Q&A with NCASS

Johnson Reed
6m read

Established in 2004, the Nationwide Caterers Association is the only designated association for for mobile caterers and street food traders in the UK. We chat to NCASS Copywriter, Charlotte Vile, about the multitude of member benefits, flexible finance options and how you can get involved.

Why would a catering business or supplier become a member of NCASS?

I think caterers and suppliers are drawn to us for a number of reasons, one of which is our experience and knowledge of the industry. A lot of people are drawn to the industry because of a love of food and / or customer service but they might not know where to begin in terms of pitches or training or allergen laws (the list goes on.) I think suppliers are drawn to NCASS because we know our market so well – we know what caterers are event organisers need in order to be successful and if a supplier has a product which is going to be of use to our membership then we help them get it out there. We also have integrity, if something wasn’t useful to our membership then we’d avoid it, hopefully people feel that the NCASS stamp of approval really means something.

What support do you offer mobile caterers and food traders?

Wow, this one may take a while! The support we offer to mobile caterers and street food traders is vast and includes tangible things such as a Due Diligence system (thereby helping to ensure their compliance, legality and safety as per the NCASS mission) and also comes in the form of support, marketing and PR. We have a dedicated team of account managers whose knowledge of the industry is absolutely unparalleled and who are always on hand to lend a listening ear or offer advice.

We also have an equipment division, headed by Penny our Equipment Business Manager which helps to ensure that caterers have quality, CE marked equipment – what’s more, Penny isn’t just on hand when people need to buy equipment directly through NCASS and the same goes with all of our other departments, we’ll happily answer any questions someone has, irrespective of their membership status in the hopes of building on a compliant, profitable industry.

We also offer training and insurance services, the latter of which is in conjunction with Giles Insurance; Giles and NCASS work collaboratively to ensure that mobile caterers have the correct insurance for their unit and their food type, thereby ensuring that their staff, customers and livelihoods are protected. We’ve found of late that some insurance companies profess to cover mobile caterers, when in reality the policies do not adequately cover mobile catering businesses – just one of the reasons we recommend Giles’ services to our members. We also offer comprehensive training courses on food safety, fire safety and health and safety, all of which are included with NCASS membership (save for a small certification fee.) These courses are approved and attested by Cherwell District Council which means they’ve been signed off by a government body and helps to ensure that our trainees are working to the highest standards possible. Our training can be completed online in the comfort of trainee’s own homes and what’s more, you do not have to be an NCASS member to purchase and complete these courses, you can simply head to our NCASS Training website and get underway. Easy peasy!

Our Marketing team help to publicise members through social media, the NCASS website, our quarterly magazine and weekly ‘Caterer Motivator’ features. One of the marketing team’s biggest jobs is ensuring that members have access to information which helps them build and maintain a business which has the ability to be profitable and compliant; if there’s a policy or regulation change or there’s a new industry trend or something to be cautious of, it’s the marketing team’s responsibility to ensure that members and non-members alike have access to this information. They are also in charge of the NCASS and Street Food UK websites, which together amount to thousands of pages of information. In this day in age, people are likely to head to our website before anything else so it’s essential that it’s a reflection of our knowledge and passion.

You also offer support for function caterers and fixed site businesses, but why is it mobile caterers you work with primarily?

NCASS Chairman, Bob Fox, (and NCASS MD Alan Fox and Director Dan Fox) spent many years working on the family mobile catering unit before Bob established MOCA and later NCASS as a result of the many things he’d learned whilst working in the field. Mobile catering has enjoyed unprecedented success in recent years and so I think it’s natural that this is where the core of our membership lies and isn’t to say at all that we don’t offer the same level of support to function caterers or fixed site businesses. Function caterers remain a huge portion of the industry and we’re incredibly committed to ensuring their success. With regards to fixed site businesses, this is something we anticipate will change in the next five years or so (based on research we recently conducted with the FSA.) For a lot of caterers, mobile catering is a great way to become established and build up a loyal following of people who love what you’re doing before taking the (fairly permanent) jump in to having their own fixed site business. We’re seeing an increase in this now with businesses such as Original Patty Men, The Cheese Truck and Caribou Poutine in Liverpool.

How are your members feeling about our impending exit from the EU?

This isn’t actually something we have a great deal of information on; we’ve heard some anecdotal stories that certain ingredients have gotten more expensive over the last year. Whatever happens, we’ll do everything in our power to ensure that our members are minimally affected.

Why have you opted to become an ‘Introducer Appointed Representative’ of Johnson Reed?

Mobile catering offers people the chance to fulfil their dreams of setting up a food business with relatively cheap start-up costs when compared with establishing a fixed site premises such as a bar, cafe or restaurant. However, the costs still invariably mount up and we wanted to ensure that finances were not a barrier to safe, legal equipment which helps caterers to sell food which is safe and what it says it is. Johnson Reed are pivotal in helping our members access attested equipment without having to worry that they have no money left for a unit or stock or pitch fees. Johnson Reed have been vital in helping us break through one of our member’s biggest initial barriers to success by offering finance so that they can pay for their equipment in small, manageable sums and NCASS and our members are incredibly grateful.

What do you think the future holds for NCASS?

NCASS grows year on year and in the past year and a half has seen a huge increase in the number of staff we employ, which is indicative of our continued success. In 2016, we reached a huge milestone whereby we hit 4000 members and this number continues to grow. Moreover, we are increasingly involved in seminal projects such as Street Food for Regions in partnership with the EU and we are getting to a place where our voice is being heard in such a way that we can help to navigate the future of the industry.