Chris Roach has been trading out of New Covent Garden Market for nearly 30 years, having started out in the industry aged 14 helping out his uncle and then opening his first stall in Hampstead. He was soon supplying local restaurants, the business grew and a wholesale unit at the Market became a necessity.
CSR & Sons was already supplying vegetables and sustainable fresh cut chips to a wide network of fish and chip shop and pub customers across London and the South East as The London Chip Company, before the plant-based alternatives entered the scene earlier this year.
The father and son team are the exclusive supplier of Triple F (Fylde Fresh and Fabulous) sustainable fresh-cut chips for London and the South-east Coast. Triple F has a biogas plant that breaks down all of its potato waste for re-use and also generates electricity that goes back into the grid. It also recycles every drop of water it uses in the production process for re-use on the farm. Every bag of chips also has a barcode stamped on it, which allows anyone to trace that product right back to the field it came from.
“I first met the guy from Triple F in a chip shop I was serving in Hampstead about 10 years ago,” remembers Chris. “They had been running their own vans into London, but I was serving a big group of pubs at the time and their product fitted in lovely. Quite quickly we were taking 4-5 tonnes of chips a week and that had risen to 25 tonnes in the period before the pandemic hit. We’re building back stronger than ever and feeling confident in our position for the future.
The firm receives a delivery of Triple F chips every night and tries to clear that volume each trading day. “We want to ensure the product is sold at its freshest,” says Alfie Roach. “The sustainable side of things is important to our customers, of course, and that has been a big driver of the expansion. But more importantly, the quality of the chips is really excellent and the price is good. If it wasn’t they wouldn’t be buying them.” CSR also buys from a Birmingham-based fresh cut chip manufacturer which specialises in different cuts of chip, from fries to Pont Neuf to Jenga.
Having established a market for customers keen on sustainable production and supply chains, the plant-based move was a natural progression. “Everyone needs to have vegetarian or plant-based options on their menu these days,” Chris says, “and more often than not, they want it to look like meat.”
CSR’s supplier is Moving Mountains, which was founded by Simeon Van der Molen in 2014, after he was diagnosed with high cholesterol and forced to cut out either meat and dairy from his diet. Disenchanted by the lack of tasty meat alternatives on the market, he decided to do something about it. For two years, he worked with a team of food consultants and technologists to create the UK’s first plant-based ‘bleeding’ burger, which was an instant multinational success on its release. The product range has grown quickly from there; first with the introduction of hot dogs and then fish fingers, fish fillets, meatballs and much more.
All of those products are available to customers of CSR and Sons. “The vegan, plant-based option is a great addition to our range and as we do all the vegetables as well, we’re giving a lot of our customers a full range now,” Chris says.
While a large chunk of the business is based on delivery to customers from NCGM, both the fresh-cut chips and frozen plant-based products have really taken off on the buyers walk in the last six months. “I thought it might be really hard to change people’s perception and get them to buy a frozen product, but we have turned the plant-based products it into a profitable venture in less than six months,” he says. The firm makes the deliveries in London itself, while regular customers include distributors covering the south east coast from West Sussex to Kent.
Trading patterns have certainly altered in recent months, as CSR and Son’s customer base recovers at its own pace. “Since the pandemic everything is happening at the weekend” says Chris. “So Mondays and Tuesdays have become quiet here and it begins to pick up again on Wednesdays. Obviously, there are no tourists around and not many people in offices yet, but all things considered, we’re doing OK, maybe 15% down on pre-COVID levels.”
During Covid, CSR was one of the companies in the Market that donated huge volumes of product to various charities for vulnerable people and keyworkers around London. It also quickly set up a home delivery service. “We had four vans out on the road every day and we concentrated on the area between the Market and where we live in the north of London, as well as some of south west London,” Chris says. “Particularly during the first lockdown, when the supermarkets were really short of product, we were really busy. It was hard work, because finding staff wasn’t easy, but looking back at it, it was very satisfying. There were so many older or vulnerable people who just hadn’t seen anyone, and they were so grateful when one of our drivers turned up with their delivery and made the time for a chat.”
Alfie adds that some elements of the day-to-day business remained relatively robust. “Fish and chip shops were one of the outlets that largely remained open during the lockdown period and that was a bit of a lifeline for us. Because we were doing the deliveries, we also got to see some of our chef customers who normally we wouldn’t see very often in the Market. New customers were coming to us for the Tripe F range too, as some of their regional distributors had to shut their doors.
“We just kept things going really and without that desire to keep working through it all, I’m not sure we’d be where we are now. Whenever this is all over, I truly believe we will be in an even stronger position than we were before. It’s just a matter of continuing to work hard and being flexible in an ever changing environment.”
As the trend towards plant-based foods continues on its seemingly inexorable upward curve, CSR and Sons would certainly seem to have positioned itself very nicely indeed.