Founded by brothers Colin and Andrew Hutchison, the company has carved a niche for itself, specialising in delivering bespoke, tailored catering services primarily to the education and business sectors throughout the UK.
Andrew Hutchison, co-founder and business director, traces the roots of Hutchison Catering back to the traditional path of learning from their father and post-college experiences in the commercial restaurant sector.
The brothers ventured into various sectors, including events, high-end retail, and contract catering, ultimately finding their forte in the education sector. The decision to shift focus to education came from a belief that they could deliver successful outcomes by providing a compelling alternative to larger competitors.
The journey officially began in 2013 when Hutchison Catering Ltd was registered, and it now manages more than 150 sites across 14 local authorities, with a workforce of over 600. The firm’s current turnover, hovering around £18 million, reflects its resilience and ability to thrive in a fiercely competitive marketplace.
Commitment to Quality and Growth
According to Andrew Hutchison, the core philosophy of Hutchison Catering revolves around maintaining its identity as a family business while continuously pushing the boundaries of quality through innovation.
By demonstrating its competence and streamlining processes, he says the company aims to foster strong habits associated with delivering excellence.
“Despite being considered upstarts in the sector, by continuing to invest in talent and infrastructure we are positioning the business on a trajectory of progressive and manageable growth.”
Recent achievements include securing five-year contracts with two significant multi-academy trusts in Hull and North Yorkshire. Notably, the company brought 20 new sites online in September, showcasing its capacity to handle large-scale, short-turnaround expansion.
Andrew now wants Hutchison to be ready to bring on board up to 50 sites when it competes for larger contracts, underlining the company’s strategic approach to growth.
Customer-focus and adaptability
He believes that Hutchison Catering’s success can be attributed to its customer-centric approach.
“When bidding for contracts, we ensure that everyone who will be involved in the new business participates in site visits.
“Looking at any potential new business, we tend to focus on underperforming sites as potential quick wins. The emphasis is on being ‘eyes on’ as much as possible, avoiding exaggerated claims about sales increases and instead making meaningful comparisons with existing sites.”
He says that controlling ingredient costs is pivotal, given the slim margins in the school meals sector.
“That is why we have put a lot of focus on maintaining good cost control, balancing the need for realistic cost management with delivering perceived value to clients.”
Beyond that, the company takes cost-saving ideas outside the school gates with initiatives like Friday Night Fake-Away, in which parents are offered very affordable ingredients and simple recipe instructions to take home boxes and recreate meals for their families.
Building a supportive team
The challenges posed by the Covid-19 lockdowns shed light on the importance of effective communication with teams schools and parents. Andrew says the company addressed misunderstandings about meal prices by highlighting the fact that a significant portion of the meal price covers staff wages and overheads.
He says that social media’s impact has also reinforced the need for flair and consistency when it comes to food presentation, especially for children. That is why Hutchison has emphasised the importance of induction programmes that incorporate this aspect when bringing new staff on board. He is also very proud of the sense of unity within the team, which has created a supportive work environment.
Claire Venys, Hutchison’s business director, adds: “That is one reason why recruitment has not been a significant issue, and with a focus on local hires we have achieved a high retention rate.
“We recognise the need to leverage social media for recruitment and emphasise the appeal of the working hours within the sector – Monday to Friday lunchtimes only – which comes with flexibility and 13 weeks of holiday.”
Andrew says plans for the next five years very much depend on the quality of the people he can bring in.
“The success of the business, being fundamentally a food business, hinges on the competence of the leaders and their ability to disseminate crucial information to their respective teams.
“We aim to stay ahead on social and environmental issues, translating them into practical actions, and evolving the menu to meet changing tastes.”
He is also looking at further expansion south, with an eye on contracts in and around Birmingham and Nottingham. Such a move would reflect the company’s first move outside its north east origins when it took a chance on bidding for a few schools in York. That move has since paid off as it now operates 60 sites in the area generating ‘substantial turnover’.
As Hutchison Catering marks its tenth anniversary, the journey from a family-run venture to a competitive player in the catering industry is clear.
With a commitment to quality, a focus on people, and an eye on the future, the company is proving that a family-run business can not only survive but thrive in the challenging world of school catering.
As Andrew Hutchison says: “It’s about understanding the ‘why’ and maintaining a steadfast commitment to delivering culinary excellence.”