Food editor Philippa James visits Total Foodservice Solutions, Cltheroe
Food editor Philippa James visits a Ribble Valley business that supplies the region's chefs. Photography: John Cocks
Maria Moriarty-Eames has come a long way since 2001 – quite literally. Back then she was working at the top of Blackcomb Mountain, a Canadian ski resort at Whistler in British Columbia.
Her daily commute involved catching the cable car up to the Rendezvous Restaurant and then back down after a long shift, trying not to fall asleep because her eye-lashes would freeze together.
Staff training included the requirement to carry a pocketful of stones to hurl at the odd cougar that passed by.
Today, she earns her living in the rather more inviting surroundings of Total Foodservice Solutions, which has a major complex on the Ribble Valley Enterprise Park at Barrow just outside Clitheroe.
Maria has the title brand and marketing director at the Clitheroe and Huddersfield bases, supplying over 4,000 products including chefs’ ingredients, ambient foods, chilled and frozen foods, as well as a whole range of non-food items and a ‘green’ cleaning range, all delivered direct to chefs and many commercial kitchens across the north of England. Shire Hotels and Bagel Nash are two major clients and they aim to use as many local suppliers as they can – including Ann Forshaw, Carron Lodge Cheese and Bowland Forest Eggs.
‘We pride ourselves on doing what we say we’ll do,’ says Maria, who joined the board last May. ‘Every customer has their own personality, we listen to them, they are not just a number in our system.’
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So, how did a jam preserving company, delivering from horse-drawn carts back in the 1920s, develop into this massively successful operation?
George Henry Howarth and his son, also George Henry, moved away from jam and into a green grocery and fresh fish retailing. In 1960 Richard G Howarth joined the business which then had takings of £80 a week. Within five years he had modernised the firm and annual turnover was £22,000.
Richard took over the business in 1966, when his father died. The business grew quickly, with a chain of ten shops, a freezer centre and a produce warehouse was opened which sold freezers and commercial microwave ovens. Richard was a visionary of Fairway Frozen Foods Ltd, a food purchasing consortium.
Richard’s son, Simon, is the current MD. He said there was never any doubt that he would go into the family company. He started, aged nine, cleaning the kitchen equipment and later abandoned his studies to take over a part of the operation when a manager fell ill.
Simon didn’t take over his father’s role for another 22 years. David Pratt was MD for more than two decades. He said the experience that he gained from David was tremendous.
Over the years the company recognised the need for a large range of delivered goods, and changed tack. ‘The company has survived by pursuing opportunities, but avoiding rash decisions,’ he says.
Expansion in the Ribble Valley following merging with Lawson’s, of Clitheroe, in 2002, resulted in a 36,000 sq ft depot which houses state-of-the-art refrigeration systems, offices and a demonstration kitchen with viewing gallery and dining room, which chefs and customers are encouraged to use.
One of the more poignant things which Simon shared was that he didn’t see much of his dad when he was younger, his hours were always very long. When Simon became MD his staff e-mailed him a note, saying that he shouldn’t have to work Saturday mornings any more! Simon now makes the most of his time off, mountain biking and skiing with the family.
Maria went onto say that the company have such a positive and good work ethos that there are several members of the same family working here in Clitheroe. In fact she says she has never worked in such a happy environment.
Simon adds that you need to build the right team about you in order to be successful, and judging by my visit to Clitheroe I’d say he’s got things spot on.