Jeremy Hibbert-Garibaldi, Founder and CEO of Collectiv Food, talks to Lilian Poilpot, Partner at Erevena, about how an innovative approach to sourcing food is good for restaurants and their customers, good for the producers, and good for the environment.
Jeremy began his career in law with an internship in New York, gaining his first experience of white-collar crime. He then worked as a forensic accountant for Big 4 accounting firm Deloitte where he saw at first hand the impact of corruption and fraud in food supply chains. These experiences ignited a passion in Jeremy that has seen him launch a unique supply chain model that is transforming the journey from farm to fork.
Tell us a bit about Collectiv Food and how it came about?
My early career experiences revealed just how much bad practice there was in food supply chains. I became passionate about the need for making these supply chains more transparent, direct and fair. This led to me giving up forensic accounting to launch Collectiv Food. We source directly from producers, cutting out the middleman, to connect them with restaurants and other professional kitchens in London. Our business model is built on transparency at every stage.
What need in the market does Collectiv Food meet?
Consumers increasingly want to know where their food is coming from. Until Collectiv Food came into being, however, restaurants often struggled to give their customers this information. Food was re-labelled and repackaged by wholesalers and distributors, often delivered with no provenance. For the producers selling via these middlemen, this often meant their brand was lost and they had no direct link with where their product ultimately ended up. With no other route into the capital, they had little choice but to accept this model.
What is driving your growth?
It is very much the demand from both ends of the spectrum – producers and consumers. In an ideal world, restaurants would love to go direct but logistics, time, and resources inevitably make this too difficult to achieve. Now, however, Collectiv Food is removing the pain points of complex supply chains. We’ve created an open flow of communication that was previously blocked by the middlemen. We’re sharing data on everything, from pricing and margins, to farm provenance and animal welfare. This data is also helping to fuel our growth in terms of consumer awareness.
“There’s been a big shift towards consumer interest in sustainable sourcing and we now have the data our customers need to pass on this information.”
Of course, we can’t forget that this is a margin-driven market and our growth is currently driven by this to a large extent. If I was to list the four drivers of growth in order of our customers’ priorities it would be the savings our business model helps to make in first place, followed by our focus on quality, then customer service, and then sustainability
“My ideal is that, as we grow, our customers will move sustainability to the top of their priorities.”
Can you expand on this subject of sustainability?
It’s interesting to see that sustainability is often viewed as a cost by producers and, down the chain, by professional kitchens. Removing packaging, for example, costs money, which many companies can’t afford. So, Collectiv Food wants to introduce sustainability as a means of increasing margins and enabling savings. As a business, this is core to our approach internally and we have four sustainability pillars:
- Our social impact – we constantly endeavour to treat our producers fairly.
- Reducing emissions – we have built tools to reduce our impact, notably in terms of our delivery model.
- Increasing traceability – we help our customers understand where their products come from and chose the most sustainable option in a clear, no-fuss way.
- Reducing waste – a more efficient supply chain, based on allocated stock rather than on huge inventories, enables us to minimise food waste.
What role does technology play in your business?
We leverage technology in everything we do. It makes an impact on our ability to innovate and is hugely important for efficiency and driving down costs.
As an example, our distribution model is built on keeping big fuel-hungry vehicles off the streets of London, but we can only do this using technology. We have containers placed at the heart of the city, into which we put food deliveries overnight. The following day, a network of last-mile partners gains access to these containers using digital keys. We’ve integrated our routing and ordering processes with their third-party systems to ensure everything runs efficiently. Without the remote access capability, we would have to employ people to open the containers, but we’ve removed that overhead using tech.
Is there a technology innovation you’re particularly proud of?
We have built a sustainability scoring tool that will enable restaurants and other food companies to better understand where their food comes from. We work with more than 1,000 food producers worldwide and this tool – effectively an internal rating tool – enables us to give our producers a weighting based on around 50 data points. These range from animal welfare and environmental commitment, to packaging and health and safety. We then share this information with our customers to help them shape their own sourcing policies. We believe that a tool focusing wholly on the producers in this way is unique. There are similar rating tools focused on products, such as nutrition, sugar and fat, but nothing like this. Our producers support it and our customers love it.
What impact has Covid-19 had on your company?
The main thrust of our strategy has been to target restaurants and, unsurprisingly, we lost 80% of our sales when everyone went into lockdown. However, rather than causing us a huge problem, we saw it as an opportunity to speed up the diversification of our customer base. This was something that we had already been planning. For example, we set up a B2C grocery store in partnership with Deliveroo in the space of two weeks, which was very exciting! We also expanded our customer base to new market verticals, such as meal kits and ready meals companies. Now we’re not just relying on restaurants and by the end of September we were almost back to 100% of our pre-Covid sales volume.
Lockdown offered us a great opportunity to restructure in terms of our business objectives and vision. It gave us the time to positive stress test our sourcing and delivery model, demonstrating its robustness and resilience. Unlike the big wholesalers and distributors who have struggled due to the size of their inventories, our “just-on-time” stock approach meant that we’ve been agile enough to avoid wasting lots of stock. We’ve shown that we are a great alternative to the big middlemen, and I am confident about the market opportunities in the middle of a crisis.
“Covid-19 offered us a great opportunity to restructure in terms of our business objectives and vision.”
What’s in store for Collectiv Food?
We are just about to launch in Paris, which will be exciting. We already have producers in almost every country in Europe and we’ll be working with some amazing local producers of fish and meat in Paris. We’re looking to replicate the model that has been so successful in London. We are also looking for a Series A funding round in the near future. We don’t want to wait for the market to bounce back before doing this. We want to be ahead of the game.
How do you go about attracting the talent you need to drive business growth?
We currently have 25 people based in London (with more to join us in Paris) and take two different approaches to recruitment depending on the role we want to fill. We have used Erevena to find top executives because it’s great to have advisors who know how to structure the search specifically for us. Otherwise, for more general roles we use our network and internalise how we bring new people on board. Currently, there are a lot of people in our industry looking for work who are keen and perfect for us. Naturally, it is critical that everyone we hire is not only fantastic at their work but shares our values too. We have a people manager who helps to onboard new talent and generally motivate our employees around our core values. During the Covid-19 lockdown, it has been especially important to have someone in the team keeping a focus on our people so that we can support them as needed.
“We have used Erevena to find top executives because it is great to have advisors who know how to structure the search specifically for us.”