Adaptability is the name of the game for UK food brokerage companies as the increasingly tough retail environment forces them to find new ways of staying competitive. Yvette Murphy reports Long gone is the image of the broker as a vaguely unsavoury middleman, wheeling and dealing on behalf of his clients and taking a bigger cut from the bottom line than he should. Modern food brokerage is as smooth and as sophisticated an operation as you could wish to find. Men in suits ­ brokerage is a peculiarly male business ­ hold meetings, use computers and shake hands on the deal. Partnership and flexibility are the current buzzwords, and as Richard Onion, business development manager at the Jenks Group, is quick to stress, this is more than just lip service. "Reputable brokers spend time finding the right partner ­ in terms of the product range, the support behind the brands and that it fits with existing business," he says. "And as the market changes, brokers have no choice but to be more flexible. That means taking title of goods or not, distributing to certain sectors, being able to repackage ­ whatever the principal needs." Certainly most of the brokers The Grocer has spoken to claim to provide the right partnership and the right flexibility for success. What is also interesting is that they all exude their own style, another important consideration for manufacturers. "It is a very personal business," confirms Onion, "and different companies have different philosophies." Hamish Gibson, managing director of Food Brokers agrees, adding: "Selling is a social business. It's got to be fun." The advantages of the business are well-known: producers can cut costs while having the advantage of an established distribution system, retailers don't have to deal with a salesperson and an invoice for each brand, and brokers have the incentive of their percentage commission on sales. Changes in the retail environment will affect food brokerages, and many are already gearing up to them. "When it comes to Efficient Consumer Response, for example, it is the largest companies that have the advantages," says Gibson. "Everyone is concerned with elements of it, be it weekly delivery or back haulage. These are exciting times." Over the following pages we document some of these changes, providing information on the great and the good in UK food brokerage, with details of their activities, principals and philosophies.