FIVE MINUTES WITH… PAUL HARGREAVES, COTSWOLD FAYRE
Welcome back to Five Minutes With…, a series of interviews with the fascinating people who are making change happen. Being a PR agency, we get to meet and work alongside global leaders, enterprising founders of start-ups and scale-ups and the most inspiring future thinkers. In Five Minutes With… they share their thoughts and experiences to inspire our Cherish PR community.
This month, we talk to Paul Hargreaves, Chief Empowerment Officer at Cotswold Fayre. Paul is a well-known character within the speciality food world for both for his insightful views on the sector and general business “know how”. A published author, Paul’s blog “Speciality Bites” is widely read by retailers and producers alike, and he is often asked to contribute to debates and articles within the industry.
Paul speaks to our very own Rebecca Oatley, founder of award winning international public relations agency, Cherish PR. She finds out what it takes to grow UK and international brands.
Rebecca Oatley: Paul, thanks for talking to us about your life and career, can you start by telling us a bit about Cotswold Fayre?
Paul Hargreaves: Cotswold Fayre is a wholesaler of speciality food i.e. the delicious food and drink you might buy in farm shops, food halls and delis. We stock around 4,000 different products from around 300 artisan producers and deliver to around 1,750 retailers. We also have our own retail and restaurant business called Flourish which is in the Bath/Bristol area. Cotswold Fayre was one of the first B Corps in the UK in 2015 and we are proud to now have 50 suppliers that are also part of this important movement.
Rebecca: You did your Masters in Zoology, how did you move from this to starting a food business?
Paul: I’ll have to fess up here! I did my B.A. at Oxford and that meant at the time (I’m not sure whether it still applies) that I qualified for an M.A. (Oxon) a few years later without doing any work! My first job after my Oxford degree was being a lorry driver, then three years in sales (my only 3 years ever being employed), followed by around 10 years in the charitable sector in inner-city London. I learned quite a bit about business in the two sales jobs, where I did well, but I learned much more from trying to help put people’s lives together on council estates in South-East London, which at that time had been ravaged by years of Thatcherism. The funding eventually ran low, and I also had little mouths to feed in my family, so I started selling food and drink from The Cotswolds to delis in London, initially alongside the charity work, but in 1999 launched the business properly.
Realising then that many of the issues I had been helping with in London were created by bad government or bad business models, when starting my business and employing people for the first time I wanted to make a difference. Of our initial five workers, there was one recovering alcoholic, one recovering drug addict and one ex-con. Being a business for good is in our DNA.
Rebecca: Cotswold Fayre is a pioneer of business as a force for good and the company has been a B Corp since 2015. Can you explain a bit about what being a purpose-driven business and a B Corp means to the startups and founders reading this?
Paul: I used to say it is about having people, planet and profit as equal aims, but the danger with this is that when times are tough (as they are now for many), profit will come first. Now I say that we put people and planet first and the profits will follow, which they have over the past seven years. It’s never been difficult to work out that if you treat your workers extremely well, they will be happy, work hard, leave less often and success will come to the business, (although it amazes me how often business leaders don’t get that). Now this is also true for the planet – go above and beyond as a business to do good things for the planet and customers will come to you rather than businesses that are simply about the financial bottom line.
Rebecca: You are a well-known author and speaker on the positive impact businesses can make on the world but it’s fair to say that many established brands are making big environmental and social claims in their marketing without really changing their business models. What are your thoughts on this? Greenwashing or do you believe good words turn into great deeds?
Paul: There’s no doubt that there is much greenwashing and purpose-washing and I am still wound-up by this frequently. There are also companies (even B Corps) that are exaggerating what they do for people or planet, but many of them are still doing more than they were 10 or even 5 years ago. So, even if companies are being ‘good’ to look good or attract customers, that is a start. And there are companies like ours that were OK and passed our initial B Corp certification without changing anything. We wanted to do the right thing, but if we were simply assenting to a new list of boxes to tick or treating B Corp certification like a new ISO standard, we would only go so far. The real transformation happens when we and our people undergo personal transformation impacting our heart and soul. Then we are driven by love and passion for people and the planet, and we won’t burn out or lose energy until we have seen systemic change. That’s what I have called The Fourth Bottom Line, the personal transformation we need, and this is the title and subject of my second book.
Rebecca: You work closely with many small artisanal and specialty food producers across the UK and internationally, and when Cherish has been to your offices there are always delicious goodies on the shelves. Can you tell us about any new food trends that you are seeing from these producers? Or anything that you have spotted that’s really got your team excited?
Paul: Well, there are new trends every year, but currently there are lots more better quality vegan products coming through. Even our butchers at Flourish ask customers to eat less meat but eat much better meat when they do. Keto is another trend that is inspiring new products, as is gut health. There is a huge amount of research at the minute about the bacteria in our gut and feeding them food which keeps them ‘happy’. Fascinating fact: the bacteria in our gut weigh as much as our brain!
Rebecca: Finally, what are your ambitions for Cotswold Fayre this year?
Paul: We are launching frozen food as a category very soon, this is another trend in 2023 – we currently only do ambient and chilled food. And we are on the hunt for a second Flourish site, which we will hopefully have secured by the end of the year.
Listen to Paul Hargreaves talk about his leadership journey on the Leading By Nature podcast with Giles Hutchins. Click to listen here.
Q: How do you start your day?
A cup of tea followed by 30 minutes of meditation.
Q: Favourite podcast?
Either ‘Diary of a CEO’ or ‘Conversations of Inspiration’.
Q: Favourite saying or joke?
Go with your gut – nothing to do with my comments about the gut, but parts of our brain are closely connected with the gut, so maybe this isn’t just a saying!
Q: I don’t leave home without…?
A notebook and pen – you never know when a good idea may come to mind!