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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Slow and proud

Meet Lasse Hansen, the man who is chasing long-term sustainability in the food chain – and who says he’s proud that his customers have to wait days to get their food delivered

“When we launched 44 Foods in January this year, we wanted it to be the antidote to the ever-increasing ‘fast, cheap food’ culture we find ourselves in. We’re on a mission to remind people that food takes time and vital resources to produce and it’s unethical and unsustainable to expect to have it at our fingertips 24-7.

With more than 30 years’ experience in the food industry supplying seafood and produce to some of the biggest supermarkets in the UK, I’ve seen many changes across the retail industry in that time – and not all of them have been positive ones.

At 44 Foods, we strive to do things differently. We’re essentially an online farm shop, selling mainly British, seasonal, restaurant-quality food from local producers, direct to the consumer. We’re not here to be the cheapest – or fastest – food delivery service in the UK. But we certainly want to be known as the most sustainable, ethical and fair place to buy your food.

There’s no way to cut corners with good food. We want to re-educate our customers about the fact that good food is not a quick, cheap, throwaway commodity – but is often the product of months of hard work, with real people in the background, struggling to make a living with prices squeezed down in a highly-competitive industry.

We have spent decades supplying seafood and produce on a large scale to some of the biggest food players in the UK, Europe and USA and in those businesses we have always strived to do the right thing – whether that’s supporting children’s’ education in Thailand and Honduras to creating apprenticeships for young people in South America. And people applaud efforts to improve such conditions in the developing world.

But when it comes to treating many of our UK producers well, it’s clear to see that we’ve lost our way. Consumers have become used to buying fresh produce, meat, fish and dairy products for low prices, without giving a second thought to where the food has come from, how it’s got on to the shelf – and how it’s being sold for such a low price. This in turn leads to little value being placed on the products by the consumer, who often don’t think twice about throwing away spoiled food that they’ve not had the time to use.

It’s often impossible for a farmer to rear animals or grow produce for the price it gets sold in some supermarkets – and that price discrepancy has to be borne somewhere in the supply chain. It’s often the producers who bear the brunt, making their businesses challenging at best, and unviable at worst.

Hobbs House Bakery – a family firm now in its sixth generation, which supplies 44 Foods with delicious fresh bread and rolls

At 44 Foods, we want our customers to see the people behind the products and to connect directly with them, understanding where their food has come from, and to see the time and effort that has gone into it. We’re using it not only as an online sales platform, but as a platform for our partners to explain who they are and what they do.

We work directly with speciality-selected farmers and artisan producers to offer seasonal, mainly British products directly from them to the consumer. We allow all of our partners to set their own prices to ensure they are getting a fair payment for the products they sell, and we don’t stock competing products as we’re not interested in price wars.

 

George Beach, of Mudwalls Farm, which supplies fresh fruit and vegetables of the highest quality, straight from its Worcestershire-based farm

We know we’re not the cheapest place to come and do a shop – but we do aim to have the fairest supply chain. If we get a query about the cost of a product, we remind the customer that the price is the cost needed for the producer to make a living. It’s not often you’ll hear a food retailer say this, but ultimately what we want is for people to buy with more consideration and pay a fair price. It’s an instant way to reduce food waste and increase sustainability in the supply chain. The latest trend for same-day food delivery is a worrying development, and one that we’re actively rallying against at 44 Foods.

The need for same-day delivery when it comes to fresh food creates a difficult position, with chilled goods being kept in bulk in large warehouses awaiting orders – meaning when the goods get to the customer they often have a significantly reduced shelf life, and at times many products simply never make it out of the warehouse before going out of date.

We’re proud to say we have a four-day lead time for our deliveries to reach our customers. This allows the farmers and producers to carefully select the best, freshest goods as and when they are ordered – meaning customers get the best shelf life possible on products. It also means we’ve not got delivery vans roaming the country seven days a week, needlessly adding to CO2 emissions.

We encourage our customers to reduce the need for the fast food concept – and instead, plan their meals in advance, so unused food doesn’t just end up in the bin. Having such a long lead time also means our customers are increasingly purchasing our product range on a weekly basis, rather than buying food on a whim.

We had the 44 Foods idea for a while, but it was always something that I thought would come a few years down the line – and then Covid struck. The knock-on effect of the hospitality sector closure decimating supply chains, coupled with the rise of online shopping as people looked to stay indoors, meant we decided to launch early. It gave customers the chance to shop in a safe way and gave suppliers – many of whom were family-owned and suffering terribly from the closure of pubs, hotels and restaurants – the chance to sell their goods directly to the public.

Lasse Hansen is aiming to revolutionise the food industry, one delivery at a time

Our customers have embraced how we do business, with some fantastic feedback from producers and customers, who get what we’re trying to achieve.

Growth-wise, we need to remain disciplined to ensure we stay true to our ethical, sustainable, and fair approach as we scale up – it’s our responsibility. We’re currently carrying about 500 products, with the aim to get to between 750-1,000 lines. When you consider a supermarket will often have 25,000 – 30,000 product lines in their shops, we’re a small fish in a very big pond. But being this size gives us the chance to create a fair, sustainable infrastructure that works on a number of levels. It also gives us the opportunity to scoop up some amazing artisan suppliers with fantastic products who would never get a look in with the bigger companies because the costs and volume requirements would be prohibitive.

We’re proud to say we have real people at the end of the phone for our customers if they need us, alongside real suppliers with a real purpose.

We are not in this to make a quick buck, for us it’s all about longevity and doing things the right way, providing a sustainable environment for all our employees, suppliers and customers.”

 

 

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