A traditional family business with ‘Fresh Ideas for Frozen Foods’, Hopwells Limited is one of the largest family-owned frozen food companies in the UK. Today the business is based in Glaisdale Drive, Bilborough.
The Hopwells story really began on 22nd July 1944 - the birthday of Timothy Peter Hopwell. He was born in Sandiacre, Nottingham, where he attended Bramcote Hills School. Tim developed a love of trucks from his father; William Hopwell, who ran his own business in Stapleford called ‘Universal Demolition Company’.
Tim always worked hard, and when he wasn’t out on the truck with his dad he was helping the local milkman do his rounds. After leaving school Tim was given his own milk round. He then left to work for Newark Egg Packers based in Nottingham which regularly brought him to the local markets where he made many friends and became well known by all the market traders, especially the fruit and veg sellers.
Eventually Tim went to work for a firm named R F Willis which had a successful fruit and veg wholesale business with depots at Nottingham, Leicester, Birmingham, Smethwick, coventry, Kings Cross and Hendon. Tim became one of their many drivers, delivering produce throughout the county. In 1966 he was promoted to Depot Manager at Willis’ Meadow Grove site in Nottingham.
However, Tim was both very ambitious and very good at his job. In 1975 he decided to leave R F Willis and set up his own company - T P Hopwell Limited.
As Tim knew the business so well, and had a great many contacts in the fruit and vegetable trade, the business was soon a huge success. He started the company at Landmere Lane, Edwalton, with just two vans and six staff, but it wasn’t long before Tim’s good business sense won him the Leicester schools’ contract to supply fresh fruit and veg and some frozen food. He needed to expand quickly and purchased another site in Leicester, bought six more lorries and set on another 14 staff.
By all accounts Tim could be a tough task master, but at the same time was always very fair. He worked hard himself and expected the same from his employees - most of whom remain with the company today and who still enjoy exchanging stories about their times with Tim at the helm.
According to Terry Spencer, a now retired long-serving employee and friend of the family: “When Hopwells was in its infancy in the mid-1970s the operation was much different from present day format. There were hardly any frozen food as it was mainly fresh fruit and vegetables and supplying mainly Local Authority clients. “This meant that the buying operation was achieved by purchasing produce from the Nottingham Fruit & Vegetable Wholesale Market which was then based at Sneinton, Nottingham. The actual buying was mainly done by the late Mr Tim Hopwell and later by Terry Spencer.”
Many stories were told of these early morning experiences and here are few of them. “The Company would collect most of the produce on its own transport to get it fresh onto its vehicles for delivery the same day; this meant very early morning starts for those involved in the market operation. One morning we needed to get a pallet of fresh tomatoes back early, we we quickly bought a pallet and despatched it onto our waiting vehicle - a flat-back lorry and sent it on its way to Landmere Lane, Edwalton (Hopwells, first premises). After a few minutes there was a phone call from the driver in a very upset state saying that the full pallet had fallen over and the tomatoes were rolling down the hill at the bottom of Hockley (near the market) - needless to say all the waiting vehicles were late out for their deliveries - surprisingly, the driver still works for us today!”
“Most of the stall holders were real characters, like Burt Jacobs who once bought a consignment of new potatoes which were delivered to Nottingham by a goods train, Midland Station Sidings. Because the potatoes were all stacked by hand all our drivers had to pick up their shipment when they had finished their delivery rounds, so that day was a very late day - we never did get to find out why the potatoes hadn’t arrived by road. Thank goodness it was before the days of tachographs!”
“Mr Hopwell once employed another buyer who wasn’t with us for long. He bought a few tonnes of swede from the market, the problem was that he forgot to tell Mr Hopwell who went absolutely bananas as he had gone and bought several tonnes of swede himself from another supplier. I think the Local Authorities were fed up of putting swede on the menu for a long time afterwards!”
“After the early morning buying was complete we would go into the market cafe, which was owned by a lady called Thelma, who was one of the most colourful and outspoken ladies you could wish to meet. It was no good going into her cafe if you were shy or quiet. She didn’t ring a bell when your order was ready; she would shout at the top of her voice in some choice words, everyone would be in stitches - what a character she was.”
“There were many more amazing people such as David Hammond, George Smalley, Arthur King, David Russell, Pete Buttery, Malc Pearson, John Heeley to name but a few, some of whom are unfortunately no longer with us. They were at the heart of a busy thriving market which on a daily basis had some marvellous stories to talk about, not all of which were amusing; some were serious and sad - part of everyday life in an environment that had been in existence for many years in Sneinton.”
In 1982 R F Willis, the company Tim had once worked for, was put up for sale. It had previously been taken over by the Imperial Tobacco Group which had in turn then sold it on to the Hanson group who were now selling it themselves. Tim took a gamble and bought this business. It was a particularly proud day for Tim to have purchased the firm which had once employed him.
The firm had depots in Birmingham, Coventry and Daleside Road, in Nottingham. Tim closed the Coventry depot, amalgamated his depot at Landmere Lane and the newly-acquired depot at Daleside Road and bought the premises on Glaisdale Drive,Bilborough, which today is the Hopwells’ Head Office.
Hopwells now had a fleet of 80 lorries and employed over 80 staff. In 1986 Tim closed the Leicester Depot and moved to Swadlincote in Derbyshire, changing the name of that depot to Fresh-Way (Midlands) Limited. The other depots now were only involved in the distribution of frozen foods with all the fresh produce being processed by Fresh-Way.
The business went from strength to strength. In 1991 Tim bought another depot in Sawston, Cambridgeshire, relocating it to a site in Kimbolton in 1993.
In 1994 a Sheffield depot was purchased where a brand new cold store was built three years later. Another depot was bought in Ormskirk, near Liverpool, in July 1996, but sadly Tim died on 9 August, 1996, just three weeks after the purchase. A sixth depot was purchased by the company in 2006 in Darlington, Co. Durham.
Today the company is owned and managed by Tim’s wife, Company Chairlady Lilian Hopwell; their son, Tristan Hopwell is the Managing Director. The company now has six depots, a fleet of 100 lorries, over 35 company cars and more than 250 employees.
Hopwells’ lorries are a distinctive colour of red and not the usual white that is commonly used within the industry and every Hopwell’s lorry has the slogan of ‘Success Built on Service’ painted on its side - this was the ethos of Tim Hopwell. He believed, and has been proven right, that the success of a business is built on the service it gives.
Hopwells Limited has become a huge success story. The business was truly built on the quality of service it offers to all of its customers throughout their distribution areas. Hopwells is a long-serving member of the British Frozen Food Federation:
Each depot has been BRC Storage & Distribution accredited to the highest level; frozen food is sold to all spheres of the catering industry, including schools, hospitals, social services and to the private sector such as hotels, pubs, restaurants and cafes. The Company has a strong sales force of professional account managers, experienced and dedicated telesales teams, drivers and cold store operatives working out of each of the six depots to ensure total customer satisfaction at all times.
In 2006 the Company bought its own vehicle repair and maintenance garage on Furnace Road, Ilkeston, Derbyshire, to service and maintain its fleet of 100 refrigerated vehicles. The garage - Total Independent Maintenance - is named t.i.m. Commercial Vehicle Services and employs eight qualified mechanics and four office staff alongside the company’s Fleet Manager, Alan Cottingham, Lilian Hopwell is also based down at the Furnace Road premises where she is most days, other than when she is out and about visiting the other depots in the group.
Tim Hopwell had a vision of a company run on good old-fashioned family values and loyalty, and that tradition is upheld today throughout the Hopwell Group, not least amongst its directors.
Chairlady Lilian Hopwell became an active member of the Board of Directors immediately after Tim’s death in 1996. Prior to her role towards making Hopwells the success story it is today, she was kept very busy supporting her husband and raising their two younger children, Ashley and Rosheen Hopwell. She attended many business events standing by Tim’s side and went to exhibitions both in the UK and overseas and was, therefore, well known throughout the food industry before becoming the Chairlady of the Hopwell Group.
Outside the business, Tim Hopwell was and his family still is today, passionate supporters of their home town football team, Nottingham Forest. Tim was very proud of his team and took great pride in sponsoring their youth team and seeing the Hopwells name on their strip. The Hopwell family still are season ticket holders, and other than holiday commitments never miss a home game at the City Ground.
Managing Director Tristan Hopwell joined the family business at the age of 22. He came from the motor industry having served his apprenticeship as a mechanic with Speeds Motor Group and went on to become a sales representative selling new and used Volvos. Tristan was fast-tracked through the different operations of the business due to his father’s health problems. Sadly, due to Tim’s premature death, they never did get to work together side-by-side.
David Plester, Hopwells’ Financial Director, came to Hopwells when Tim Hopwell bought R F Willis in 1982. David was then R F Willis’ Accounts Office Manager based at the Birmingham Depot. In 1983 David became the Depot Manager at the Brownhills Depot and then went on to be responsible for the ordering of stock. By 1988 David also managed the company’s accounts and was made the Financial Director in 1989, where he remains today.
Andy Breffit joined the company in January 1997 as Commercial Director. He came from Grimsby-based Bluecrest Foods, where he held the position of Director of Foodservice and Hopwells was one of their customers. Andy has been an associate and friend of Tim Hopwell prior to Tim’s death.
Technical Director Ian Merrilees joined the Company in January 2000 from Sefton County Council where he was employed as a food safety trainer for the local authority. In January 2003 Ian was promoted to Depot Manager; a position in which he remained in for over a decade.
In 2013 he was promoted to Technical Services Manager and held this position for three year period. Following a restructuring of the board he was appointed Technical Director in January 2016 – his skill set in food safety and health and safety serves the Company well on a daily basis. Ian works closely with BFFF on food safety and health and safety matters, as well as being an active member of IOSH.
Kevin Peck is the Company’s Operations Director and has been working for Hopwells since 1992. Kevin as held many positions within the Company ranging from Account Manager, Depot Manager and Operations Manager. He is responsibilities include supply chain management, route structuring and warehouse management. With more than 24 years’ experience in wholesale and distribution, Kevin brings with him a wealth of knowledge.
Other long-serving staff include Terry Spencer - retired Depot Manager; Ann Bradley - retired, but longest serving telesales operator; and Terry Herrick, who still works as a multi-drop delivery driver at the Nottingham Depot and Graham Putnam, who had been with the Company from the beginning as Depot Services Manager recently retired in May 2015.
In 2005 Hopwells celebrated 30 years of being in business. A ‘Seventies party’ was held at Morley Hayes Golf Club, Derbyshire, where the Directors came in 1970s fancy dress in celebration. Staff, suppliers and business associates were also invited to the party.
Hopwells’ slogan, ‘Success built on service’, sums up how the company has maintained its growth over the years. The importance of providing customers with a friendly, consistently reliable service, backed up by an excellent range of innovative food products at competitive prices cannot be over-stated. Every employee knows that only an excellent level of customer care sustains the company’s position in the marketplace.
For the future, Hopwells intends to retain its independent status and to continue its steady growth into both new and existing areas of the country. With its unrivalled experience, distinctive branding and an unbeatable reputation amongst caterers, the company looks forward to the coming years with complete confidence in Tim Hopwell’s legacy of excellent.