Pub chain Fuller’s is targeting £100m a year from food sales – after spending £20m upgrading its kitchens over the past five years.
The brewery group has earned a reputation as one of the most forward-thinking chains in its sector when it comes to food, having invested heavily in high-end equipment for its kitchens, including Ambach cooking suites, and creating a formal Chefs’ Guild programme aimed at increasing the standard of professional cooking in its business.
Head of food, Paul Dickinson, joined the firm in 2011 and set about devising a food structure for the chain and focusing on processes, quality and ingredients within a clear framework.
In that time, food sales have rocketed from £40m to £74m, and the overriding goal is to hit £100m.
“The food GP grew because we were buying the right product at the right volume, working with suppliers to get things through. And the other key factor has been skilled chefs. When I joined Fuller’s you were either kitchen manager or chef – we now have seven grades of chef. I have got 1,259 chefs and 150 vacancies. We now have a classical kitchen set-up, which is what we needed by the time we got to investing in the kitchens.”
Speaking at the CESA Conference in the Cotswolds yesterday, Mr Dickinson acknowledged that its mission of making Fuller’s “famous for food” was a “big, audacious goal”, but said it was necessary to move the business to the next level.
The company, which runs 400 pubs, mainly in the south of England, has focused on meeting demand for traditional food with a modern twist, while instilling greater depth, skill and passion to its brigade through structured training.
“I remember my first kitchen experience at Fuller’s. I had a pan, they wanted crispy skin on chicken, on fish – that chicken ain’t coming out of that pan, it is going in the bin with the chicken! So we invested heavily – we have now spent £20m on kitchens; we have invested in just over 145 kitchens in the last five years. An average kitchen costs £120,000 excluding flooring, walls and all the rest of it.
“And the kitchens are modelled to cook by the grades of the chefs we have. So we have got a good pass – the pass dictates how many plates and covers we can change or how many plates we can deliver every 15 minutes. There is madness and methodology to everything we do. In a pub company where you used to have a cheese sandwich with onions on the bar wrapped in cellophane, it has been transformational.”
The Fuller’s Chefs’ Guild that the company formed three years ago provides a focus for the ongoing development of all chefs, from kitchen assistant to executive chef level. It defines Fuller’s brigade structure and the technical, management and leadership standards expected of each member of the food team.
“When you go into our kitchens now, you have got chefs who are proud. We pay for all their chef whites, their shoes, their aprons, the laundry, and that makes the difference when it comes to retention. You go into the kitchens now and you don’t have to turn the ovens on to warm up – we have got tempered air, so it’s hot and cold. All these things make a difference.
“It’s all been about people, it wasn’t about driving profit. If you have people cooking properly in a trained environment, and controlled and developed in a trained environment, they will deliver the profit. The £100m [target], we might be there, we might not – I can’t say because we are in a closed period – but I think the cool thing is now these chefs are cooking, these people are working with the right equipment.”