Supply chain success for Compleat Food Network

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Tim Scarborough talks about the success of his business, Compleat Food Network
Tim Scarborough talks about the success of his business, Compleat Food Network
With 20 years as a food importer under his belt, Tim Scarborough has plenty to be proud of. But the looming threat of Brexit is creating unsettling times for his business.

Key points 

Compleat Food Network’s 20 years as an importer, wholesaler and distributor of food ingredients for manufacturers all began with a leap of faith and a nudge in the right direction, according to its owner and MD Tim Scarborough.

“Food has been in my DNA forever,”​ he says. “I grew within Allied Breweries and had a good career there, but I decided in my late 20s that there must be more to life than doing that.

“The corporate structure didn’t sit with me and what I wanted to do in life. Then one day my wife said to me, ‘well why don’t you something for yourself? Why don’t we do something different?’”

Leaving his job and sat at his desk with nothing but a telephone and a pad of paper, Scarborough took his first steps towards creating Compleat. Today, his company employs 22 staff from an office in Newbury, Berkshire.

“Through a contact we had with a sandwich manufacturer, we did our first piece of business, supplying them with chicken,”​ he recalls. “That really was the start of Compleat.”

“We​ [my wife and I] started our family business working together from our dining room and the milestones started to rack up. We did our first million, then five and then ten million, until we made our first acquisition in December 2015 – the shares and business of Food Network Ltd. That’s where we are today.”

Compleat Food Network specialises in the importation of dry ambient and canned goods from around the globe, with a focus on products coming from Italy – particularly pasta and pulses.

Importing from around the globe (back to top)

Tim Scarborough

Job title:​ Owner and MD, Compleat Food Network
Age:​ 49
Domestics:​ Married with three children, two girls and one boy.
Away from work:​ Scarborough and his wife are great lovers of live music festivals and attended the Big Feastival in Kingham, Oxfordshire, last year. The pair also travel to the Wilderness Festival, also in Oxfordshire, every year. “We decided to give our staff a flavour of our love of going to festivals and ran our own food festival at home, featuring live bands and food from around the world.”
Over the past year, he has taken up tennis and is “aspiring to the level of Roger Federer”.

“We are pulling ingredients from afar, such as quinoa from Peru, mango from India and tuna from the Maldives,”​ explains Scarborough. “Our purchasing is truly global.”

 The company may have grown from strength to strength over the past 20 years, but Scarborough is adamant that the core values of the business remain the same.

“The day-to-day management and running of the business is different, but the DNA of what we did when we first started and what made us successful runs through the business to this day,”​ he claims.

“Everything we do is about giving a service. People use us because they trust us and the service we give has to be exemplary. When people place an order with us, they are getting everything they need on time.”

Looking to the future, Compleat continues to invest heavily in creating a “seamless”​ supply network to provide manufacturers the ingredients they need whenever they need them. And, since its acquisition of Food Network in December 2015, Compleat’s volumes have more than doubled.

“We have non-disclosures and in the air agreements, two of which are outstanding at the moment, but more and more we’re investing in what our customers need,”​ Scarborough explains.

‘Investing in what our customers need’ (back to top)

“We now use an outsourced warehouse in Lincolnshire to hold in excess of 4,000 pallets at any one time now. That has grown from 1,000 pallets when we did the acquisition in 2015. That’s buffer stock for our customers to ensure they have products in the UK when they need them.”

Compleat’s biggest market, Italian pasta, has benefited the most since the acquisition, shooting up from 500t to 8,000t imported a year. This allows the business to hold at least six weeks’ stock for its customers.

The firm has also invested heavily in IT, adds Scarborough, including a new customer relationship management system – worth more than £60,000 – to provide better customer service by tracking what its customers need at any one time.

“We’ve also spent a lot of time and energy in codifying our supplier agreements, spending time with them and putting together formal distribution agreements to make sure the customers that we are servicing know exactly who they are dealing with and how we deal with them.”

As with many in the food and drink industry, Brexit has become a looming threat to Scarborough and his company, defined by the amount of uncertainty it brings. In the days following the Brexit vote in June 2016, Scarborough described Compleat’s partners in Europe as being in a state of shock.

“[They] could not understand or believe that we, as a nation, had made the decision we had,” ​he says. To them, he adds, it seemed like commercial suicide.

“It’s an obvious issue for any importing business, especially for anyone with strong partners in the EU,”​ says Scarborough. “It’s very boring and I’m sure we all wish we could move on and talk about something else, but the uncertainty Brexit is bringing into our business is a real challenge.

‘Brexit uncertainty’ (back to top)

“The biggest challenge, of course, is currency – a 15% swing against sterling has been difficult, which adds a 15% increase to the cost of importing goods.”

Along with the rise in input costs came a pushback from retailers to keep their prices low, leaving companies like Compleat “caught in the middle”,​ Scarborough says. “When you’re sat in the middle, you do find it becomes a greater challenge to maintain your margin.”

Managing an international supply chain is highly reliant on the people transporting the goods, another task made more problematic since the UK voted to leave the EU.

“A lot of drivers have gone back to Poland because they can earn the same amount of money over there and not have to live in the UK, which is expensive,”​ Scarborough claims. “Getting a sufficient number of drivers at a time when people are leaving the UK is difficult.”

It all comes back to that level of uncertainty that still clouds the future for food and drink firms. Scarborough joins a chorus of companies urging government to present a plan for Brexit that is set in stone.

“Again, I must stress that it’s the not knowing what Brexit actually means for businesses, especially direct importers from the EU. We need to know what’s going on. We need clarity from government that we’re not getting at any level.”

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