If you stop and think about the machine behind every item of food you buy, whether it be something from the supermarket shelf of a plate of exceptional food at a restaurant, there is one company that I can guarantee has been involved in delivering that product to you, and that company is Bidfood.
You will see their delivery trucks everywhere because, without doubt, Bidfood is the largest supplier of products to the food industry not just in Nelson but in New Zealand.
Have a look at their website and you will see just some of the eye-watering number of products they deliver every day, from fresh produce, paper cups to ice cream, fresh and frozen meat products, pre-made pies, everything you need to make your own pies, sauces, dressings, seafood and even specialty commercial kitchen cleaning materials – basically anything food related a restaurant or retailer needs they supply it.
A couple of weeks ago I sat down with local branch manager Matt Lynch in their sparkling new, purpose-built premises to find out exactly what they do.
“It’s about quality in everything we do, from how we answer the phone, how we manage our stock right down to the attitude of the driver who delivers the product to our customers, of course things don’t always go as planned so it is also really important we deal with any issues well too.
“And to do all of these things it comes down to our people, they are hugely important to the experience we provide to our customers.
“We moved to these new premises in late 2017 and we have seen huge improvements in the service and quality we can deliver, we had a few adjustments to make with things like travel times for deliveries to the city, when we were in Tahunanui it was ten minutes to town and now we are at the bottom end of Queen St it just takes a bit longer to get places.
“We have a philosophy of ‘fresh and frequent’ so we have staff working through the night preparing deliveries for drivers who turn up from about 4.30am six days a week and seven days over the summer.”
The thing I noticed when I walked around their new building is just how efficient everything is, Matt says “I visited the old site a few days ago and as I walked around I wondered how on earth we managed to work from there for so long, it was a building that was added to and altered over the years and was far from efficient, here we have lots of room to move trucks around with specialty loading bays, everything here is purpose designed to help us deliver on our promise to our customers.”
The other thing he says is vital to improving the quality of what they do is the quality of temperature control, “with modern refrigeration and freezing facilities we are using a lot less power and the products are in better condition, us delivering product in perfect condition means a good experience for everyone, right down to the diner.”
Another motto Bidfood live by is ‘there every day’ “we deliver twice a day right across the region except for Murchison, Golden Bay and the Marlborough Sounds, and that includes sending a truck to lodges and other places in the outer reaches of the Marlborough Sounds every day, we deliver right to their door, no one else does that.”
After talking to Matt I had a chat with George Proudfoot who notches up 30 years as a delivery driver for Bidfood in December this year, 29 years of that has been as the daily delivery driver to Golden Bay, “I drive about 400kms five days a week and another driver does the trip on Saturdays in the summer.
Because he has been there so long George has seen the company go through a number of ownership changes, “the business started at Farm Products in Halifax Street before the business was sold and became Mainstream Foods in Bolt Road before being bought by Bidvest who owned Crean Foods in the North Island.
“Bidvest gradually bought a number of smaller distribution businesses around the place and I must say they treated all of the staff really well when they did that, they took on most of the staff when they took over a business.
Of course I was curious about some of the changes he has seen over the years and some of the challenges and funny things he has experienced, “when I started I drove an old TK Bedford truck with a freezer on the back, the freezer unit was mounted on the top of the cab with the bolts showing inside the roof and it was so noisy you couldn’t hear anything, now we drive modern vehicles, the oldest is only about four years old and the newest is just a couple of months.”
Fully fitted out these modern trucks come with a price tag of around $200,000 and the space in the back has both freezer and chiller areas, “we can even move the wall inside to make the freezer space bigger or smaller depending on the mix of frozen and chilled product we have on board, it is a bit different to the very early days when they had a chest freezer strapped to a flatbed truck.”
He has also had a few challenges over the years, including the latest disruption caused by ex-cyclone Gita, “I got off the Takaka hill after my trip to Golden Bay on Tuesday afternoon and when I got to Motueka I heard on the radio the hill had been closed, there were no deliveries Wednesday but on Thursday Matt arranged to put the truck on a barge at Kaiteriteri, after about 4 ½ hours we got to Port Tarakohe and then to Takaka at about 9.30pm.
“I started deliveries first thing on Friday then headed back on the barge that had another Bidfood truck on it, it was some long days but it’s what you need to do to keep the customers happy.”
In Golden Bay the locals really appreciate the effort Bidfood has made to get product to them, even carrying frozen and chilled product from other suppliers as well, and they appreciate the time restrictions drivers have, “some people are saying don’t drop the products to us, just leave them in Takaka and we will collect them, the guys from Fresh Choice helped me unload a huge amount of product by using their forklift to help me at another site, everyone is just helping one another which is really great.”
I said to George he must have had a few funny experiences over the year; “Two new years ago I got back in to Takaka and was just on the edge of my driving hours, tried to get accommodation and everyone had no vacancies, the hotel was full but the woman who runs the restaurant said come and stay at my place, that is the sort of people they are, everyone just helps everyone else but there are a few funny things I probably shouldn’t talk about he says with his trademark grin”.
So next time you buy a product in a dairy, café, restaurant, bar or supermarket take a moment to appreciate the effort companies like Bidfood and people like George make to ensure you can buy those products or meals, there is a huge distribution and delivery machine behind that plate of food.