Meet the entrepreneur who spent two years discovering Europe's best food and drink producers
"There’s always been that DNA in my family,” Ahye says. "Then my career and the ability to travel has allowed me to experience some really great food in the UK, throughout Europe, in the Far East, in Australia and America. That’s influenced and shaped me.
"At the heart of it is the question ‘how do I p ut really good food and drink in front of people and share what I’ve found?”
The answer, it seems, was by creating an upmarket online food and drink delivery company.
The Luxury Food Collective, which aims to rival the likes of Harvey Nichols and Fortnum & Mason, launched in July this year after two years of research.
The Leeds-based company's mission is to serve as a platform for artisans and culinary producers across Europe to share their remarkable histories and heritage. Handpicking each product, 95 per cent of all the food and wine products available are not sold through any commerce platform.
It’s a completely new industry for Ahye who has spent over 25 years transforming large and complex businesses. His expertise spans acquisitions, disposals, complex funding arrangements, tax,treasury and he has held responsibility for large procurement and supply chain teams.
Since starting management consultancy Hexagon eight years ago, he has led a number of programmes for organisations across multiple industries, including the sale of Sheffield Forgemasters to the Ministry of Defence in 2021.
It may look like a complete gear change, but, according to Ahye, these experiences have given him the skillset to set up an online business with a supply chain.
"Through my corporate career I’ve worked with the top nine retailers in the UK and I’m really saddened by what I call the race to the bottom in terms of quality. I wanted to operate at the top end of the market,” he says.
"Things are more expensive but the quality of some of these products is vastly superior.
"When I look at my 150-year-old balsamic vinegar, it’s not just about the taste and the flavour. I reflect and think this was made by somebody 150 years ago who laid down those barrels.
"I wanted to make sure we could find some of the best products that Europe has to offer.”
The business launched with over 500 products from 80 producers, predominantly from Europe. It employs about 30 people.
The Luxury Food Collective website connects customers to the producers by showcasing the producers and their businesses so customers can see where their food and drink comes from.
"However, to get to 500 products you have to go through about 3,000 products and hundreds of producers don’t make it for a variety of reasons as part of that selection process,” Ahye says.
He believes what makes the company stand out from its competitors is the variety of food on offer.
"We’re not here for the weekly shop, we’re here for special occasions and something different,” he says.
"As I spent my time going around Europe and talking to producers and attending the large trade shows in France and Italy, there was just so much on offer that I felt we were missing out on in the UK. I wanted to showcase that depth and range of food and drink available.
"I would say our range of food and drink products is probably one of the biggest out there.”
Importing food from Europe has its challenges following Brexit, but it’s not enough to deter Ahye.
Italy and France dominate the selection of food on offer but Spain and the UK also feature.
Early on in the process, Ahye appointed himself as head of sourcing and travels about once a quarter. “My daughter asked me “Why are you doing that job?” and I said: “Work it out yourself”, he laughs.
As Christmas approaches, Ahye is currently preparing for the busiest season of the year. Over the last four months, since the business launched, the average basket size of his customers has increased. The goal is £90 and it’s already £75-£80. “The gift bundles that offer that inspiration is helping push that up,” he says.
He also has customers from the Shetland Isles down to Brighton.
"I’m really delighted that we’re starting to get coverage,” he says. “One of the biggest challenges for us is brand awareness.
"A number of people have bought one single item and paid £6.95 delivery to try us out and then we’re starting to see repeat purchases.
"It’s early days but we’re starting to see some really promising signs.”
One of the main challenges has been delivery. In the beginning, the company’s boxes were branded ‘Luxury Food Collective’ but Ahye soon found that parcels were going missing during the delivery process. Now, everything is delivered in anonymous grey bags. “We’d love not to use plastic but sadly we were forced into the situation where we now have to ,” he says.
It’s easy to get caught up in the relentless treadmill of running a new business but Ahye had a moment of clarity when he met Kevin Sinfield, defence coach of the England men's rugby union team, at a recent event.
"One thing he said was that he wished he’d celebrated more successes during his career. I saw myself in him where I’ve moved on to the next thing and the next thing.
"When I look back and I see some of the brands that we’ve managed to land that are unique to the Luxury Food Collective, I’m really quite proud of that stuff.”
Looking ahead, he added: “A few years ago I went to a family business conference where owners were talking about legacies.
"There was something I really liked about that so I’d like to create a future legacy for my family if possible.”