Q&A with Paul Hargreaves CEO - Cotswold Fayre & Flourish
Paul Hargreaves is the Founder and CEO of wholesale distributor of fine food products and Includability Official Partner, Cotswold Fayre, and Flourish - a farm food shop and kitchen in Bristol.
A well-known character within the speciality food world for both for his insightful views on the sector and general business “know how”, Paul grew Cotswold Fayre from the cellar of his house in London to supplying nearly 2,000 retailers from to farm shops and delicatessens throughout the UK.
An author, blogger, speaker and B Corp Ambassador, sustainable practices are at the forefront of his businesses with initiatives such as carbon offsetting, packaging reduction, and an employee volunteering schemes.
Cotswold Fayre is also involved in multiple charitable endeavours including, starting business projects in Kenya associated with the children’s centre with the goal of making the centre completely self-sufficient for its day-to-day running costs and a link with City Harvest, a project in London which collects short-dated food and distributes it to those in need, including homeless organisations.
In a recent webinar about reducing plastics, he announced Cotswold Fayre has begun a plastic offsetting initiative. That means for any plastics still used in the company’s supply chain, they will have the same amount of plastic collected from water sources in different parts of the world.
What environmental and sustainability commitments is your businesses undertaking?
We are B Corp certified and the nature of being a B Corp is we are constantly trying to improve our score. Probably 30% of the points are in the Environmental section. Most of our effort goes into carbon reduction. We are a wholesaler of other people's products and whilst we can influence our suppliers to reduce packaging, we do not have any direct control over the products we sell. We can choose which products we sell, which environmental factors figure quite heavily in that, but the main feature of our business model is that we are reducing carbon anyway by delivering 50 or 100 brands on one delivery to a retailer, rather than them buying and getting it on 50 different white vans.
That is only the start for us. We are constantly working on reducing carbon by refining our logistics, and they have changed a lot over the last three years. This year, we moved warehouse and changed the way we got goods to the store. We reduced carbon impact by 46%, which has continued to reduce as times got all because the nature of the pandemic has helped us in terms of more people have put more business through us because they were more likely to get what they ordered.
Our people have a sustainable aspect as well. We give our employees extra weeks holidays, above the legal minimum. We do sabbaticals every seven years where people get an extra two weeks full time or four weeks part-time holiday.
We are living wage foundation members and have a profit share scheme. We have various wellness programmes within the business. We will add to anyone who raises money for charity, we will match that. We are involved in a project in Kenya, which is helping a community which is disadvantaged compared to us. We take teams in [pre-pandemic], and we raise money here to build classrooms.
We try to do at least one or two new things each year. This does not sound right, but we just bought in “compulsory volunteering”, which is a great phrase. Everyone must do 12 hours volunteering at a charity this year and we increase the hours each year in company time. It's only compulsory in that they're working anyway, but they have to do 12 hours and they can choose which charity it is hopefully something close to their hearts. That's something we have just started but [The phrase] makes people stop.
Can you tell me more about the E&S causes that you personally promote?
We are carbon neutral, So the nature of being a distribution company is we generate a lot of carbon because we have a lot of lorries driving around. As time goes on, hopefully the first one will be by the end of this year, we will get electric lorries as soon as they can carry enough goods far enough to work. We work closely with a logistics company very aligned on all this and our carbon will go down, but until then, we are offsetting.
Working with offset partners and natural capital partners, we have chosen two projects in the Amazon rainforest to offset carbon. One involves biodiversity, but it's a complicated area and we wanted something that people can connect to. The Amazon means something to most people and getting involved with something that the customers can relate to was quite important.
We have just built a retail business and restaurant in the Bristol area [Flourish]. And we have done as much as we possibly can in terms of being sustainable with that too. There are a lot of fridges and freezers in there, and the excess energy created by that run our hot water. Then we have solar panels for electricity, and we have rainwater harvesting that flushes the loos. There are other projects which we will develop over time.
We also have an unpackaged system. When you take a container and fill up with pasta, nuts, or dried fruit. We have got a system that we sell to other retailers that we also have in our own store, So that's something we have rolled out to about ten stores so far and more to come in the future.
Can you tell us more about the, the charitable causes you support?
Our project in Kenya, which is in a rural community in Western Kenya. We help a couple of schools and an orphanage. The plan, unfortunately climate change has ruined the plans, was starting a farm with the idea that they were going to become more self-sufficient and the money we send would then go into capital projects. Unfortunately, climate change has made farming pretty much impossible because it is in an area that floods far too easily these days.
We are still building classrooms, but some of the money we raised goes to run the day-to-day activities. We have a link with City Harvest, which is a project in London which collects our short-dated stock and that goes to around 300 projects around London including homeless projects and various other places. We also have a small percentage of each invoice going to a food bank in Wokingham.
What would you say is your biggest achievement to date?
Most recently, it is this food hall and kitchen in Bristol. The way that it has all come together has been fantastic.
Also, our B Corp score, which we got a couple of months ago. We first certified in 2015, and on the last two reports, we were just hovering above 80 and this time we were really pleased to jump up to 107.8, which is higher than most other food and drink businesses. I think there is four other food and drink businesses higher than us. We were happy with that.
Can you give more detail on your recent plastics seminar?
This is organised by our Impact Manager as we try and do something in each area every year. In the seminar, we announced that we will start offsetting plastic.
What does that mean? We do not actually have much plastic ourselves, so we are offsetting all our suppliers’ plastic. We have all the data now to calculate any plastic involved in our supply chain and we will then pay an organisation [rePurpose Global] to collect the same amount plastic from water sources from different parts of the world. So again, it's not the whole solution, the end game is to not have any plastic in the supply chain, but until then, it's a case of reducing and offsetting until we can get it to zero. Same with carbon.
We used the seminars to launch that because this last quarter (end of June) is the first quarter we will start that offset. We thought would tell other people about it and encourage other people to do it, mainly within our own supply chain.
As far as the retail side is concerned, the plan originally a couple of years ago where we plan this food hall and restaurant was to make it plastic free from day one, although it has been possible with ambient products. The fruit and veg unpackaging has gone well. I've actually stood in the store and have people being wild about how little plastic there is in the fruit and veg department. It was basically going back to how it used to be years ago.
The big challenge for us is the refrigerated products because the plastic alternatives don't cope with water, and most chill products have a high percentage of water in them. In terms of the chilled products, it is tricky, but we continue to work on the problem.
Our outstanding Includability Committed Employers, Ella's Kitchen, recently hosted a remarkable event with our excellent Ambassador, Amy Polly, the Mindfulness Rebel, as part of their ongoing initiative to empower a happy and healthy team.
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