Interviews · 15min read
Interview with Natalia Spinetto from Collectiv Food
Explore Collectiv Food’s groundbreaking distribution model, rigorous approach to food supply vetting, transparent pricing schemes and more!
About Collectiv Food
Collectiv Food is a next-generation wholesale supplier, helping professional kitchens solve the challenges of today and tomorrow. Guided by the vision of leading the transition to a fair, transparent and sustainable food supply chain to meet the demands of the cities of tomorrow, Collectiv Food is actively transforming the B2B food supply chain, one supplier and one kitchen at a time.
About Natalia Spinetto
Prior to accepting the position of Sustainability Manager (2022), Natalia Spinetto worked as a Senior Producer Relationships Manager (2021) and Purchasing and Producing Partnerships Coordinator (2019) at Collectiv Foods. Her previous work experience also includes Engagement Coordinator and Graduate Recruitment Ambassador positions in the food sector. Natalia holds a MA in Sustainable Development from the University of Scotland and MSc in Food Policy from the City University of London.
What makes Collectiv Food's delivery model unique?
Our delivery model was built on sustainable practices and concentrates on where the majority of our customers live, urban centres. With this focus, our Points of Distribution model (PODs) were born. The POD model breaks free from traditional wholesale food delivery, which sends one lorry to one location after another. Instead, we use a POD—a repurposed and refrigerated shipping container placed in an underutilised space in the city.
Today, we have two PODs, one in East London and one in the West, which remain in place 24 hours a day. The PODs are not swapped out with each delivery cycle but filled overnight by an 18-ton lorry at our central distribution hub in Hounslow, where our suppliers deliver. The lorry is first loaded at the warehouse before making its way to the POD, dropping the goods and finally returning to the warehouse to load up and fulfilling the next POD delivery.
At the POD site, one of our trusted third parties is able to access the POD using remote access control. They then load up their cargo bike or small van and make their way to the customer. In turn, our customers get a more reliable service with nearly 50% fewer carbon emissions in the last mile compared to the traditional food delivery model. It’s a real game-changer, particularly as customers are becoming increasingly focused on reducing their impact too.
Your network comprises +1000 producers in +42 countries. How do you vet your suppliers to guarantee your quality standards are met?
Food supply is very complex. It’s influenced by numerous inputs, processes and stakeholders (even the weather) along the chain, all of which impact food integrity and quality. That’s why, at Collectiv Food, food safety, traceability and a commitment to sustainability are of utmost importance in our search for producer partners.
Today, suppliers need to meet four main quality standards to work with us. Firstly, they need to add value to the products they sell, whether that’s through farming, processing and/or manufacturing, thereby ensuring they get as close to the source as possible for really fresh quality products. They also need to provide records on full product traceability and safety in accordance with one or more global food safety initiative recognised schemes, such as BRC, IFS, Global Gap and we also work with SALSA-accredited suppliers.
Another thing our suppliers really need to show is the transparency of pricing, consistency of supply and flexibility with processing abilities and deliveries. Last but not least, we are increasingly looking for producers who are working to reduce their impact—such as through the reduction of single-use plastics or the introduction of carbon offsetting schemes—and moving towards 100% renewable energy sources.
To onboard a new supplier, the Buying Team at Collectiv Food utilises publicly available information, such as food safety certification body directories, and searches for up-to-date audit outcomes. They then go on to speak to the supplier and trigger a sample review, should the supplier meet the requirements of the first screening.
Ensuring that we meet our quality standards, however, goes beyond this initial screening as quality is not static. Quality issues can come up with suppliers we’ve never previously had issues with. That’s why we also track our suppliers’ performance week-over-week and month-over-month to ultimately enable us to spot trends and ensure we are meeting our quality standards. As they say, the proof is in the pudding.
In what ways is Collectiv Food working to shift power structures within the food supply chain to create a more balanced and fair ecosystem for all players?
Collectiv Food works with suppliers and customers in a transparent manner—a type of relationship much more comparable with a partner, rather than a traditional, more transactional buyer-and-seller type. We often openly discuss which customers are using their products and share sample feedback with our suppliers. While these might seem like no-brainers, we’ve heard time and time again how others in the sector do not do the same. This added transparency has the power to help our suppliers. Particularly newer suppliers know which of their products are performing best, or not as well, which, in turn, can help to inform new product development or more positioning and strategy.
On the other hand, we also showcase our suppliers’ unique stories and achievements when we introduce one of our products to our customers, thereby helping suppliers stand out. For us, this partner-style of working with suppliers is much more fair and balanced. Similarly, we work hard to ensure our customers are able to make informed purchasing decisions when working with us. This means that our Sales and Buying teams are constantly working together to provide support and expertise to our customers, whether that's through providing curated product options by harnessing our wide network of suppliers or sharing timely market insights about regulatory changes or seasonal factors relevant to given customers' food supply.
Our goal is always to empower customers to make the most of the market situation at any given time. Empowering our customers to make more sustainable choices when it comes to their food supply is also important to us at Collectiv. However, food sustainability is often an intangible and daunting task to many buyers out there, with many foodservice operators knowing little about the environmental impact of the products they buy.
At Colletiv Food, we believe that adding a new layer of product and producer information—through our Producer Sustainability Index, which is currently under development—will help foodservice buyers know, not only where their food comes from, but also from who and at what environmental cost in comparison to other product options, thus paving the way for a food supply fit for the future.
Tell us about your transparent approach to pricing.
At Collectiv we work hard to be transparent in everything we do, and pricing is no exception. We believe it's mutually beneficial to be transparent about not only pricing generally but also specifically with regards to what they mean in the context of the current market. Our approach is really to be able to have an open dialogue with customers and suppliers alike to ultimately enable us to offer a price that works for all parties.
With our suppliers, we offer the opportunity to know what our selling price is for their products. For some suppliers, particularly in the plant-based category, our transparency goes a long way. Many, if not all, suppliers in this category are looking to make their products more affordable compared to their meat counterparts, let alone their many competitors. By working together to offer the best price, we’re helping our customers access the protein supply less harmful for the planet.
On the other hand, we are transparent with our customers about the delivery cost as well as the market factors affecting price. For example, we show foodservice buyers the difference in product pricing based on the number of deliveries they have requested, with more deliveries naturally leading to higher product prices. Our Buying Team is also constantly tracking pricing fluctuations across the market to ensure cost stability. Any changes are communicated with customers in a timely manner, as has been the case during much of the second half of 2021 with several protein-supply price increases due to the widespread disruption brought on by Covid and regulatory changes coming into force due to Brexit.
What are the biggest challenges on Collectiv Food's horizon? And how is your team working to overcome these?
We will continue to see major challenges in the food supply brought on by Covid and Brexit. Labour at production sites and in hospitality, brought on by Brexit in particular, has been and is likely to continue to be a major challenge for the industry. The challenge here for Collectiv Food and our customers is that these wider factors will ultimately lead to increased food costs. With costs for all major protein supplies, with the likely exceptions of plant-based proteins, only expected to go up this year, we are likely to see our customers be more creative in their requests and choices of ingredients. With our wide network of suppliers and proximity to the market, we are well-positioned to be able to support our customers to find alternatives in the year ahead.
Related to this challenge, we are also working on promoting more informed purchasing decisions amongst our customers. This, for the most part, means promoting decisions based not only on price or short-term benefits but also on the sustainability of product options. This is a challenge that Collectiv Food is tackling head-on with the development of our Producer Sustainability Index, expected to launch later this year. The goal of the index is to make clear the environmental impact of choosing supply from any given food producer vs another and, ultimately, to support our customers as their customers and stakeholders increasingly look for more sustainable food supplies in the year ahead and beyond.