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27 Nov 2023

Meet the award winner: Paul Hargreaves

Meet the award winner: Paul Hargreaves

Speciality & Fine Food Fair sits down with Paul Hargreaves, the recipient of the prestigious Outstanding Contribution award at the 2023 Speciality & Fine Food Fair Awards and CEO of speciality wholesaler Cotswold Fayre. With an illustrious career spanning more than two decades in the realm of specialty foods, Paul stands as a beacon of innovation, dedication, and expertise within the industry.

Read on to learn more about his inspiring career in the world of speciality food & drink. 

How did it feel to win Outstanding Contribution at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair Awards this year?

It is very rare that I am completely taken by surprise by winning something; we have won quite a few awards in the last few years and we normally are optimistic, but I had absolutely no idea about this award (despite someone in my team knowing and being responsible to make sure I was there at the right time!). So gobsmacked and delighted to be recognised by the industry I love!

How did your career in the artisan food world get started?

By accident! At the time the business started I was looking to boost my income from charity work and started by selling a few products from The Cotswolds to stores in and around London. It happened to be at a time when people in the UK were taking an interest in speciality food, so the timing was great (but not planned) and the rest, they say is history!  Soon the business became too large for my house and a garage and 25 years later we have over 100 people in the team, 4000+ products and 2000+ customers!

How has the industry evolved over the course of your career?

Massively!  We were at the very first Speciality & Fine Food Fair and there were very few brands in the sector at the time. In fact, the show at Olympia was so small they let you drive your vehicle into the hall and park next to the stand to unload! Now there are 1000s of speciality brand which is fantastic in many ways, but more difficult for each brand to be visible to retailers and consumers.

Why was becoming a B Corp such a priority for Cotswold Fayre?

We have always believed that business should be a Force for Good, and right at the start of Cotswold Fayre in 1999 we employed 3 people out of 5 who needed a leg-up in life.  So when I discovered B Corp in 2014 I found a group of people who believed everything I ever thought that business should be putting people and planet before profits. Business has frequently made the world a worse place over the past 250 years and it is essential that the business community reverses the damage it has caused by putting profit before the people they employ and serve and the planet from which they take resources.

How do you approach choosing new suppliers to work with, and what makes them stand out from the crowd?

This has become tougher the more brands come to market (see above). I have 5 Ps that we work to: Product – taste is all important, Packaging – it has to stand out on the shelve or in the freezer or fridge, Price – it has to be at a realistic price and not just affordable to the top 1%, PR & Marketing – increasingly there has to be great PR and a decent marketing budget and finally Partnership – we don’t just want a transactional relationship with our suppliers, but we want to work closely with their people

What led to the launch of Flourish Foodhall, and what experience did you want customers, clients and staff to have?

Over the years I have seen the good, bad and the ugly of food retail, so creating a great place to eat and buy food has always been a dream. The Flourish site came up as an opportunity and it was too good to turn down, being in a good area and on a busy road.  It is also a great ‘showroom’ for our wholesale business and a place we can trial brands before we roll out to wholesale. Having a consumer-facing business has also brought life to our values and ethos and has helped the whole business become more real and authentic. Flourish No 2 coming soon!

If there’s one thing you would change about the industry what would it be?

That’s a difficult question but I would say that I would want more retailers to factor in social and environmental aspects to their buying decisions rather than only the financial aspects.  We aim to be competitive but also treat people and planet well through how we run the business and sometimes low prices mean that isn’t happening through other suppliers.

What makes you excited about the speciality food industry in 2023?

If I look back nearly 25 years (it’s our Silver Jubilee next year!) the fact that speciality food is now in many places it wasn’t back then.  There is still a long way to go but many people in the UK are eating better quality products than they were then and these products are more widely available.

What’s a standout proud moment or memory from your career to date?

You mean apart from this award?!  There are too many to mention, but one favourite moment each year is the time when I browse through our Impact Report for the first time.  It makes me so proud of my team of what they have achieved to make the world a slightly better place each year!

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