Snacksdirect, Palmer & Harvey McLane’s van sales operation, talks to Rod Addy about its growth aspirations

Sheffield-based Snacksdirect is growing phenomenally. Value sales rose 40% in the last year and the company’s fleet leapt from 103 to 153 vehicles during that time.
Managing director Jim Newsome says: “We’ve hit our sales target six months before we expected and we’re already ahead of our business plan for this year.”
What’s staggering is that growth comes mainly from independent convenience, CTN, licensed and forecourt chains, not multiples’ convenience outlets, which are often served by their own supply chain. That belies the constant talk of the decline and consolidation of independent retailers.
Newsome acknowledges the backing of the UK’s largest wholesaler is important. The company’s board gets guidance from P&H MD Graham McPherson and chairman Christopher Adams. Newsome says: “We’ve forged a strong presence under the umbrella of P&H.”
At 7.5 tonnes, the P&H-liveried trucks are much larger than average, holding up to 800 cases. That maximises the number of daily calls they can make and enables Snacksdirect to cope with sudden surges in demand.
Snacksdirect uses space in 44 of its own dedicated depots and six P&H depots, which are supplied daily. “Our freshness of stock is very important,” says Newsome.
But Snacksdirect doesn’t just piggy-back on the P&H brand. It operates largely autonomously with its own board.
Newsome’s own experience in van sales is invaluable. He began working for UBUK, which sold Snacksdirect to P&H in 1999, 30 years ago, eventually managing van sales alongside Noel Robinson, overseeing
distribution of KP and McVitie’s brands. He moved to Glasgow-based McCurrach UK, the point-of-purchase management specialist for grocery multiples, as sales director. He eventually became Snacksdirect’s MD two years ago, replacing David Marsden. Robinson also joined the company as sales director.
Newsome plays down his background, attributing success to specialising in a few core categories instead of working solely with bestselling products: “A lot of our brands are in lower distribution than some brand leaders. By introducing brands not stocked by retailers, we’ve been able to add value for them and the supplier, driving incremental sales.”
The company distributes savoury and sweet snack, biscuit and cake brands such as Golden Wonder, Kettle and Jacob’s to 25,000 outlets. But Newsome says the company’s van sales people don’t just deliver, they cold call on retailers who aren’t customers. And they provide merchandising advice and PoS material - an attractive offer for manufacturers.
Sales staff also use the latest technology: palmtop computers that outline their delivery schedule, predict orders, register sales and relay transactions to head office.
With all the company’s advantages, Newsome says the future looks rosy: “There’s growing interest in delivered wholesale and van sales.
“More retailers see the benefit of van sales because it allows them to spend more time with customers.
“We’re considering expanding into other categories.”