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21 Feb, 2019|

Turning the spotlight on one of our customers – Harwoods of London, fruit and vegetable wholesaler

At Anthony Jones we work with a broad range of businesses, big and small, across a variety of sectors and based all over the UK. We thought it might be of interest to talk about some of our customers in more detail and explain how we support them with their changing insurance needs.

We spoke to Jim Dew, MD of Harwoods of London, a family run fruit and vegetable wholesalers, supplying the kitchens of top end restaurants and hotels all over London and the South East.

The business was founded in 1989 by Jim’s father, who had previously been running a pub but was forced to give this up because of ill-health. However, it wasn’t long before he found that he wasn’t cut out for a life of leisure and he started to consider his next move. Prior to becoming a publican, he had been a greengrocer so at this juncture he chose to return to this familiar profession.

Setting up his new venture with just four customers, the business has grown year on year and now employs around 28 people, including Jim, his wife and their three sons. We asked Jim how they managed to build the business to become the successful enterprise it is today:

“We have always worked hard – this business is our life and we put our hearts and souls into it. We’re sticklers for attention to detail and what we do, we do well. All our new business comes from word of mouth; we don’t advertise and we don’t have salespeople. The quality of our produce speaks for itself, as does the level of customer service that we provide. Chefs appreciate that and we find that when they change kitchens, they take us with them. Similarly, the new chefs taking their place find they like us so stick with us. If you’ll excuse the pun, that’s been our recipe for success and how we’ve been able to grow organically.”

According to Jim, they made two strategic decisions about ten years ago that proved to be game-changing for the business. The first of these was to set up a sister business, Harwoods of Kent, which acts as a conduit between themselves and the independent growers. The Harwood vans drive around Kent dropping off produce with customers and picking it up from the local farms and growers. This model reduces food miles while ensuring freshness and traceability – all important criteria for today’s top end chefs.

“Of course, we have to import produce too,” explained Jim, “but a large focus is on seasonal produce and we source as much as we can from our local suppliers in Kent.”

The second decision was to relocate the business to New Covent Garden. Put simply by Jim, “the produce is better there and, as a result, we’ve seen our business double in size since we moved in a decade ago.”

The Anthony Jones team are having a lot of conversations about the implications of Brexit for customers and Harwoods are no exception. As a fruit and vegetable wholesaler, stockpiling isn’t an option. Is Jim worried about that? “Initially we were worried, but we’ve applied for an importing licence and have spoken to our European suppliers, all of whom have long-standing relationships with us. We’re now confident that we’ve taken the necessary steps to ensure a smooth transition and we don’t expect any problems that arise to be long term.”

Jim has used Anthony Jones to insure his business and his fleet of vans for 20 years or more. Initially drawn to them because they were local and therefore convenient, he’s formed a valuable relationship with them over the years. “They are a similar sort of business to mine with similar values and a similar approach to customer service. When I ask them to do something, they do it. I can trust them and know that I can always get hold of someone when I need to. But more than that, I’ve had some solid advice from them over the years, and not always directly to do with insurance. For example, they’ve told me about websites where I can check the validity of driving licences. I wouldn’t have known about these without Anthony Jones. They make me aware of important information which I might not spot myself. They do more for me than I would necessarily expect from an insurer and I can’t ask for any more than that.”