Afro-Caribbean food and drink distributor Wanis is on track with its expansion plans despite the recession - and relcation forced by the Olympics. Alex Black reports
The countdown to the London 2012 Olympics has just passed the 1,000-day mark, but Kapil and Sanjay Wadhwani must have mixed feelings about the imminent arrival of the 30th Olympiad. Two years ago the brothers were forced to uproot Wanis, their Afro-Caribbean food wholesale and distribution business, to make way for the hockey stadium in Stratford.
On the other hand, with the aid of a London Development Agency grant, the DC is located in a new 105,000 sq ft site one mile down the road, kitted out with solar panels and featuring rainwater harvesting. General manager Kapil (pictured above right, with Sanjay) says the relocation was "unwanted" and "quite an upheaval", and though he is not allowed to talk about the size of the grant, the move "cost us quite a lot of money diverting attention away from our expansion plans".
But the business is going from strength to strength. So much so it won the Distributor of the Year award at the World Food Awards two weeks ago. "It's the first time we've been entered and I'm still not sure who nominated us," says Kapil,
It's not hard to see why it might have won, however. Wanis started life as an Afro-Caribbean and ethnic foods C&C in 1964, when father Tulsidas arrived from India, but the business has changed out of all recognition in the past four years, with half its £37m sales now from distribution.
UK importer for some of the Caribbean's biggest food and drink companies, including sauce maker Baron, soft drink manufacturer Bigga, and D&G, supplier of Dragon Stout, its newest recruit is brewer Carib. And it has been supplying to Tesco since 2005 and Asda and Sainsbury's since 2007. But the biggest growth has come via distribution deals with major wholesalers such as Booker, Bestway and Dhamecha, with sales through this channel growing by 10% per annum over the past four years.
Sales are on course to rise to £42m this year, and the 110-staff operation, with 8,000 lines, is about twice the size of nearest competitor Grace Foods, he claims.
Kapil credits food entrepreneur Levi Roots, as well as better distribution, for increased interest in dishes such as jerk chicken, pepperpot stew and spiced mackerel with green bananas. "Caribbean food is emerging as a cuisine in its own right. Levi has played a big part in this."
Interest in the sector has also allowed Wanis to grow its foodservice offering this year, cutting deals to supply hospitals, prisons and schools. And the brothers are now looking to expand their international reach. Currently Wanis delivers to Ireland, an operation comparable in size to the business it does with the mults, and has been delivering to India and the UAE for the past year and half. But having conducted research trips to France, the Netherlands and Germany, Wanis is planning to start delivering to Continental Europe by 2011.
"If we can make the European side work it's likely we'll need to be in a DC outside the M25," says Kapil. After that Olympic leap, it's a straightforward move.