With a focus on quality, Elite Fine Foods is growing strong from local roots 

Passionate about food, quality, and exceptional service, Elite Fine Foods (Elite) is far from an average foodservice provider. From its base in Newhaven in East Sussex, England, the business specializes in providing food operations across Sussex, Surrey, and London with locally sourced fresh meats, seafood, vegetables, and fruit; everything required for professional chefs to cook up a storm. 

“Like many wholesale businesses, we started off as a small local just under 30 years ago and have since grown into a successful and reputable business that has gradually expanded its radius of geographical coverage,” begins Tim Lee, Elite’s Managing Director. “We hit a huge milestone in 2019, when we were acquired by Bidcorp and integrated into the Caterfood Buying Group. This was quite a significant change for us, as we went from being an independent, privately owned business to being part of a much larger group with far greater opportunities.  

“However, the beauty of this group is that they’re passionate about retaining the identities and personalities of the individual businesses, as well as emphasizing the importance of local produce in each region. The other advantage is that we can share best practices and ideas with the other six businesses in the group. While we operate from the vibrant area of Newhaven and serve mainly the counties of Sussex, Surrey, and Kent, we also have some great customers in London. As these tend to be affluent areas, it enables us to diversify our customer base and product offering. 

“Of course, 2019 came with its challenges too. The pandemic gave us a chance to reflect on our growth and take time to consider the future direction of the business, which resulted in a company-wide reset. We covered quite a substantial portion of the UK from our hub base in Newhaven and satellite depots across the country. We decided to refocus on what we call our heartland area (Surrey and Sussex), as well as maintaining our client relationships in London’s extremely competitive market. 

“From a more personal perspective, having come from a big ‘foodie’ family and since occupied several roles across the industry, my experience allowed me to think and structure a plan before joining Elite around a year ago. The key thing to remember is that you learn just as much from poor experiences as you do the good ones!” 

Ahead of the curve 

When it comes to customers, Elite has a unique stance on providing superior service. “We’ve always been quite agile and flexible to suit our customers’ needs. If they recommend a supplier or tell us about a product they want to launch on their menu, for instance, we adapt to bring in the product to make life easier for our valued customers,” Tim explains. “However, we have to be careful not to be entirely led by bigger clients, so that we don’t take our eye off supporting local customers and regional trends.  

“Our base in Sussex provides phenomenal opportunities and access to an abundance of local producers, manufacturers, and suppliers within the food and beverage industry. We try and build synergies with local businesses to establish a mutually beneficial relationship. We’re currently working with a superb local supplier to expand our dessert range, for instance, but as they don’t operate their own fleet, partnering with us means that we can help to strengthen their coverage. 

“It’s crucial that we prioritize quality, especially as consumer behaviors are constantly evolving. Customers are typically eating out less, so when they do dine away from home, they want to make it count; they’re looking for high-quality food, value for money, and most importantly, a memorable experience.  

“We also have to ensure that we play into trends and emerging demands,” he adds. “The growth of vegan and plant-based diets has been absolutely huge, for instance. While the primary driver of veganism was once ethical reasons, health consciousness and mindfulness are now also crucial aspects at play. We consider ourselves at the forefront of such trends, as we can get products to market very quickly and have historically taken risks that have fortunately paid off. “ 

Delivering solutions 

Turning to Elite’s recent investments, Tim continues: “We’ve had some phenomenal change in terms of investment over the last 12 months. We’ve recently transitioned to a brand-new ERP system, which means our systems are much more methodical in the ways we service our customers. If we take the picking process, for instance, it was previously a manual task and we had to rely on staff knowledge to locate the products, whereas the digitized system automatically provides the correct location and quantities. It not only reduces the impact of human error, but also enhances our ‘green’ credentials, as we move towards clean, paperless invoicing, so it has had an enormous impact on efficiency in terms of how orders are placed, picked, delivered, and invoiced.  

“We’ve also reinvented and built a new online platform to align with how our customers want to place orders in the current digital age. Although we’ve had an online ordering system for a few years, we’ve upgraded it to be super slick and efficient, as the growth of online giants like Amazon means customers now expect to see stock levels, product specifications, and order updates.  

“To enhance this further, we’ve recently launched a new mobile app, which features a live system to monitor stock availability, as well as a platform to highlight our promotional activities. We’re already receiving great feedback from customers regarding the app, with specific advantages being the ease of ordering and seamless online platform.  

“Lastly, we’ve invested around £1 million into a new fleet. While we have some HGVs for our bigger deliveries, the fleet is predominantly made up of smaller vehicles like Sprinter vans and seven-and-a-half ton trucks to enable us to be nimble and agile when delivering in local areas.” 

With a series of investments over the last year, Elite is sure to continue experiencing success in 2024 and beyond, but Tim has ambitious plans for further growth. “My goal is to become the number one regional wholesaler across the UK in terms of quality food, range of products, and level of service,” he proposes. “To do so, we must instill the right values within our business and understand how those values relate to each department.  

“The biggest challenge is continually reviewing and pushing ourselves to new heights to be the best we can possibly be as individuals and as an organization,” Tim concludes. “While we’re continuing to identify differentiators between ourselves and best-in-class providers within the market, our priority remains to engage with customers and deliver solutions that meet their evolving needs.”