The origins of Castell Howell go back to a farm in West Wales. In 1988, Castell Howell Foods was registered and they began selling their produce to local businesses. Today, Castell Howell is one of the country’s leading independent food wholesalers. Kathryn Jones, Sales & Marketing Director and daughter of the founder, and Matt Lewis, Operations Director, share the story of the business’s growth and future plans.
"If we want to supply to hospitals, schools authorities etc, then we’ve got to have the compliance. We’ve had to move with the times.’"
Speak to anyone in Castell Howell and you will soon discover the customer is very much front of mind. It is their customer values which sets them apart from the multinationals. As Kathryn proudly tells us, ‘the one thing that we know they won’t be able to beat us on is the service, because if you phone the big guys after 5pm, you’ll get an answer phone. We have two emergency numbers and those two emergency numbers are my father’s and mine. So, if there is a problem outside of working hours they will get through to one of us.’
Their commitment to their customers comes from, ‘being here for so long, we know a lot of our customers personally,’ says Kathryn, ‘really it is about being large enough to cope and still small enough to care.’ It is at the heart of every decision at Castell Howell, for example while discussing ethical business with them, Kathryn points out they are led by their customers, ‘people expect more from you than just the person who is selling chicken or the peas. They want to talk to you about how you recycle your packaging and what we do to make sure that our suppliers are responsible.’ As the founding signatory in Wales for The Hospitality and Food Service Agreement for WRAP, Castell Howell clearly takes its responsibilities seriously.
Castell Howell’s respect for their customers is reflected in their passion for their local community, Kathryn and Matt strongly believe in doing the right thing for those around them. And it pays, Matt thinks, ‘if the consumer has a choice between doing business with you, or somebody who isn’t involved in the community, they would choose you which inevitably will have an impact on the bottom line somewhere.’
Kathryn also recognises the responsibility her family business has for their people, ‘when you sit down and think about it, there are a lot of households that depend on you. It does play a large part in the community, because not only do you pay their wages, which pay their mortgage, etc., but the money they spend, also stays within the community, because we like to support local.’ Another responsibility for Matt is, ‘we supply most of the schools now, parents have kids going to those schools. We supply their food. People are very proud to be associated with the school meal service. It’s been nice to see the buy in from parents, teachers, when they see the lorry with a design by the local school turning up.’
Kathryn is proud of what her family business stands for, ‘people know that we speak from the heart, we might not say what we should say, but we say it honestly and genuinely.’
"We are leading by example. We mix in some pretty big circles, and then people probably look at the logos and think ‘who are these guys’, but we do get out there and challenge ourselves to do the right things."
Their commitment to their local community extends to local suppliers. It is not always easy. Kathryn explains, ‘there are so many amazing, wonderful local suppliers, but unless they’ve got certain accreditation and certain standards, we can’t buy from them. We will help them. We will help them all the way to bring them through, what they need to do, who they need to go and see, etc. We try to get them through.’ Kathryn recognises their commitment to customer service and passion for local businesses is part of who they are but also part of the daily challenge as customers’ needs change. She points to traceability, ‘we are getting more and more customers asking us about the traceability side, when all the allergens came into it. Ten years ago, it wasn’t even heard of, so it’s striking that balance.’
Recognising the need to remain competitive and provide exceptional service to their customers, Castell Howell are investing in technology from the basics like a robust IT infrastructure and cyber through to an app for reps and using voice picking through headsets and removing the paper trail. That kind of innovation comes naturally to Castell Howell, as Kathryn explains, ‘I don’t think over the years, we’ve said no to a good project. We do ROI documents, but really it starts off when someone with an idea runs it past a few people. And, for Kathryn it is not simply for profit, ‘it’s to be able to look forward, what we want is to keep the business going, and this time next year to have 650 staff instead of 600.’
Dedication to delivering exceptional customer service is how Castell Howell grew into one of the country’s leading independent food wholesalers. Investment in their people, their community and new technology helping them become business leaders in both Wales and their industry. Castell Howell’s strong family values continue to underpin their future success.