Newry food firm grow­ing its brand to lon­don mar­ket

Mar­garet Can­ning talks to Gareth Cham­bers, boss of food firm Around Noon, about mo­jito cakes, travel and why they con­duct meet­ings stand­ing up

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - BY MAR­GARET CAN­NING

A CO Down food firm is bring­ing its suc­cess­ful range of sand­wiches and ‘food-on-the-go’ to Lon­don as part of its lat­est ex­pan­sion.

Newry firm Around Noon, which is headed by 32-year-old Gareth Cham­bers, is re­brand­ing its newly ac­quired Lon­don-based busi­ness Chef in a Box with its own name, and grow­ing it fur­ther.

Around Noon now em­ploys around 330 staff, and has high-end premises with in­spi­ra­tional slo­gans daubed on the walls. It has made two ma­jor ac­qui­si­tions in the Repub­lic and Lon­don in the last few years.

Now, its newly ac­quired firm Chef in a Box will be­come Around Noon Lon­don.

“What we want to do is very sim­i­lar to how Around Noon works in Ire­land. We of­fer a re­ally high qual­ity hand­made prod­uct and we work closely with our clients to of­fer new and ex­clu­sive ranges of food,” Mr Cham­bers said.

“Chef in a Box has a great lo­ca­tion on the M25 into Lon­don and north­wards, and we’ll be work­ing with cof­fee shops, con­ve­nience re­tail­ers and also food service con­tract cater­ers.” Around Noon pro­duces about 60 types of ‘food on the move’ — and while the hum­ble sand­wich re­tains its place, it’s also mak­ing items like pro­tein pots, filled crois­sants, wraps and cold-press juices.

And it’s not lim­it­ing it­self to lunchtime foods — with break­fast, brunch and af­ter­noon tea all part of the of­fer­ing.

“We have got a solid five-year growth plan (called To The Moon 2021) and we’re ex­cited about the fu­ture,” added Mr Cham­bers.

It’s al­ready home to a num­ber of suc­cess­ful, mar­ket-dis­rupt­ing com­pa­nies. Now another Newry firm is shak­ing things up — and this time, it’s the food-to-go sec­tor’s turn. Gareth Cham­bers took over his par­ents’ food com­pany Around Noon in a man­age­ment buy-out last year.

The en­er­getic 32-year-old is bring­ing his love of food and travel to bear on Around Noon — which started out as a sand­wich-mak­ing en­ter­prise from the Cham­bers’ fam­ily home in Newry’s Wil­low Grove.

Now it em­ploys 330 peo­ple, has high-end premises with in­spi­ra­tional slo­gans daubed on the walls — and has made two ma­jor ac­qui­si­tions in the Repub­lic and Lon­don in the last few years.

It pro­duces about 60 dif­fer­ent types of ‘food on the move’ — and while the hum­ble sand­wich re­tains its place, it’s also mak­ing items like pro­tein pots, filled crois­sants, wraps, sal­ads and cold-press juices.

Tak­ing over Dublin-based bak­ery Sweet Things last year has also brought a dizzy­ing ar­ray of bak­ery items into the firm. Some are par­tic­u­larly un­usual, such as a mo­jito cake — with Gareth call­ing its in­no­va­tion in bak­ery items “bad ass”.

Around Noon prod­ucts, many of which are sold un­der its Scrib­bles brand, are sup­plied to cus­tomers such as cof­fee chain Star­bucks and Spar store owner Hen­der­son Group.

Sand­wiches with fill­ings such as goat’s cheese, sweet potato and mango earned the com­pany three awards at in­dus­try bash The Sam­mies 2017 — or­gan­ised by the Bri­tish Sand­wich As­so­ci­a­tion.

Gareth, who lives in Newry with his wife Laura, is evan­gel­i­cal about the prod­ucts and the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind them. “I’m re­ally, re­ally into food on the move and eat­ing on the go. I love trains, flights and air­ports,” he says.

“I’ve al­ways been pas­sion­ate about food and peo­ple on the move.” But there was no con- cept of ‘food on the move’ when Around Noon was set up.

Gareth says: “It was started in 1989 when I was four. It was on the kitchen ta­ble of the fam­ily home and there was al­ways food be­ing made and de­liv­ered.

“My mum Sheila had been work­ing as a re­cep­tion­ist but there was noth­ing like ‘food to go’ in those days — no pre-packed sand­wiches or pre-packed foods.

My mum used to say she strug­gled to get some­thing nice for work. Her ini­tial idea was to bring sand­wiches around of­fices by pic­nic bas­ket but also be able to spend time with her chil­dren and not al­ways be away, and be able to work from home.

“My dad Fran­cis at that stage had a sep­a­rate busi­ness for a fi­nan­cial com­pany so my mother was man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Around Noon. But it was great learn­ing from them.

“That was a re­ally good learn­ing curve. They are ex­tremely en­tre­pre­neur­ial in­di­vid­u­als and great men­tors.

“It was that up­bring­ing with them which def­i­nitely in­spired me to take over the range and take it to the next level.”

How­ever, there was no as­sump­tion by Gareth or his par­ents that he would fol­low them into the busi­ness. He’s the el­dest of five chil­dren in the fam­ily — sis­ter An­drea and brother Gavin also work in the busi­ness, while younger broth­ers Glen and Alan are at univer­sity.

Gareth went to Newry’s Abbey Gram­mar School. “I spent ev­ery sum­mer hol­i­day work­ing for the busi­ness but then I went off and stud­ied me­dia and TV pro­duc­tion. I re­ally was quite in­ter­ested in it.”

He worked for the Newry-based pro­duc­tion com­pany Big Moun­tain.

“I got great ex­pe­ri­ence but there was some­thing about my par­ents’ busi­ness pulling me back in. I was re­ally in­trigued by what they had quite cre­ated and so in­spired by cook­ing,” he says.

But he ac­knowl­edges wife Laura — who owns a cof­fee roast­ery — is the su­pe­rior cook of the two.

Some months ago Around Noon an­nounced the ac­qui­si­tion of Chef in a Box, a Slough-based

I’m re­ally into food on the move and eat­ing on the go... I love trains, flights and air­ports

com­pany with a ma­jor port­fo­lio of cor­po­rate clients that will be Around Noon’s spring­board into the Lon­don and wider English mar­ket.

“We would be quite in­ter­ested in and in­spired by work­ing with lots of dif­fer­ent brands and sup­ply­ing the mar­ket with re­ally high qual­ity food to go,” says Gareth.

“Our fo­cus is on de­vel­op­ing re­ally in­no­va­tive prod­ucts for our clients and work­ing in part­ner­ship with them to and grow to our mu­tual ben­e­fit.”

That firm will be­come Around Noon Lon­don. “What we want to do is very sim­i­lar to how Around Noon works in Ire­land. We of­fer a re­ally high qual­ity hand­made prod­uct and we work re­ally closely with our clients to of­fer new and ex­clu­sive ranges of food,” says Gareth.

“Chef in a Box has a great lo­ca­tion on the M25 into Lon­don and north­wards, and we’ll be work­ing with cof­fee shops, con­ve­nience re­tail­ers and also food service con­tract cater­ers.”

And it’s not lim­it­ing it­self to lunchtime foods — with break­fast, brunch and af­ter­noon tea all part of the of­fer­ing.

“We have got a solid five-year growth plan (called To The Moon 2021) and we’re quite ex­cited about the fu­ture,” says Gareth.

“We have a very dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion to what’s out there in mar­ket and ap­proach things very dif­fer­ently.”

He says the com­pany cul­ture is help­ing it in­no­vate. “Ev­ery mem­ber of the team is pas­sion­ate about food to go. We talk about ‘ hand­held food for peo­ple on the move’. The ‘eat­ing out of home’ mar­ket and food to go mar­ket in Ire­land and the UK is ex­tremely ex­cit­ing and very fast mov­ing mar­ket. We want to be the lead­ing light, the go-to guys in that mar­ket.

“We mon­i­tor trends right across the globe in food on the move and bring those trends to clients to cre­ate new and ex­cit­ing ranges.

“We also have a thing in the com­pany called Food Sa­fari. All our staff have the op­por­tu­nity if they’re go­ing on hol­i­day or trav­el­ling to come back and tell us what they’ve seen in food on the move, and we pay them for their good ideas. That helps peo­ple grow their in­ter­est in food on the go.”

The firm is con­stantly mon­i­tor­ing where the mar­ket is go­ing, look­ing at health trends and food trends. Gareth ad­mits he en­joys tast­ing the prod­uct and is evan­gel­i­cal again about its Sweet Things range.

They bought over the Dublin-based com­pany last year from its co-founder Ciara Byrne. “Those prod­ucts are a lit­tle bit more edgy and dif­fer­ent. They are quite bad ass in very rock ‘n’ roll, quirky and in­no­va­tive flavours. We had a mo­jito cake for sum­mer and a su­per-salted caramel brownie. It’s all about dar­ing to be dif­fer­ent.

“It’s a cool, rock ‘n’ roll style bak­ery brand and items are al­ways that bit ir­rev­er­ent and that ties in quite well with Scrib­bles. We talk about fine food with at­ti­tude... that’s kind of what all of our brands are re­ally about.”

The firm moved into pur­pose-built premises at Green­bank In­dus­trial Es­tate two years ago. “My mum al­ways had the view that you had to put peo­ple first, and our fa­cil­i­ties and the of­fice en­vi­ron­ment is a re­flec­tion of that. It’s a very nice place to work with lots of nat­u­ral light and barista cof­fee on tap. If you have good cof­fee, you’re half­way there,” says Gareth.

“We have nice break-out zones and hold all our meet­ings stand­ing up. It’s im­por­tant to get peo­ple mov­ing around the of­fice and in­ter­act­ing face-to-face. We don’t take our­selves too se­ri­ously and the en­vi­ron­ment here pro­motes the fact that food is fun and fash­ion­able.”

Gareth has worked in the com­pany now for eight years. He be­came chief ex­ec­u­tive in 2013 but has also worked in sales. One of his first big moves was to hire an ex­ec­u­tive chef to de­velop its food.

And achiev­ing the com­pany’s goals — Gareth wants to grow sales from £20m to £100m — has meant Gareth has re­cruited ex­pe­ri­enced busi­ness­peo­ple Pa­trick Mcaliskey of IT firm Novosco and UK food in­dus­try vet­eran Howard Far­quhar onto the board.

“I met Pa­trick about four years ago and he was re­flect­ing on how his jour­ney had brought Novosco from Ire­land into the English mar­ket. I was very keen on do­ing that. We went for cof­fee so he be­came a bit of a men­tor. He was re­ally, re­ally help­ful in spend­ing some time help­ing me to di­gest the jour­ney that I was on to be thrust into the chief ex­ec­u­tive role at the age of 27.

“Pa­trick has been a re­ally help­ful and re­ally kind men­tor and we worked on the man­age­ment buy­out last year. I also met Howard Far­quhar, who’s a very suc­cess­ful en­trepreneur in UK mar­ket.

“Howard and I sat down and pulled to­gether a plan to grow busi­ness and he’s now chair­man.”

Gareth says his par­ents are still on the board of the com­pany but aren’t di­rectly in­volved.

He’s talk­ing a calm ap­proach to any chal­lenges Brexit might bring. “There’s an aw­ful lot of spec­u­la­tion and talk and the re­al­ity is no­body re­ally knows what ev­ery­one’s fac­ing. We’re stay­ing very pos­i­tive about our growth and ex­pan­sion plans and look­ing for­ward to tack­ling what comes.”

Its work­force is in­ter­na­tional. “We’re work­ing very closely with all of our staff to help them un­der­stand what Brexit means to them. The mood is very, very good and we don’t have any con­cerns. As a team we will work through what­ever comes,” says Gareth.

We’re stay­ing very pos­i­tive about our ex­pan­sion plans and tack­ling what comes

PETER MOR­RI­SON

Around Noon chief ex­ec­u­tive Gareth Cham­bers

Gareth Cham­bers took over Around Noon from his par­ents last year

Gareth Cham­bers, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Around Noon, with ex­ec­u­tive chef Dave Gra­ham

Gareth Cham­bers of Newry food-to-go firm Around Noon

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