When Allister Richards stood up to speak at the Catering Equipment Distributors Association’s annual conference earlier this year, he took the opportunity to put a few misconceptions about the contract catering market firmly to bed. Often regarded as the poor relation to the retail sector when it comes to foodservice innovation, Allister left the 100 or so kitchen houses in the room in no doubt that businesses such as Gather & Gather now care as much about equipment innovation and design as their high street counterparts.

And there is certainly no reason to question him given that Gather & Gather — the name of outsourcing giant Mitie’s catering business following a rebrand two years ago — signed almost £20m of new catering deals last year and will exceed that figure this time around. Allister is part of a senior executive team that has a close input on equipment matters, with Jim Norris, director of food, and Doug Gilchrist, head of supply chain, also bringing considerable expertise to the table. To deliver a great proposition to customers, getting the right back-of-house structure right is key.

“We work with a range of approved suppliers, both equipment providers and designers, and our priority is always to match the supplier to the client in terms of style, aspiration and budget; therefore there is no one size fits all,” explains Allister. “Clearly single-item supply is often about best value, but when it comes to design projects, these definitely have the best outcomes when we achieve the right cultural fit. We also aim to work with designers and equipment suppliers who know how we work, understand our business and share our values.”

Having consistently challenged the conventional way that corporate catering is delivered over the past three years, Gather & Gather has notched up some important milestones, including lucrative contracts with Lloyd’s Banking Group, Standard Life and Sky, strong growth in Ireland and the launch of Bench, a coffee shop concept that takes it into the high street arena for the first time. For Allister and his team, the biggest highlight is simply the continuing growth of the brand. “More and people understand what we are trying to do and now know why our offer is different to the mainstream food service providers,” he says.

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“Our priority is always to match the supplier to the client in terms of style, aspiration and budget”

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