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Ali Bilton Cooks Case Study

Lead Name: Ali Bilton
Address: 8a Regent Street, Pocklington
East Yorkshire YO42 2QL

Open to the public: Yes

Opening Times: Monday to Saturday, 9am -5pm

About Ali Bilton Cooks

Ali Bilton Cooks is a frozen ready meal company based in Pocklington, East Yorkshire. It specialises in hand cooked food and locally sourced ingredients. They also bake sourdough bread to sell in the shop.

Local food businesses and local food infrastructure

We interviewed Ali at the commercial kitchen/shop for about 1 hour. Due to a failure of the audio recorder this study includes significant portions taken from notes made immediately after the interview.

When and why did you set up the business?

During COVID, I stopped teaching at Cookery School and initially started producing tutorial videos. Then I decided to open up the frozen food business, initially with 10 lines.

How many lines do you have now?

Around 90. I figured at the time that people were getting sick of cooking, but still wanted to eat good food, so I decided to start selling that I could deliver. I decided to go for a high quality, value for money food rather than compete on price

So what makes your products high quality?

They’re handmade, and much of it is made from scratch, including things like the stocks , the sauces and the curry pastes. And provenance too, as far as possible I source my ingredients locally.

The decision to choose local suppliers, is that an ethical decision, a sales pitch or is it about quality?

It’s a mixture of the three, for a start I’m a farmer’s daughter, so I have a loyalty to the local growers. But by working with local suppliers I have more control, it’s easier to guarantee quality and solve any problems that arise. It’s really hard to do that with a national supplier.

For example I use a local creamery for butter and cream, I use a local miller for flour, a local butchers for meat, and my fruit and veg merchant is local and they source their produce as locally as possible; and seasonally too.

As a frozen food company, how seasonal can your meals be?

We can actually be more seasonal than fresh and chilled suppliers. We buy the ingredients in season, cook the meals and then they will last 6 months; and we are planning to extend that to 9 months in the near future. For example we can use local seasonal asparagus, which has a very short season. We are currently producing fruit pies using local fruit, including some from my garden.

So we are creating genuinely seasonal food at the point of production.

Nearly all of the wholesale suppliers you use are local to the point of being hyperlocal, at least in wholesale terms. Obviously they will be sourcing from further afield, so what would you consider to be a local primary supplier?

Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire, then maybe beyond that the whole of Yorkshire and then as far south as the North Midlands. For some products maybe England or the UK.

So for example we will use rape seed oil in preference to olive oil and sunflower oil.

Are there any products that you can’t source locally?

Obviously some spices, more exotic ingredients like that. The only pastry we don’t make is sourced from France, but there is no local alternative that can compete on quality.

Our fish is from Hartlepool, but they are our nearest suitable supplier, and they do have their own boats, so some of the fish is caught by them.

Earlier you mentioned providing value for money, what does this mean?

Well, we don’t compete on price, but we are producing restaurant quality meals for not that much more than premium supermarket lines. And our portions are notably bigger. In fact we’ve had to start a line of smaller portions for some of our older single customers.

Where are you selling?

Mostly from our shop and pick up point and delivery , but we are supplying several farm shops now.

Would you ever consider supplying supermarkets?

No. And for a couple of reasons. We would have to scale up massively, and I don’t think we could maintain the same quality. But also, they really screw down the margins, and we would need to push high turnover just to maintain our income.

In terms of margins, are your margins comparable to other producers?

Yes, our business model is that although we are more expensive, this is a reflection of the quality of the ingredients and the fact that we are cooking the meals by hand from scratch. We also have higher packaging costs, because, for example, we use compostable material whenever possible in our plastic style packaging.

What are your plans, in the medium term?

We would like to expand, increase turnover through the shop and also by supplying more retail outlets. and develop the brand more . That would mean finding a new head chef, to give me more time to do marketing and brand development.

Would scaling up create any issues with your supply chain?

No, all my suppliers are of a decent size with a large turnover , and they could meet any increases in my orders. I only represent a small portion of their business, so they are more than capable of keeping up.

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