Belfast Telegraph

Report praises Mount Charles' 'stellar' growth

By Yvette Shapiro

The Northern Ireland-based Mount Charles Group has been named the UK's fastest growing independent food service company.

It topped the Foodservice Growth Report 2015, based on a compound profit growth of 32.5% from a turnover of £25.5m. The company made a £2.1m profit last year.

The report, now in its third year, commended Mount Charles as a "stellar" new entrant and suggested that the company appears well placed to continue its growth trajectory in the coming years as a market leader in Northern Ireland.

The managing director of Mount Charles, Cathal Geoghegan, told the Belfast Telegraph that the company is on course to double its profits to £50m over the next five years, and intends to grow its workforce in Ireland, north and south, from 1,800 at present to at least 3,000 by 2020.

"Our ambitions are well considered," said Mr Geoghegan, who took over as managing director in 2013, succeeding the firm's founder, Trevor Annon, who's now chairman of the rapidly-expanding group. The contract catering company he established in 1988 has diversified into cleaning, vending, security and facilities management.

"We have a very strong base in Northern Ireland and we're pursuing additional markets, particularly in the Republic, around Dublin and the Dublin corridor," said Mr Geoghegan. "We've just engaged an operations manager in Dublin and we see tremendous potential in the market.

"Catering is still our number one revenue, but cleaning is now 30% of the total revenue. There are also tremendous opportunities in security. Increasingly, customers want a one-stop shop with a bundle of service offerings, for example, cleaning and security combined.

"Vending is also a fast-growing market for us. We've just been awarded the tender for the Western Trust with a top line of £350,000 on that contract. And we've secured the vending contract for Translink for the next seven years, with a revenue of around £500,000."

Across its divisions, Mount Charles employs hundreds of staff at minimum wage level. Some major companies have expressed concern about the impact of the new National Living Wage, which will push up pay. "It's a major consideration for everybody in this sector," said Mr Geoghegan, "but we will be funding this from our own revenue growth. It will not be a hindrance."

Mount Charles provides catering in scores of locations across Ireland and serves around 60,000 customers per week.

"It's a highly competitive industry, as modern foodservice businesses are not only competing against each other, but they have to battle against high street brands as well," said Mr Geoghegan. "Although it maintains a somewhat low profile, it's one that thousands of people come into contact with every day, whether it's through food provision at their workplace, schools, healthcare facilities or other. The chances are that you come into contact with our services more often than you might think. In fact, we reckon we serve up around 300,000 cups of tea and coffee every week."

Like the rest of the catering industry, Mount Charles is gearing up for its busiest period of the year - during the first fortnight in December, it will serve up at least 40,000 Christmas lunches in its workplace restaurants.

Mount Charles also runs the cafes and bars at the Waterfront Hall and has the cleaning and security contract at Titanic Belfast. The company also has its own retail brands, including the recently revamped George's restaurant at St George's Market and Cafe Laurent at Forestside. And it's keen to develop its Fed & Watered cafe chain through the UK. It currently has branches at Belfast International, City of Derry and Exeter airports, and at the base of the Obel Building in Belfast.

"We're constantly on the lookout for new locations and we're in discussions with a number of airports in the UK," said Mr Geoghegan. "That's definitely part of our growth."

Belfast Telegraph