From a small corner shop to the UK’s leading supplier of spices, and still very much a family business… East End Foods is one of Birmingham’s brightest success stories
There isn’t much that the Wouhras don’t know about spicing up life. From a small corner shop selling spices and groceries, their company East End Foods has grown into a business operating out of sites in Birmingham, West Bromwich and Smethwick, with nearly 1,300 product ranges and employing 350 people. As the largest importer of ethnic food ingredients in the UK, the company supplies more than 80 per cent of Asian independent stores, as well as being stocked by all the major supermarkets. It also exports to Europe, the Middle East and even back to India – and there are plans to expand still further, both in existing markets and potentially into the US too.
What makes East End Foods especially remarkable is the fact that it continues to be a family business through and through. It is run by nine directors – five cousins and four brothers. And one of them, director Jason Wouhra said: “You’ll still see my father, who set up the business with his brothers, popping in from time to time, keeping his hand in.” Jason’s father started the business with his four brothers soon after arriving in Wolverhampton from Delhi more than 40 years ago. “Finding jobs was very difficult at that time,” Jason explained. “So they got together and opened the family store, procuring supplies from local wholesalers. The Asian community was growing in the area and demand for their products kept growing too. They worked very hard and a few years later they opened their own wholesale business.” By the mid-Seventies, demand in Birmingham was such that the company moved to the city.
CASH AND CARRY
Fast forward to 2014, and East End Foods is now a £180million business occupying 600,000sq ft of floorspace – that’s the equivalent of more than 30 football pitches! All its products are manufactured at its West Bromwich head office, while a huge cash and carry centre operates at Aston Cross. Jason explained that the business is split into two parts: the wholesale division supplying a huge range of English products, and the manufacturing division which supplies ethnic products. “We are all about quality and consistency,” said Jason. “From the time that the raw materials are shipped in the container to the moment it is wrapped up in a box as the product for the customer, it will not have been touched by human hand. “We clean, grind and blend all of our spices here, we are one of very few companies doing the processing completely in the UK. This ensures the consistency of the product because the quality of other brands which are not processed in the UK just isn’t as good. That’s why we actually export our spices and products back to India – because ours is better quality.” As well being a major employer in the region, Jason has become an important figure in the city’s Asian and business communities with roles including chairman of West Midlands Institute of Directors. He was also chairman of the advisory board for Birmingham’s new library and works with various charities including the Prince’s Trust and Marie Curie. He has also received a doctorate from Aston University.
“I believe it is important that a business such as ours takes an active role in the local and regional community,” he explained. “We are very proud of what East End Foods has achieved, and will achieve moving forward.” Those future plans include building still further on its customers both at home and abroad. “We’ve added Marks and Spencer and Morrison as customers and continue to grow still further the number of independents we supply. We want to work these areas of growth even more, particularly here in the UK which is still very strong but can always be improved upon. And the US is now really getting into Indian and Asian food and that’s an area to be looked at too.”