Me & My Team

Simply Lunch on the same page

By Sam Page

- Last updated on GMT

Simply Lunch managing director Sam Page (centre), with brothers Jack (left) and William (right), is confident the firm’s bullish outlook will help it ride the Brexit storm
Simply Lunch managing director Sam Page (centre), with brothers Jack (left) and William (right), is confident the firm’s bullish outlook will help it ride the Brexit storm
The boss of the family-run food-to-go business explains how they built an empire – and a strategy for overcoming Brexit uncertainty.

We’re a family-run food-to-go and lunch platter company based in Croydon, south London. Sandwiches make up the core of our business, but we produce everything else you might want for lunch – from focaccias, baguettes and wraps to salads, fruit and snack pots.

It all began in 1979 when my father, Terry, stopped playing football professionally and bought a burger van, which he put on the side of the A22 in Godstone, Surrey. He’s very entrepreneurial, so it wasn’t long before he moved into cafés, and then sandwich bars. He ended up with half-a-dozen units before selling them around the turn of the century to consolidate production into one facility, leaving the company with retail customers and a lunch platter service.

Like our father, both my brother Jack and I came out of professional football, and we joined the business in 2008. Over the years, we’ve pretty much worked in every role across every department – including driving the vans. That has been hugely beneficial, as we understand all the challenges each department faces on a daily basis.

With more family involved, there was more emphasis on expansion – and the natural route was foodservice. We had a food-to-go range, but felt we could wholesale it to customers. That’s where we’ve really seen the business grow over the last eight or nine years.

Simply Lunch

Location:​ Unit 2, ZK Park, 23 Commerce Way, Croydon, London. CR0 4ZS
Staff:​ 230
Turnover:​ £17m
Main products:​ Sandwiches, wraps, salads, snacking pots.
Customers:​ Foodservice (including contract caterers, coffee shops and airlines), own-label retail.
Factory size:​ 2,137m2
Production lines:​ Five
Total factory output:​ 14 million units a year.
Sam Page:​ A former professional footballer with Milton Keynes Dons, Page – now 31 – still plays part-time for Chipstead.

Family involvement

Around that time my dad became chairman, and I took over as managing director. Jack is now business development director, and my younger brother, William, is the purchasing manager. My mum, Julie, has always been involved in the company, and works in the HR department.

Together, we make up the board. I wouldn’t say there’s a secret formula that allows us to get on, but we realised quite early that sulking and holding grudges wasn’t going to work. We’ve all got the same vision, ambition, and desire to build a company we can be proud of.

The market we operate in is vibrant, driven by consumers’ need for convenience. Eating on-the-go continues to grow, and we’re well-placed to capitalise on that. We shift 14 million units a year, with 80% of our sales being the Simply Lunch brand and the rest own-label. Over the 12 months, we plan to double production capacity by extending our high-care area and adding two extra lines to the five we currently have. The investment will cost in the region of £1m.

We’ve also just installed a clean-in-place system on one of the conveyors, at a cost of £30,000. It washes the conveyor in seconds compared to all staff on one line taking around two minutes to clean it.

We make upwards of 400 different packaging stock-keeping units (SKUs), so anything that enables us to reduce downtime is potentially huge. We’ll be tracking the system’s performance with a view to rolling it out to the other lines. I suspect our new challenge could be getting the ingredients ready in time for each changeover. 

Sandwich-making is complex – in total, we use close to 500 different ingredients. To simplify processing, we rely on a local supplier, Zafron Foods, to provide us with the majority of our mixes and mayonnaises. Even with their help, it’s always labour-intensive and people are our biggest investment.

Sharing in our values

We want everybody at Simply Lunch to feel part of the family and share in our values. As we grow, that becomes more challenging – but we want to make sure that when someone joins us, they feel there are opportunities to develop professionally. Starting this month, we are providing English lessons for non-English staff. We also have a workshop with Croydon Council to discuss taking on apprentices.

Around 60% of our staff are non-UK EU nationals, and a shortage of labour after Brexit is a big concern for us. Our other main worry is the impact on ingredients costs.

With the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, it has been hard to plan for the outcome, but we decided, early on, that as long as we’re transparent with our customers, our suppliers and our staff, that will be enough to see us through.

We also want to continue to work closely with customers to drive new product development. We’ve identified health and sustainability as the two big areas where a consumer shift is taking place.

On the health side, we’ve developed an under-400-calorie product range and are using healthier bread formulations. Meanwhile, sustainability is no longer a tick-box exercise. Today’s consumers want transparency and to choose brands that are good for the environment.

Reducing plastic is top of our agenda, but sustainability needs to be ingrained into all areas of the business. We’ve designated sustainability champions in each department, monitoring our environmental impact and installed driver performance software in each of our 30 delivery vans, which has cut our CO2 emissions drastically.

Our longer-term strategy is to move into a few new channels, but also grow sales with our existing customers. The extra capacity investment should help us keep up with the anticipated growth over the next few years.

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