JJ Foodservice has just acquired Gatelands Supplies – and is on the hunt for more ways to drive growth. Its COO talks acquisitions, technology and service

Amid the continued trials and tribulations of the ravaged restaurant sector in which it’s historically focused, JJ Foodservice has somehow kept growing, pivoting first into direct-to-consumer sales (during the pandemic) and more recently developing its school dinners proposition.

But the acquisition of Gatelands Supplies – a specialist supplier of Thai, Chinese and Japanese goods including fresh vegetables, meats, and exclusive Asian brands – marks a new chapter for the midsize foodservice specialist. It’s JJ’s first acquisition since snapping up Sykes Seafood in 2016. And chief operating officer Kaan Hendekli is excited. “Following growing trends can lead us to something exciting we don’t know yet. That’s where the growth potential is.

“With the new acquisition we want to focus on what we lack in terms of range and knowledge, and grow in new parts of the market.”


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Gatelands serves between 300 and 500 businesses in London, and the deal will add about 300 new products to JJ’s 3,000-strong lineup. In turn, Gatelands customers will now be able to access JJ’s extensive range, too.

But Hendekli is clear it’s just the first of a series of acquisitions JJ Foodservice is targeting as it looks to push into new areas of the market.

“Our short-term goal is to continue with acquisitions for targeted sectors,” says Hendekli. “We started with Thai, but we may go into Korean next. We’re already strong in fish & chip restaurants, Indian, Mediterranean, QSRs and cafés. We try out new things all the time. Some work, some don’t, but we listen to feedback and always ask ourselves: how can we make this better for our customers?”

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JJ’s depot in Wimbledon opened in March

Family values

The acquisition is by no means the only new news from JJ: on the people side, it recently followed up on a new profit-sharing initiative among staff with newly launched company values and mission.

The profit-sharing scheme, which allocates 5% of pre-tax profits to its 840  employees, is already paying dividends. Staff turnover has fallen by 50%. Retention has also been helped by greater efforts to empower staff. Hendekli points to a series of colourful posters with QR codes on them. Staff can scan the QR code and fill in a form with their ideas on how to improve the business. Open to all employees, every idea put forward gets discussed at the monthly executive meeting. And though Hendekli is part of a new generation of leadership at JJ, one that’s proud of its tech and forward-thinking strategies, these family values run deep.

“Customers don’t switch to us because we’re bigger, but because we’re better”

When restaurateur Mustafa Kiamil started the business 37 years ago, he “made it his mission to improve the quality of wholesale food and service” according to the newly published values. Similarly, Hendekli says the goal is “to be the best, not the biggest” in the sector. “There are giants in our industry, and we’re not competing with them in terms of scale or reach. But we compete with them in terms of service. Customers don’t switch to us because we’re bigger than them, but because we’re better.”

Hendekli has certainly played the long game with the company, having started on the telesales team in 2010 fresh from a masters degree, where he developed his interest in sensory marketing – the science behind, for example, customers recognising a specific ringtone in relation to a particular manufacturer such as Nokia or iPhone.

From telesales, Hendekli quickly moved on to national accounts, but it was a move into operations where he’s really come into his own, as his love of puzzles and brain-teasers came to the fore.

Name: Kaan Hendekli
Place of birth: Istanbul
Lives in: London
Age: 42
Family: Two-year-old son, plus wife Carolina
Potted CV: MA in marketing, then numerous roles at JJ Foodservice over 14 years: telesales; group accounts pricing; category buyer; category manager; deputy branch manager; branch manager; head of operations; chief operating officer.
Business motto: “Change is your competitive advantage”.
Recommended watch: Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, from 1980.
Hobbies: Brain-teasers, puzzles, and problem-solving games. I’ve loved doing wordsearch puzzles ever since I was a kid. Even before I could read, all I needed was the letter shape to crack it.
Favourite JJ Foodservice product: The Royal Roast Coffee beans from Amalfi, and the Tabaki olive oil.
Favourite meal: It has to be a ribeye steak, cooked medium rare and served with chips.

“When I moved to operations in 2012, it was one big puzzle,” he says. “I became assistant to a branch manager in the lead-up to the Olympics. And he left right before the event. I found myself in a chaotic situation: the roads were shut and millions of people were arriving in London, but I enjoyed it.

I like finding solutions. After all, if you work in operations and don’t have a problem, you don’t have a job.”

Hendekli’s rapid rise has continued ever since: in quick succession he was promoted to deputy branch manager, branch manager, then head of operations, before being named COO of the company last June.

“Are we ever going to stop? I don’t think so”

Despite multiple roles, Hendekli believes his early curiosity about customer behaviour and marketing techniques has served him well. And it still plays out in JJ’s activity today. “We carried out a brand personality questionnaire for our customers, asking them how they’d describe JJ Foodservice if it were a person. The top responses were ‘reliable’, ‘honest’ and ‘forward-thinking’. It told us a lot about the perception our customers have of us, and that’s what we want to keep doing as a company.”

Efficiency and expansion

JJ’s newest depot in Wimbledon, which launched in March, is certainly forward-thinking. It features energy-efficient features including EV charging points for lorries, electric warehouse vehicles, roof-mounted solar panels, eco-packaging, paperless warehouses and paperless routes, not to mention more than 100 pieces of electric warehouse machinery.

“We believe in sustainability not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it makes sense commercially,” says Hendekli. “We have over 11,000 solar panels across our branches. They generate a lot of energy, covering almost 40% of our consumption. After all, if you create your own solar energy, you’re not paying for it. It makes you fully self-sufficient.”

Over the past decade, JJ has tested and launched numerous solutions to keep customers happy. These include JJ Advance, which allows customers to receive a delivery within 12 hours, and a state-of-the-art EPR system.

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JJ’s has unveiled solutions to deliver to customers within 12 hours

“People talk about AI a lot these days,” Hendekli says. “From early on, we invested in smart technology. Nothing too complicated, but we implemented our EPR system years ago, which tells us which products to put on promo.” As an example, during a heatwave, the system would place water and beverages on specific promotions. “If you think about it, that’s AI, and JJ were using it before it became a big thing.”

However, while tech, customer satisfaction and family values remain crucial, the immediate goal for JJ is to seek out even more acquisitions. Hendekli says the eye-catching addition of Gatelands to its portfolio is just the beginning.

“In terms of expanding, there’s no limit,” he says. “In the short term we want to open three more sites, but there may be more.

“You can always find new businesses, open new locations,” he adds. “But for us, that was never the drive. We want to be the best, and want to be known as the best. I believe I can do that – it’s a much more concrete goal, and it’s in my hands. Are we ever going to stop? I don’t think so.”