The organic veggie delivery company turned over £28m last year, with juicy profits of £17m. More than 50,000 households around the UK now receive fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy and fish from the company.
With numbers like these, no wonder the supermarkets are desperate to emulate Abel’s success. But consumers aren’t fooled: “A local store in York might have Yorkshire carrots at the end of the aisle – right next to the sweetcorn from Thailand,” says co-founder Keith Abel.
“Supermarkets want to appeal to the ethical consumer, but they don’t want to lose the customers who want the same things on the shelves all year round.”
Abel & Cole sources almost all of its produce from UK farmers. “We’re like UK Fairtrade,” says Abel. “We always choose British first. And we agree fair prices with our farmers and arrange quantities in advance so they can plan ahead.”
This is the opposite end of the spectrum to supermarket contracts. And it ends up being cheaper for the consumer, too. “Supermarkets make fat margins,” says Abel. “Not to mention the added cost of packaging and transportation. Plus there’s the £5 delivery charge.” At Abel & Cole, clever deliveries ensure that drivers don’t go up the same street five times. And the veggies go straight from the farmer to your doorstep.
Abel isn’t too worried that the big chains will prove much competition any time soon either. “Ocado lost £40m last year,” he says, without a hint of smugness.