands. With the growth of tourism in the 1960s, they began the pioneering move from retail to wholesale and began to procure and supply local fresh foods to many B&Bs and hotels. They were also asked to deliver to the outlying hotels in far flung corners of Cumbria – a service which was very much welcomed and needed. In 1980 they moved to bigger premises in the centre of Windermere, in the heart of the Lake District, now a World Heritage Site which in itself brings its own challenges. Expanding as demand grew, the company purchased Parsons in Windermere followed by Powell’s in Kendal, both of which were local wholesale companies. In early 2019 McClures acquired Halls of Kendal, a local confectionery company which gave them the license to sell Wilson’s products, specifically their famous Kendal Mint Cake.
McClures now employ over 150 local people across two sites. Keith adds: “Of course, the company want to remain centrally located and being Cumbrian born and bred, we want to stay loyal to our roots and retain the ability to support our local customers where demand for quality is key to the business.”
Keith loves walking and one of his favourite places is around Hartsop Dodd and Place Fell around Martindale – “I just love the views, the red deer and the peace and quiet. As a family we all love Cumbria and know how lucky we are to be living and working here. My son Matt is in training at the moment with Rob Winder, one of our Sales Team for the Fred Whitton in June. They’ll be raising money for WaterAid and Cancer Research so watch this space!”
Keith has been at the helm of McClures for 60 years and believes the local-based core values are fundamental to the success of the business. “Hard work, honesty and service, service, service. If something is wrong you put it right. Chefs today are wanting an efficient, regular service and we are specialists in fresh produce and competitive prices. We deliver across an 80-mile radius throughout the county and beyond, utilising smaller vans to enable us to reach the smaller villages and down the notorious Cumbrian lanes.”
Ben says: “We are good at listening to what our customers want and responding to new trends and demands. We’ve always been open and honest, straight talking as is the down-to-earth Cumbrian way. We have a flat management structure and everyone here is firmly grounded – no room for prima donnas!”
McClures are also part of the Sterling Supergroup, based in Maldon, Essex and Keith was chairman of the group for nine years. This is a catering networking group where over 40 family wholesalers in the hotel & catering industry meet to share ideas, go on factory visits and gain international product knowledge. Keith says: “If you have a problem, this is a brilliant network of relationships where people share news, problems and help each other out. It’s a great way of keeping up to date with trends and changes in the industry.
“As a local business we support and donate to local causes and charities when and wherever we can.
“In 2016 McClures were one of London’s Stock Exchange Group’s 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain: a landmark report identifying the UK’s most exciting and dynamic small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). We regularly attend local annual food shows such as Cartmel Show, Westmorland County Show, Country Fest, The Lakes Hospitality Show and the Windermere Christmas Celebration.”
The business will continue to modernize and use technology – McClures already has an app which is popular for customers wanting to order ‘on the go’.
“Our customer service team also use the tried and tested method of taking orders by phone and speaking in person to those at the sharp end of the catering industry, the chefs and cooks who want to order their regular stock, request specialist items and of course customers who wish to discuss and order new products.
“At the end of the day we sell fresh quality produce to passionate and talented chefs and cooks, accommodating various methods of ordering to suit their needs.”
The impact of Brexit can’t be ignored. Matt says: “We’ve always valued our staff and want to give good working conditions and competitive wages. We hope once the impact of Brexit on our workforce settles down, we’ll continue to be seen as a valued and caring local employer. We’re very much a Cumbrian company and want to stay that way, as a local family business.”
In this 75th year of McClures the business continues to grow from strength to strength but remains firmly rooted in Cumbria, with family values of excellent service and a down-to-earth approach to business.
McClures’ Annual Food Show was held at the Castle Green Hotel, Kendal in early March, with over 50 exhibitors offering a host of exciting promotions with new and innovative products as well as delicious sampling.
The Lakes Hospitality Show is also held in early March, at J36 Rural Auction Centre, Crooklands, Kendal. This will be the 45th year of the show and McClures have supported this event since the early days.
June: Matt McClure and Rob Winder will tackle the infamous Fred Whitton Cycle Race, raising money for Cancer Research and Water Aid.