Dunsters Farm celebrates 60 years

Date published: 20 December 2023

Wholesale food distributor Dunsters Farm has celebrated its 60th anniversary 60 years old this year - and has never been bigger.

The third generation Rochdale business made its first acquisition in 2022 with The Little Food Company and has grown to £23m turnover and 138 staff.

Around 70 per cent of Dunsters Farm’s business comes from the education sector and last year’s acquisition has opened up the frozen food market.

Siblings Hannah Barlow and Tom Mathew joined the family business in 2014 and are today the group’s managing director and the commercial director respectively, taking the reins from father Jeremy who remains as executive chairman.

The business is a far cry from the one that their grandfather Les Ratcliffe started in 1963 as a milk round.

When Covid struck in 2020, 95 per cent of Dunsters Farm’s customers were forced to close but within a couple of days the business pivoted to an online model so they could sell tonnes of food before it went off.

Barlow said: “It’s remarkable to think we’re still here after 60 years. We operate a business that faces constant challenges so we’ve had to remain very agile.

“We’ve had to contend with the demise of the corner shops and the rise of the supermarkets. Brexit impacted our supply chains and we’ve also had to deal with rising energy prices, food inflation and driver shortages.

“We have a fleet of 30 HGVs and a number of smaller vehicles so more recently we were hit by the increase in the cost of fuel.”

The business has overcome many challenges over this year, but continues to come back stronger. The cherry on top of the anniversary cake; receiving ‘Wholesale of the Year with Turnover up to £50m’ at the Federation of the Wholsesale Gold Medal Awards; Winners of ‘Business of the Year with £5m+ turnover’ at the Rochdale Business Awards; and managing director, Hannah Barlow, was selected as one of Insider Media’s North West 2023 ’42 under 42’ business leaders.

Today Dunsters Farm covers the whole of the North of England but Rochdale remains at its centre.

“Rochdale is a great place to base a business like ours,” said the managing director. “Transport is key so Rochdale’s close proximity to the motorway network is massive for us.

“The Rochdale Development Agency (RDA) was a huge help during Covid. The wholesale food industry was not really supported but Rochdale and the RDA in particular helped us when we needed it the most.

“It’s fitting that we should be celebrating our 60th anniversary in the same year that the RDA is 30 years old.”

Dunsters Farm is just about to launch a new eCommerce website and has ambitious plans to grow its online customers.

Barlow said: “A lot has changed in 60 years but our underlying mission remains the same - quality products, excellent service, great prices.

“It still feels like a family business, where husbands and wives, fathers and sons are working together.”

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