June 4, 2019 —
Perishable Pundit Overview:
On The Cutting Edge Of Grape Hybridization, SNFL’s Josep Estiarte Breaks Down The Nuances Of What Makes A Variety Successful
Time Is Ripe For Emerging Regions To Experience Fast Learning Curve Of New Varietal Development, Says SanLucar‘s Oscar Salgado
Hana Group’s Danciger Returns As LPS Foodservice Forum Host, Previews ‘100% Relevant’ Program Of Speakers And Topics
FutureFoodservice.com’s Simon Stenning Predicts UK’s Foodservice Industry As An Astounding Decade From Now; Highlights Role of Fresh Produce
Bill’s Founder Bill Collison Talks About Fresh, Farming And His Famous Namesake Restaurant Chain At London's Foodservice Forum
London Foodservice Forum Panelist, Reynolds Executive Development Chef Diane Camp Provides Insights On The Plant-based Movement And The Opportunities For Distributors To Convey Menu Ideas To Their Customers
Reynolds Organises Plant-based
Street-food-focused Restaurant Tour For London Produce Show
London Produce Show Ambassador, Chef Amanda Freitag, Promotes US Culinary Trends And Spreads The Message On Eating, Exploring And Experimenting With More Fruits and Vegetables
ICA’s Maria Wieloch Headlines Educational Seminar At London Produce Show; Talks About Halloween, Easter And How To Lift Produce Consumption
As one of the “Big Four” breeders, Josep Estiarte’s opinions carry weight. We owe him a lot as he recognized early the benefit to the industry of having the Global Grape Summit be a success, and he picked up the phone to encourage many key people in the buying sector to participate in the summit.
We are anxious to hear his perspective and asked Matthew Ogg, contributing editor at sister publications, PRODUCE BUSINESS and FreshFruitPortal.com, to gain insight as to what he might talk about as a panelist at the Global Grape Summit:
Special New Fruit Licensing (SNFL)
Q: Your company has been at the vanguard in bringing new cultivars to the market, including the well-known Sheehan Genetics varieties, so what have you found to be the key points for consumer preferences today?
A: We work in a hybridization and plant development program, so we see the film from the grower’s side and from the breeder’s side. However, we have a very close relationship with the final customer, which can be a retailer, an importer or a fruit trader.
From this point of view, over the years we have seen a transition from around five varieties originally to more than 50. Before, there were just Sugraones, Thompsons and Perlette in the whites; Flame and Crimson in the red; and in the blacks there were very few — Autumn Royal and later, Midnight Beauty.
I think what this flow of innovation has supported is greater consumption. In a way, we have managed to consolidate different sales lines in the market. We have achieved better consistency in the fruit from day to day, and this has meant the consumers are more satisfied today when they buy grapes than they were 10 years ago. That’s my perception.
Q: Has the definition changed about what constitutes a good grape, and has that triggered more competition?
A: Beforehand, the consumer was accustomed to neutral sweet grapes and a few others; some were more acidic, others less. But in the world of the seedless varieties, in truth the availability and the supply, I think, were a bit boring.
In contrast, we now have a very diverse range not just in flavor but in size, shape, crunchiness and the most important part — the new and improved flavors that have been appearing. What I think that has done is attract consumers who perhaps didn’t used to eat grapes.
But not everything that has gone to market in recent years has been good. There have been varieties that haven’t achieved success, and it has also created more competition. Amongst the growers who have access to the new varieties, it has created a competitive advantage over those who don’t.
Q: And what are the varieties that serve as the best examples for your company in that sense?
A: Within my company, we have a commercial collection of some 15 varieties, and that shows how far we’ve come compared to 10 years ago when they didn’t exist.
As examples, we have the late red variety Allison, and what’s that done is create an additional window for the growers with a very competitive and efficient variety, giving them an advantage in the market with a longer presence than they had before. In that way they have been able to reduce their fixed costs and at the same time be more important for the consumer.
In addition, they’ve been able to complement their plantings of Crimson while providing a more consistent product to the market in the late part of the campaign, which was always more critical with a variety that is also attractive for the consumer because of its size, crunchiness and appearance.
Another example would be our variety Timpson. Timpson is a mid-season white variety, replacing part of the Sugraone and Thompson, and it is an excellent variety. Timpson is much more fertile, it is easier to produce, and the consumer likes it much more for its flavor and freshness in the store.
Within the flavored varieties, there is the K2 or the Strawberry grapes, which are varieties in development that contribute different flavors; they are more niche varieties, but they find additional consumers who perhaps didn’t used to consume grapes. With their emergence we can attract new consumption.
Q: And have these been well received in various parts of the world, both in terms of growers and markets?
A: Yes. Our program today should be amongst the programs with the most hectares planted. Today, we have 22,000 hectares licensed in 16 countries, so we have a presence in practically all the modern grape-producing countries, to put it that way.
And the varieties have been working well in general; there are always exceptions, and there are countries where we are working to improve protocols and performance, but in general the acceptance has been very good; our varieties are known for being grower-friendly. They are varieties that contribute many efficiencies to the producer, but also they are very good for the final consumer because of their flavor, crunchiness and size.
I think in most cases we are meeting the expectations of our customers.
Q: And on that note, how do you see the trajectory for the future given the long time it takes to breed new grapes?
A: When Tim Sheehan (Sheehan Genetics) and other table grape breeders started to breed in the 80s, for them the objective was very easy, as they just had to improve a Crimson, a Superior or a Thompson. So, they almost had a “blue sky” — it was easier for them to develop varieties as there wasn’t much in the market.
Today with our new project, Grape Genesis, led by Juan Carreño, in truth the task for him is much more complex than what Tim Sheehan had in the 80s because he has to improve a market where there are more than 50 varieties, many of which are very good.
For our new program today, it is very clear to us that we cannot come to the market with varieties that are similar to what are in the market now, because what we’d then be doing is cannibalizing what we’ve done in the past. We are very focused in better genetics and in resistance to pests.
One of our main objectives is to develop grapes that have natural resistance, thus reducing dependency on pesticides and fungicides, and then we can develop a market for organics.
Another strong line is antioxidant-rich varieties; we are analysing the issue of antioxidants and nutrition in our genetic base very well.
Another line is for the diversity of flavors by combining different species of grapes. We are working with a lot of different species to be able to achieve that diversity of flavors where we believe there is an attractive market.
Those are our three main lines, and obviously they’re not exclusive to each other.
Q: The industry is changing very fast, and you are building what seems to be a bright future. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: I think that sums up the situation we’re in. To achieve a new variety today you need to make more of an effort than in the past, and our program is very committed to that. It’s very strong, and we will start to launch the new varieties of I mentioned in 2020-21.
We listen to Josep, and we say “Wow, the grape industry really needs a Global Grape Summit!!!”
Fifty (50!) proprietary varieties and more coming down the pike paints a picture of the stone fruit industry that has suffered greatly from countless varieties. Tracking this is very hard even for industry players but, most importantly, it is impossible for consumers. And if consumers don’t actually have preferences, then growers will have great difficulty leveraging proprietary varieties to get higher prices from retailers.
If new varieties mostly offer horticultural benefits, then it is math as to whether the benefits will exceed the costs. You start to have larger wins if retailers start to value the taste and flavor, and so start preferring that variety in procurement, even instructing fresh-cut processors, for example, that they want fruit cups made with these preferred varieties. The big win, though, is when consumers want certain varieties and retailers feel compelled to carry them.
This brings us to the intersection of varietal development and branding — a bully subject for discussion at this year’s Global Grape Summit.
So come hear Josep. Come be part of the discussion… be part of this year’s Global Grape Summit and The London Produce Show and Conference.
Here is the Global Grape Summit website.
You can find The London Produce Show and Conference website here.
You can register at this link
Please, if you have questions or need help, let us know here.
We look forward to engaging with you and important industry issues in London.
As we gather the best and brightest from across the globe to address the industry — whether in the pages of PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine, online in our portals such at FreshFruitPortal.com, ChinaFruitPortal.com, Poratalfruticola.com, or at out events, such as The New York Produce Show and Conference, Global Trade Symposium, Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum, Foundational Excellence Program, Global Cherry Summit and so many more – one is reminded of Winston Churchill’s immortal words (excerted below):
“Never … was so much owed by so many to so few.”
It is indeed rare to find people in our industry who, exactly, are knowledgeable and can convey that knowledge. Who, exactly is serious, and who really knows things that are not common knowledge?
Sometimes these are very hard questions to answer and sometimes they are very easy.
Oscar Salgado is one of the easy ones. He must have a special passport showing he lives in the land of Boeing or Airbus, for he is surely on a plane heading to some corner of the grape world more often than he is in his home.
We are honored he is willing to share his expertise at this year’s Global Grape Summit. We asked Matthew Ogg, Contributing Editor of sister publications PRODUCE BUSINESS and FreshFruitPortal.com to get some sense of Oscar’s thought process as we head into the event:
Table Grape Expert
Q: At the Global Grape Summit you’ll be speaking about what to expect in the coming decade for the table grape industry. One of the issues will be about new growing regions emerging ... What will be the implications of these changes?
A: Our business today has been reshaped by two key factors — one is the production of table grapes in tropical areas, because in those areas you can manage the crop according to your trading window or when you want to sell the grape.
Perhaps the only restriction we have is the rain; we don’t have a lot of table grape varieties that are resistant to rain and can travel after rain so they don’t split or decay.
Those tropical areas are producing in a period of time when we used to have some shortage of table grapes, so that’s one of the driving forces that is putting the whole distribution and availability of grapes in a new level.
And when we talk about those areas, it’s the north of Peru - the Piura area; Chiclayo, the Olmos Project; and also it’s Brazil in the Petrolina area. Both areas in Peru are around 10-6° south of the equator, and in that area you can harvest as early as August and until early January depending on the rain. In the case of Brazil, with certain varieties you are harvesting 52 weeks in order to supply the local market. Brazil has a huge internal market, and the export decision is an exchange-rate decision, which in our business is also an important factor.
The second driving force is the new varieties — 20 years ago, we didn’t have much variety, and everything was concentrated in four or five seedless varieties plus Red Globe. In the tropical areas, one of the problems with the standard varieties is the fertility; you don’t have enough fruit in the trees because of the lack of sunlight so you don’t get enough radiation to get good fertility.
Now, with the new varieties, the fertility in general is higher. They are so fertile that any reduction in sunlight will not affect the total yield. On top of this, some of them have a big berry size, high yield and are more farm-friendly.
You have countries like India that are in the Northern Hemisphere but they harvest in winter, which is a very mild and dry tropical winter. In summer, you have the monsoons in May, June and July, but from January onward until mid-April, you are able to harvest table grapes. Today India is ruling the market, giving South Africa a hard time; also, we are not exporting any white seedless from Chile into Europe, except a little bit into the U.K.
It’s all about how you see the competition. How can you cooperate? How you can compete and where are the competitive advantages in this environment? Because in this environment, the established industries are the ones that will suffer the most because sometimes they are slow to change.
This is what happened actually in Chile. It did not change rapidly enough into the new varieties, and today Chile is a little bit behind if you compare with Peru. Of course, South Africa made a big change because maybe 20 years ago South Africa was a 70-percent seeded-oriented country, and today it is 90 percent seedless.
Q: In the case of Chile, though, that also has to do with a more restrictive phytosanitary regime.
A: That’s when you talk about industry. All the stakeholders are setting a strategy ... I’m not saying Chile should compromise their phyto situation, but you cannot be that strict and understand if the country is not moving forward, there will be nothing to protect.
Look at what happened with Argentina. A few years ago, they were playing a role in the European market, and today Argentina does not exist in terms of export — just a little bit in San Juan and that’s it.
Q: It’s interesting as well that you mentioned Peru and Brazil, in particular, seeing as Brazil used to have a more prominent role than it does today in export markets, and in a way it was displaced by Peru coming on the scene. Is that fair to say?
A: That’s one of the factors, but the other is California, because Brazil used to export from the Petrolina area just 1-1.2 million cartons into the American market, and because Americans introduced varieties faster than anyone else as most of the breeding programs are in the United States.
Another factor is the farms in California are larger with consolidated growers, and the improvement in the post-harvest techniques and the fact consumers and supermarkets prefer local. Today, the availability of table grapes from the States is well into December, and a bit of red seedless until early January, so you cannot compete with the local fruit.
This is why Peru was forced to move later and later towards arrivals in late December-January in the American market, jumping into the Chilean window.
The business is being reshaped. You used to say you are in an early area, so you need to have early varieites. Well, in my country [Chile] today, early areas are planting mid-to-late season varieties.
Q: Peru and India are standouts of new regions that are changing the nature of the table grape industry. But what are some other countries where we could see more projects coming on-line?
A: You will see some projects in Ecuador as well. We as a company have a project in Ecuador targeting a specific way to supply some flavor varieties. You have projects in Tunisia, which can supply Russia, because Europe harvests a little bit earlier than Spain and Italy, but Tunisia can supply Russia while the Italian and Spanish cannot legally cross to Russia. There is a project in Algeria with more than 500 hectares of table grapes; that project is targeting the African market; middle class African countries also are growing.
What happens in poor countries when people leave poverty and enter the middle class? They start eating less rice and more desserts and snacks, and fruit enters into that league. This is why consumption of fruit has been buoyed not by First World countries but Asia where the consumption is growing.
Q: Growing in a country like Ecuador is amazing, but it’s right next to Piura, so it makes sense if the technical expertise is there.
A: That’s another thing. The first export of table grapes from South Africa was maybe from 1985, and since that time to today, they’ve built the South African industry, but Peru was only in the business less than 15-20 years, and Egypt was in 20 years.
The learning curve is faster for the newcomers; before there was a technological barrier that you don’t have today.
Q: So established industries like Chile and South Africa can’t fight these trends; they just have to find a way to benefit from them?
A: Absolutely. Maybe you will need to leave some markets. It is a summary that we talked about in 2007 in our industry, and no one paid attention to that. We might need to leave some markets, or we might need to stop farming in some areas; that happened in parts of the States and Chile as well.
Consolidation is a good example of that. In the United States, there are about 450 growers, and maybe 25 years ago it was around 1,200 growers. The same happened in Mexico. You have bigger growers, and in Mexico, they are exploring different areas. A few years ago, they went to Guaymas which is an earlier area, they went to Ciudad Obregon — it’s not that early, but they are producing the peak of the harvest earlier than Sonora. That will compete with the late Chilean grapes.
It is fascinating that Chile may be its own worst enemy with rigid phytosanitary standards delaying the adoption of new varieties, thus protecting an industry that may not exist due to the delay in adopting new varieties.
He sets the scene in such a way that a priority in varietal development should be grapes that can ship well after rain.
Then there is a revolution in the industry, where tropical grapes can be set to be harvested at almost any time, thus eliminating any high price shoulder seasons.
We found this comment most intriguing:
It’s all about how you see the competition. How can you cooperate? How you can compete and where are the competitive advantages in this environment? Because in this environment, the established industries are the ones that will suffer the most because sometimes they are slow to change.
Especially in light of the El Ciruelo acquisition in Brazil, which we mentioned here.
Growers traditionally thing themselves as growers. But , maybe, their biggest assets are not the land, the plants and the packing houses. Maybe their biggest asset is their relationships with customers.
So the challenge is to sustain and deepen those relationships. If the source of production shifts, the shipper will need to shift with it to sustain its relationship. It is really a redefinition for most companies.
Instead of thinking of themselves as a farm in Chile, the challenge is to reimagine themselves as a supplier to Walmart and think about what actions – acquisitions, mergers, joint ventures, etc. – sustain that business.
If you are giving a presentation on new production areas around the world, these are the kinds of issues you want to think about.
So join us at the Global Grape Summit. Listen to Oscar and begin thinking about where the future lies.
You can check out the Global Grape Summit website here
The London Produce Show and Conference website here.
You can register right here.
And, if you have any questions reach out to us here.
We look forward to seeing you in London
Technology and trends are two key topics at the 2019 London Produce Show’s (LPS) Foodservice Forum, set for June 5 at the JW Marriott Grosvenor House on Park Lane.
Yet sometimes, understanding, anticipating and even creating the next big trend requires virtually no technology at all. Just ask Jason Danciger, who is the UK’s managing director of the Hana Group, a company that locates Asian and globally inspired food concepts in retail environments.
Danciger will take attendees with him on the ride as he engagingly navigates the Forum’s program, titled “Transforming Foodservice Through Technology & Trends,” with interactive seminars, panel discussions and taste demos. Featured speakers, who range from chefs to software developers, are all on the forefront of the UK’s flourishing foodservice industry, while at the same time deeply committed to simple fresh ingredients like produce. It’s this combination, says Danciger, that will deliver “pure, pure business relevance” for attendees in all sectors of the industry.
To give Perishable Pundit readers a preview, we asked Carol Bareuther, RD, contributing editor of the Pundit’s sister publication, Produce Business, to talk with Danciger about the UK’s foodservice industry trends and technological advancements as well as giving a peek at the program.
UK’s managing director
Hana Group UK
Q: Let’s start at the beginning. What influenced your passion for produce and subsequent proficiency in so many sectors of the UK’s foodservice industry? Any fun stories?
A: I fell into hospitality at the age 14, when I started work as a waiter. There was certainly a calling to this line of work, and I loved it, because it allowed me to interact with people, which I really enjoyed and still do today. However, quite simply, the job was there. It was a part-time bit and a good way to make pocket money. That job earned me the reputation as the ‘Milky Bar kid’. With my salary, 99-pence an hour, versus 6 pence apiece for a milky bar, I could buy all my friends’ chocolate at the school snack shop.
I followed as barman at age 15 in true Tom Cruise-style by shaking cocktails in the evening and studying Latin the next morning. After reading about a Michelin-starred chef (former head chef of Le Gavroche) who was opening a new restaurant, I wrote to him. His English was as rusty as my French, but I started the next week and ended up as the first-ever English sous chef at the time after a few grueling years, of course.
Twice a week we would receive trays of fruits and vegetables from the markets in Rungis. It was always a wonder! The amazing salads, fruits wrapped like presents, the variety of fresh wild mushrooms, the aromas of perfect Charentais melons. I remember the vibrant colors of different vegetables and fell in love with fresh produce at first sight.
Q: A quick glance at your LinkedIn resume shows a traditional restaurant start, followed by an increasingly diverse foodservice career. How have you seen trends happening at the time that were transforming the UK’s foodservice industry and your own career? Could you describe that journey for us?
A: I was at first deeply rooted in the Michelin-starred years as that flourished in the UK. This was followed by a desire for the less formal restaurants that kicked off the ‘casual dining’ fashion. Then, I founded café society and European bistros before being at the forefront of gastro pubs and launching hundreds of award-winning Time Out pubs.
What I saw was that while people still liked to get dressed up, to go to a Michelin-star restaurant, those were more of an occasion than every day. For every day, they liked being relaxed and loved the fact that they could eat simply. That was a really early element I learned.
A good example is that it used to be you had to order all three courses or the waiter would look down his nose at you. Now, we know people graze and eat at different times of the day as they balance busy work and home lives. We know someone might come in for just a starter or main dish, and we created an offer that hit on that. We’d also welcome someone, particularly in café society, who came in for just a cup of tea with as much charm as if they were ordering a meal. That’s because we knew they’d feel we were the place that really looked after them and they’d ultimately come back to dine.
Then, the large retailers awoke, and in-store cafes and restaurants took off. I was lucky with Marks & Spencer to also start a new bakery trend that grew significant market share. Drawing on that experience of ‘grocerant’, I wanted to continue to create theater in food halls with hand-crafted sushi made in front of customers.
We went from 0 to 90 sites in 2.5 years as well as created several new concepts with the same feel. For example, El Luchador, Little India Kitchen and Wok Street. What we found is that when cooking from scratch with fresh produce right in front of customers, we didn’t need signposts and messages to tell customers that the food was fresh and healthful. They could see it for themselves. It built trust just by watching. That was useful and intuitive.
In some places, you could say some of our products are ready meals. But, they are ready meals that are cooked fresh daily with the cleanest ingredients you can imagine with a very short shelf life. In essence, better than you could make at home.
Q: If you were to distill all this hands-on experience, what skill would you say keeps you passionate about the foodservice industry?
A: My favorite activity is walking. As you walk, you can watch the landscape change. It’s all very dynamic. You can see what happens on the high street and you can watch customers’ reactions. It’s a skill I’ve developed and it’s helped me to recognize and ‘ride the wave’, if you will, of the growth areas consumers will ultimately desire.
Q: Now, what about the technology piece, a central element of this year’s Forum. I saw that you studied E-Commerce and Corporate Information Systems at the Harvard Business School. What sticks with you most from that education?
A: I learnt at Harvard that technology will double every five years and that it plays a significant part in strategy. Also, that planning ahead and the skills necessary to bring that technology to fruition are key to success along with sharing a vision. We use so many tools to manage production, our teams, retail partners, waste and so much more, and embracing technology plays a huge part in business success.
We have double digit LFL (like-for-like) growth and that comes from all of the above…not just luck!
Q: Could you give us an example of some of the technological tools employed within the Hana Group?
A: Absolutely. There’s an app we use called Planday. All of our teams have it on their mobile phones. They can check first thing to see if teams are at work. We are a factory. We produce fresh in store daily. If we don’t produce, we aren’t making sales. The program enables the managers to move people around, if needed, and make sure we have every site staffed.
Then, there’s a system called GESCOM. Each of our team managers scan every box of food waste. The system intuitively learns itself. Any items where there is low waste, the system will tell the team to make more of it on a daily basis. If a box has very high waste, it will tell teams to make less. Consider you have 100 stores, each in different areas, with different types of customers like a lunch crowd in one or family dinner types in another. The system lets you put out just what those customers want in that store and waste really goes down.
What this means is that our area managers can stay home, sit on the sofa, feet up, drinking tea in the morning rather than getting stuck in traffic. First, they check on the people and secondly on the production side. These two factors running smoothly means the customer is happy. Once the manager has checked these elements, they can get out, the traffic has died down by then, and spend the rest of the day mentoring people, talking to supervisors and whatever else they need to do because the really tough stuff is done. These are just a couple of examples.
Technology done right is very effective. It plays a huge role, but in the end it’s still fresh produce that we’re working with. We don’t use that technology to change a strawberry. We want that strawberry to be organic and/or from a local area and full of taste and in its raw form. So, it’s not using technology to actually keep the strawberry, but to manage the strawberry as we turn it into deliciously fresh healthful food.
Q: Couldyou give a sneak peek at this year’s LPS Foodservice Forum program? What’s especially not to miss?
A: We have so many great speakers, such as Kevin Hancock, senior trading manager, who will tell how the UK’s largest online supermarket, Ocado, has grown by embracing technology. Bill Collison, founder of Bill’s. talks about fresh produce and how both technology and the trend towards plant-based cuisine has catapulted his restaurant group.
Simon Stenning’s (founder and strategic advisor, FutureFoodservice.com) crystal ball look at the industry should never be missed. Vita Mojos’ co-founder and chief executive officer, Nick Popovici, will talk about his company’s fascinating technology that enables customers to personalize the nutrition in what they order. We have many other industry leaders and chefs too. As in past years, we’ve worked really hard to make sure the entire program is 100% relevant.
Q: If you could leave Forum attendees with one take-home message that is key to what you hope to convey, what would it be?
A: Fresh produce is the new wave — grab your ‘business/life surfboard’ and take off… Far out! Because if you sit still, think that everything is fine and wonderful, it soon won’t be.
We’ve been fortunate to have Jason Danciger helping develop and present the Foodservice Forum in London each year. His experience is broad, and his personality envelops one in enthusiasm for foodservice.
The program this year is stellar, the speakers valuable, and the addition of the tech element opens new horizons.
Come and join us for the Foodservice Forum and The London Produce Show and Conference. You can see the website here.
Ask questions at this link.
Simon Stenning describes himself as a jack of all trades and master of them all. It’s an apt description, considering his colleagues call him one of the best crystal ball forecasters in the UK’s foodservice industry.
Stenning will speak first at the 2019 London Produce Show’s Foodservice Forum, set for June 5 at the JW Marriott Grosvenor House on Park Lane, with a talk titled, “The Market in Focus – Expert Insight Into UK Eating Out & Drinking Trends.” Those who attended last year’s LPS may remember Stenning, then executive director and strategic advisor of MCA (www.mca-insight.com), the latest incarnation of M&C Allegra Foodservice, who discussed how the UK’s current and future eating and drinking trends could boost profits, especially for buyers and sellers of fresh produce.
Currently serving as founder and strategic advisor of FutureFoodservice.com, Stenning’s 2019 presentation will be filled with hot-off-the-press information from his 150-page ‘The Future of Foodservice 2025-2030’ report.
To give Pundit readers a preview, we asked Carol Bareuther, RD, contributing editor of the Pundit’s sister publication, Produce Business, to talk with Stenning about his background, what makes him so good at predicting the future and to provide a few sneak peeks at key drivers of growth in the UK’s foodservice industry and what this means for fresh produce.
Founder & Strategic Advisor
Q. Let’s start with some background. What were early life experiences that put you on the professional road you’ve traveled for the past 30-plus years and led to your work today?
A. If I look back, I can see a couple of strong influences. For one, my father and father’s family are all farmers from the south coast of Ireland. The work ethic of farmers, Irish farmers in particular, is very strong. That, and the fact that farmers back then were self-sufficient. So, when I had children, I had them talk to my father, their grandfather, about what shops he had available to him when growing up in Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s.
Of course, my kids, only 10 to 15 years ago, thought of shops like supermarkets and clothing stores. He told them he didn’t go to shops, because there really weren’t any and that was because they pretty much grew, bred or made everything they needed to live. The work ethic and the link between how food, food production and food consumption has changed, has really stuck with me and helped me in what I am doing now.
Q. Did you grow up on a farm? Is that what led you on the foodservice career path?
A. No. My father moved to the UK as a young man and worked in health care. I grew up as a normal kid in Hampshire, in the Southeast of England, and then received a scholarship to attend boarding school.
One of my friend’s fathers was a managing director of a large hotel company. When it came to figure out what I wanted to study at the University of Portsmouth, I liked the idea of hotel and catering management. That’s because of all the different facets: accountancy and law, human resources and design, cooking and service. All those elements made it sound really interesting.
Q. I understand that your foodservice career was more traditional at the start in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. How did your profession evolve from pursuing to predicting the latest food and beverage trends?
A. Well, at first I managed hotels and then ran restaurants at places like the Hurlingham Club, a private members club in London. I worked with Albert Roux, who was very famous and one of the first chefs in the UK to get 3 Michelin stars. Then, I went to work at Pret a Manger. This was really strange at the time and a lot of people asked me ‘What do you mean you’re going to work for a sandwich shop?’ since I’d just come from the Michelin dining arena.
They didn’t get it, but I saw how the nature of foodservice, food retail, catering, whatever you want to call it, was changing. I was really excited by working with this incredible brand. When I joined, there were a dozen to 15 stores. It was very small, but it was creating a name for itself. I wanted to be a part of that.
Five years later, I was head-hunted to work with the Compass Group. In essence, I was pinching Pret’s ideas, but instead trying to recreate the high street within contract catering environments like workplaces, hospitals and defense sites. While working on that, I moved from being an operator managing shops, stores and people, to developing retail brand concepts and principals.
The defining point came one day when I gathered together procurers, site developers, designers and operators on a new concept we wanted to develop. One of the outside designers said, ‘shouldn’t we get your marketing people involved?’. It was one of those moments when you look sideways and then you realize it’s actually you who is doing the marketing element of it. At that point, I decided to put myself through a post-graduate diploma in marketing. I’m not a marketer, but I wanted to get that understanding and background knowledge of strategic marketing practices.
Q. This background sounds like it figured strongly into building what you needed to research and write your latest 150-page report?
A. Very much so. It was 13 years ago that I set myself up as a consultant and started working with a management consultancy company called Allegra Strategies. It provided market intelligence in order to win management consulting work by demonstrating ‘we know an awful lot about this market’ mostly through due diligence. They needed help in terms of how to leverage the knowledge they had, and I worked with the founder to turn it into a market intelligence business that also did consulting work. That took me into the market intelligence world. My experience at the shop end to start, and then to someone who is developing concepts, has given me very broad knowledge.
Q. What led you to go way into the future for your most recently published research? Is it something that no one has done before?
A. That’s it… no one has ever looked this far into the future before. In fact, and in my own words back when I was running MCA, I would say that there is no point forecasting beyond three years because after that it’s pure guess work. However, the thing that started it, and a strong personal interest of mine, is what drives change? Why do consumers change? What are the key factors that drive these changes?
Writing about something that is happening in the future is a very personal project for me. I think it links back to the infatuation I had with studying several facets at the same time from my university days, then bringing it all into one focus of what I think will be the case. My proposition is that I’m bloody good at guessing. Educated guessing that is.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about your methodology?
A. The approach I’ve taken is not to look into a crystal ball and get really stupid. I’m not forecasting we’ll be living on the moon and eating moon dust. What I’ve done is taken an approach that looks at ‘where have we been?’, ‘where are we now?’, ‘where are we going in terms of what will be?’, and then, ‘what might be?’. It’s very much a case of joining up the dots.
Q. So, let’s say a Foodservice Forum attendee is sitting in the audience, listening to you speak and thinking about making major capital expenditures to move their business forward. Can they count on your research to correctly predict the direction of the UK’s foodservice industry up to a decade from now?
A. Very much so. It’s a piece of work to which I’ve brought a really rigorous approach when analyzing, collating and compiling the data. My forecast is not plucked out of thin air. There’s a rationale to it. The difficult point of looking at the future is that you can’t ask consumers about it. US automaker Henry Ford explained it best when he said that if he asked customers what they wanted; they’d ask for a faster horse.
Q. Can you give us a teaser about your talk?
A. That’s rather difficult because it covers so many things. That said, I will be sharing ideas about what we will be eating in the future. It’s fascinating. For example, last month a chain of healthy, sushi, lunch-food-type shops announced they were putting crickets on the menu. Fried crickets. Well, I won’t say that we’ll all be eating insects in ten years’ time, but I will say that we’ll be using insects as a protein source to feed animals to make eating meat more sustainable. Another tidbit is that we’ll have vegetables as dessert. And, I’m going to talk about social refueling.
Q. What is social refueling? What does it mean for fresh produce?
A. I’ve given that name to a new segment of restaurants. I believe restaurants are changing, and the way in which consumers use restaurants is changing. From a produce perspective, it’s not so critical. It’s more about the way in which consumers engage in restaurants and how restaurants develop.
From a consumption perspective, produce is going to play a much bigger part in consumers’ repertoires and in operators’ menu-planning. This is because we’ll continue to see a move towards veganism, vegetarianism and conscious reductionism that we will inspire consumers to desire a broader range of produce to fulfill part of their diet and operators to extend the breath of their menus.
Q. Lastly, what is the key message you’d like LPS’s Foodservice Forum attendees to take home from your presentation?
A. I’m going to be telling them lots of information, lots of intelligence. But what I want to do is provoke their thinking about what it means for their businesses. I want to provide a stimulus for strategized thinking. I don’t have all the answers. But what I’m going to do is give them a lot of information, tell them all about the drivers of change, and they will then have to do the thinking about what it means for them.
Predicting the future is always hard. Herman Kahn, a famous American futurist, once pointed out that if we knew what people would do in the future, we would do it today!
Or as a wag once pointed out, the key to being a great futurist is to predict what will happen or predict when things will happen — but never at the same time!
We, however, are honored to have found the real deal — someone not afraid to put a date to a thing or a thing to a date.
And, in fact, we have no choice but to look at the future. From the search to develop a new variety to large-scale commercial production, the process can run into decades. So we have no choice but to make predictions.
Of course, nothing is certain. Wars break out, political things change, technology surprises us — but predictions can still be informed or ignorant — and this session is most assuredly on the informed side of things.
So, please, join us in London for the Foodservice Forum and The London Produce Show and Conference. Get a glimpse at the future — and how you, your organization, and the industry can prosper in that future.
Here is the Foodservice Forum program.
Here is the website for the London Produce Show and Conference.
You can register here.
Questions? Need help? Let us know here.
You can take the farmer out of the field but not the field out of the farmer. This is true, literally and figuratively, when describing Bill Collison.
Collison, a grower by first profession, is the founder of Bill’s, a greengrocer that over the past two decades has evolved into a wildly popular 80-plus-unit casual dining chain. It’s signature, and key to success, is serving cutting-edge British dishes all rooted in fresh seasonal produce.
Farm-to-fork innovation, especially how trends and technology play a role, is the topic of a Q&A session at the 2019 London Produce Show’s Foodservice Forum, set for June 5 at the JW Marriott Grosvenor House on Park Lane. Host Jason Danciger will dialogue with farmer-turned-foodservice guru Collison.
To give Perishable Pundit readers a preview, we asked Carol Bareuther, RD, contributing editor of the Pundit’s sister publication, Produce Business, to talk with Collison about his background, current strategies and future goals.
Q. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get interested in fresh produce?
A. I started as a grower, like my father and grandfather. Growing up, we had 15 to 20 acres in the southeast of the UK, between Brighton and Lewes. Not a huge amount, but a lot of glass-like greenhouses where we grew tomatoes, cucumbers and some interesting things. There were also outdoor crops like beets and potatoes, apples and pears.
In the summer, we kids used to travel to Kent, which is the garden of England, to pick fruit. Every field there has fruit, currants or raspberries. Kids back then were encouraged to work the land. We used to do all the harvesting. Not today… kids today want to go into media or art.
Actually, it was the same with me at the time. I didn’t like my life. I didn’t think it was glamorous enough. So, I tried other things. I became a chef for a while, and then I went back to what I knew best, which is fresh produce. I knew lots of growers. I knew the industry. I was able to go buy from these growers and then wholesale and retail it. Now I’ve come full circle as my goal in the future is to go back to being a grower.
Q. I understand your first retail operation was a greengrocer you opened in Lewes. Then, a flood wiped the business out, causing you to reopen but with a twist.
A. That’s true. However, I made things from fresh produce from day one. I just didn’t have a café then. It was to go. So, if cauliflower was in season, we’d have cauliflower heads that you could buy to take home as well as cauliflower tart, cauliflower soup, cauliflower salad and more. That’s what we’d be selling. But then the flood happened. It gave us an amazing chance, and from bad luck came something very special. We added a little more spice, a café or restaurant, where you could sit down and eat as well. We added extra things to the menu too, like coffee, and that was nearly 20 years ago now.
Q. In that nearly two decades, Bill’s has grown from one café to an 82-unit national chain. How did you accomplish this? What did it take? What role did fresh produce play?
A. When I first opened the restaurant, everything that we had left at the end of the night was cooked and made into food for the next day. If it didn’t go in retail, it went into the salad, or stew, or pie or as ingredients for stock. We never wasted anything. Although we were really busy with that first shop, we could never make any money. It was all like a soup kitchen in some ways. At first, we said we’d open another restaurant quickly, but it took us five years to get the model into the right shape to do so. When we did, in Brighton, straight away it was a success.
Q. What did you learn during that five-year puzzling process that continues to be a foundation of your successful business today?
A. Well, to start, I should say that at this time we won several food awards, national food awards. Like best newcomers to the industry awards. These were up against people with lots more infrastructure and a lot more going on than we had. Plus, it seemed every week we were in a magazine, a picture or recipe of something we were doing, or some reviewer reviewed us.
I never took much notice of it because I was making the coleslaw. I thought back then that I was the only one who could make the coleslaw, so I was a bit foolish in some ways. But other people sat up and took notice. This included investors, and we decided to take on investor, Richard Caring. I still work with Richard today. He was very interested in being the best thing out there. I never thought we’d grow to the extent we did, but we grew very quickly. In fact, too quickly if I think back.
Q. How so?
A. As we grew, we made things easier for ourselves. I think the person who ultimately loses out in that case is the guest. A good example is in procurement. A certain number of invoices and delivery notes come to a restaurant every day. So, if the milk man can deliver tomatoes, even though the tomatoes might not be as good as you’d like, it’s easier with one delivery.
We went on like that for a long time and, in doing so, we lost our way a bit. Luckily, we finally noticed and as a result went back to our roots, back to fresh, back to seasonality. We started getting growers to grow for us. It was easier then because we were a certain size. A grower is more willing to work with you and go that extra mile when you have 82 restaurants rather than two. So, making it harder for us keeps it good for our guests. I know that sounds bonkers. But, I think people who put the margin ahead of the product and the guest are only going to fail.
Q. Now, what fascinates me about Bill’s is the juxtaposition of simple fresh produce and high-tech offerings like being able to book a table, order and get monetary benefits for future meals right in the palm of your hand via iPhone. Are you a tech guru too?
A. It’s not me. I’m such a dinosaur. I’m always afraid of doing something wrong and having 40,000 or 60,000 people to see something I don’t want them to. The people who work for me are young, enthusiastic and understand it far more than I do. I’ve got the eye, though, that knows when something is right or wrong.
I know when apps are working well or if an app gives away too much. I think when you over-gift on apps, it makes you look needy and you should never be needy. In reality, we’re not even where we want to be with it (technology). We want to be further down the line. I want to give people more knowledge via our apps and website.
When I say knowledge, I mean more of our procurement at the farm, talk about our links with food, how it’s grown, who the farmer is, how to make dishes, there is so much more. It’s such an exciting time. There’s such a world of opportunity.
Q. What about technology such as social media? Did your Instagram, for example, help in your expansion into communities your brand wasn’t known?
A. Definitely so. When we had just the two restaurants, people use to come in and take photographs. We’d create these amazing cakes and pies with delphiniums coming out of them. It looked amazing. I was never bothered by it, but our head chef didn’t like it. He thought someone was going to copy him.
Today, it’s how people communicate. So, we are now making it so that every moment you walk by, there’s something you can take a picture of. My marketing team is always looking for something that is new, fun or quirky. Also, we’ve gone from having a national marketing strategy to a local one. Each restaurant has its own marketing person, each area has its own marketing manager and they look to market locally. By that I mean they get involved with the community like the town’s festivals.
It’s a lot of what we did when we had one or two restaurants. It’s a way to get ourselves to be the place people relate to as being home to them. Once you’ve done that, you’ve got a business that will last forever.
Q. One of the topics you’ll touch on during your Q&A with Jason is revitalizing and revolutionizing the use of fresh produce and the plant-based trend we’re seeing now. Could you give us a sneak peek on your thoughts in this area?
A. The world is thinking to eat less meat, and we need to make sure we’re a part of that. Bill’s has always been something for everybody, so we’re not going to take our best local sausage off our menu at breakfast. We’re not going to take away our sea bass from the evening menu. But what we will do is have more vegetarian options, more fun with fresh produce.
I think it still needs to be glamorous. Something that you can feed yourself on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night and feel good about what you’ve eaten, and then on Saturday and Sunday come back and find the most glorious stack of really indulgent pancakes. Something for everybody and is all around fresh. Fresh is king.
Q. Speaking of fresh, you mentioned wanted to get back to growing. Can you explain?
A. A goal of mine is to have a Bill’s in the country right where I also have my own farm and grow. I’m someone who’s potty for fresh produce. I love growing it, eating it, and there’s no better time than when I’m on a farm. I’m not saying it will happen tomorrow, but it’s definitely something I’m going to do.
Q. Lastly, what is the take-home message you’d like to leave the LPS Foodservice Forum’s audience with after your Q&A?
A. Put fresh first and bundle everything else around it. But, make it interesting, make it quirky. There are no new ideas. Go back in time but add your own stamp to it. And, if you’re starting something new, make sure it has a bit of heritage to it. Never do anything just to make money, do it because you care.
It is an inspiring story. Bill may want to do that farm sooner rather than later. In the US, Wegmans has had great success operating an organic farm as a kind of learning environment for its suppliers. Its farms are also great for PR and tours provide a “front page” for its whole operation when interfacing with consumers.
In the US, though, we haven’t seen much success with offering more vegetarian options. The movement has been to more veg-centric cuisine.
The problem in increasing produce consumption is that as long as the protein is the chef’s priority and produce a side dish, consumption of produce is somewhat fixed. If we can move people to eating a stir fry with protein used as a flavoring or a Cauliflower crust pizza with some cheese and meat, we will have more success than rigidly banning all non-vegan options.
In any case, it is a most inspiring story to grow from just an idea to a major chain. Please come to the Foodservice Forum and The London Produce Show and Conference to be inspired and think how you, your company, and the industry can experience this kind of exponential growth.
You can check out the website here.
You can register at this link
And, of course, if you have any questions or need help please do let us know here.
We look forward to seeing you at the Foodservice Forum and The London Produce Show and Conference.
Just as no man is an island, success in the foodservice end of the business depends powerfully on the operators interacting with their distributors.
Produce shippers are particularly poor at selling to foodservice. They are used to retail, where items are just put out for sale, not foodservice, where the hardest part of the sale is helping a restaurant see that it actually should have dishes that include one’s produce item on the menu.
We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out how Reynolds Executive Development Chef, Diane Camp, thought about issues such as this and what her message will be on her panel in London:
Executive Development Chef
Q: We’re so pleased you’ll be participating in the 2019 LPS Foodservice Forum and sharing your invaluable insights at The Power of Plants panel discussion.
The growing desire to eat more plants continues unabated in the UK, as veganism, vegetarianism, and plant-based eating tick the boxes for consumers concerned with their health and the environment.
You join other leading lights from the UK restaurant scene [Sarah Wassermann, Head of Development and Head of the Central Kitchen, Mildreds; Aggie Morrell, Head of Food, POD, and Bill Collison, Founder, Bills] to discuss the impact on menus, sourcing, and growth.
You bring an extensive background and multi-faceted expertise to the table.
Could you talk about your burgeoning role as Reynolds Executive Development Chef, the scope of your work, and broad, diverse customer base? [Restaurants and pubs, QSR, hotels, event catering, heath care, education, workplace catering, travel and leisure.]
A: Reynolds is a wholesaler of fruits and veg, which makes my title a little bit tricky in the sense that I am a development chef, but I interact with other development chefs for restaurants and food bars and hotels around the country.
We’re focusing in a big way on trends. I’m new to this role. I’ve worked with Reynolds for seven years, but I’ve only been promoted with this position in the past six months, so I am trying to change a few things. One of things is giving more insight into trends development to our customers.
Q: I want to dive into some of those insights, but also how you approach those trends in food development to create menu solutions for your different customers. Do you adapt or simplify dish complexities and recipe ingredients, for example, to meet the varying needs of some of the larger chains and QSRs, compared to smaller restaurants, versus corporate work environments, etc.
A: We do have quite a broad base of customers. We predominantly serve a lot of High Street brands, for example, Wasabi, and Pizza Express, and Peach Pubs, Carluccio’s, Gaucho... Restaurant-wise, a lot of the chains, like Zizzi and Coco di Mama, and I’m engaged with the development chefs. At some of the smaller restaurants, particularly, I’ve been actively involved in helping them to develop menu ideas.
Q: How important is that expertise to your customers, and to the Reynolds business model? How do you connect the trends to the food establishment’s operations, and the desires its diners to help provide innovative menu solutions, while accommodating varying logistics and cost/pricing issues?
A: Because of the kind of unique situation we’ve got at the company, we don’t always see the end results. We’re blue sky-thinkers. For example, we look at this interesting produce item, a fruit or veg, and what trends go hand in hand with that. So, what we try to put together is a portfolio of what we think the next big trends are going to be, and obviously with that we recommend products that we would sell to them. I’m in the really early stages of developing this in my new role.
Q: Could you elaborate? What are the next big trends your customers need to heed to stay relevant and to gain an edge in a competitive foodservice landscape?
A: I think menu development is very important, and innovation is vital, especially in our current time. There are a lot of plant-based trends and vegan growth, which is very exciting to be a part of.
Q: Could you walk us through the development process, from when you come up with a novel idea, or want to incorporate a tasty new variety or unique item, to turning it into a reality on a menu? After all, the foodservice industry is dealing with the inherent characteristics of fresh produce, issues of perishability, fluctuating consistency and availability...
A: That is a good question. I think with regards to fresh produce, we are quite lucky with what our customers take. They generally do take slightly more consistent products. I guess that’s where the challenge comes in. How do you make a tomato become exciting? That’s where we’re working with our other suppliers that sometimes help us with non-perishable items. For example, we have a company we work with that creates sauces and relishes, and they just brought out a whole vegan range.
So, one of the dishes I created for a customer was using English asparagus and this vegan béarnaise, which is almost a classic, hollandaise and asparagus, but my use of selling it as a vegan dish suddenly makes it interesting and trend-right again.
Q: So, this is more a re-marketing or repositioning of a familiar flavor profile that’s used with both vegetables, and meats... Are you also looking to replicate flavors, tastes and textures of meats and turning to the fresh produce world to create plant-based alternatives?
A: One of the trends I’m hoping to explore is the old favorites being reinvented with a plant-based twist. Instead of serving a rib eye steak with onion rings, we made a celeriac steak, slow cooked it for 6 hours and then pan fried it and served it with an onion puree. That’s a good classic, which we’ve just interpreted.
We’ve recently done a recipe card for a vegan taco, so instead of using pulled pork, we used pulled mushrooms. We also have a mushroom ceviche, and Korean BBQ vegan buns.
Vegan jerky can be made from a whole host of different fruit and vegetables, ideally using a dehydrator.
Q: Your reinvented dishes inspire new thinking on where the fresh produce industry can take this plant-based movement! There’s mounting discussion, at least in the U.S., of missed opportunities for the produce industry and the need to jump more forcefully into this scene to capitalize on plant-based trends, which are adeptly being ratcheted up in packaged and processed foods.
A: Agreed. We’re almost at this stage now where we default to a soy bean or a chick pea. We almost neglect what could be a true plant-based choice, which would be your fruit or veg. I think that will be a driving force from the produce side, to make it more of a feature, rather than use these defaults. I’m in total agreement.
It has not really been a big discussion here in the UK, but it is looming. I do think it’s something that will spring up. The hot topic at the moment in the UK is the whole single use plastic and packaging, given the media attention lately, and on television, through Netflix, the Blue Planet. And people being made more aware of environmental issues. I think that is a hotter topic getting the attention here.
Q: But issues of sustainability and the environment can overlap with plant-based trends...Do you think that’s integrated into plant-based diets or is the shift primarily due to other reasons, such as health and nutrition?
A: I think it’s integrated in and actually I think that flexitarainism, which leads into plant-based, will be, for me, the biggest mover rather than vegan food. People almost default to vegan food because they know that means no meat, no dairy. But I think flexitarian is a bigger trend, because if you look at all the plant-based hype that’s been going on in regards to a burger that looks like a burger that bleeds like a burger but it’s all plant-based, this probably isn’t going to appeal to a vegan, but it definitely will appeal to a flexitarian, who’s doing a sort of sustainability path or maybe for health reasons.
Q: As a panelist on The Power of Plants session at the Foodservice Forum, you’ll bring appreciated perspective to the conversation. Where do you see the greatest growth opportunities? Do you forecast certain fruits or vegetables skyrocketing in popularity, i.e., avocados are hot, or is it more about the repositioning of produce items, enlivening their uses in recipes and menus to meet the trends? How do these trends ebb and flow with specific products versus looking at the big picture?
A: I think avocados are still a hot topic, but I think jackfruit has grown in popularity. A few years ago no one even knew what a jackfruit was, and now you see it everywhere. Even to the point where some of our chain restaurants like Pizza Express, which has over 300 restaurants, are putting jackfruit on their menu. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a chayote or a chow. That’s apparently become quite a newcomer to the party.
Q: When Pizza Express adds a vegan pulled jackfruit pizza and plant-based carrot cake to its menu, is this because consumers are asking for it, or because it creates a differentiated offering, and education and marketing that comes with it?
A: I think it’s a few things. Restaurants have realized if they don’t have that offering, then they will lose people coming to their restaurants. A lot of people who choose to be flexaterians of vegans dictate to their social group where to eat. So, if restaurants aren’t catering to everyone in the party, instead of losing one customer they probably lose that group of people; that restaurant doesn’t offer a good plant-based menu for me, so let’s go and eat somewhere else.
Q: That’s an interesting point, that restaurants could lose traditional meat and potato customers if they don’t expand their menus to accommodate their flexitarian and vegan friends and family...
You’re so innovative and have won many awards for your creative dishes. Some of your recipes are very fancy. Going back to a discussion we had earlier, are there limits to the type of foodservice operation that can take them on, the level of chef training and skill needed, etc.
A: A lot of our recipes are the blue sky thinking, kind of attracting the chefs to have a look at what we can offer. Sometimes with regards to presentations, I need to do the research on what customer I’m presenting to, and that’s what makes it interesting.
I must have the flexibility to go one day and create an amazing 5-star dish, and another day I need to cook and prepare a menu where the kitchen staff are only allowed a little paring knife. I guess I do a bit of both really. I quite enjoy that flexibility of being able to change between different restaurant styles and cooking styles.
Q: It sets you up for fun challenge.
A: Absolutely. What I quite like is this whole vegan trend has exploded, which has really given us an opportunity to go mad with exploring. I guess that’s what’s quite nice about my position… we can have a little bit of fun, and do the blue sky thinking, hey, what about making this egg mayonnaise, but instead of using egg, use tofu, and it’s whether the customer chooses to take that further. But the fact that we get to come up with these creative and innovative ideas is what keeps my job exciting.
Q: With that example where you replace egg with tofu, is there any fresh produce you throw in there!
A: Well, yes, that’s a good point. We did a vegan-style afternoon tea, with a menu including red pepper, basil and red onion marmalade quiches, using our vegan egg mayonnaise and cress, so that’s a touch of produce!
On the savory side, we also did a sweet chilli wrap with citrus spiced salad, hummus, avocado, pickled beetroot, and micro basil. And Garden pots with hummus, black quinoa, and a selection of raw vegetables and pea shoots. Then on the sweet side, we did a vegan chocolate mousse with raspberries, and fruit kebabs with dragon fruit, pineapple in lime and melon. We made our meringues with apple fiber and chickpea brine. A pina colada dessert was prepared with char grilled pineapple, coconut Chantilly cream, popcorn, yuzu pearls, and caramel sauce.
Q: How creative...That takes traditional English tea time to a new level!
A: My presentations are to other development chefs. And they won’t take onboard exactly what I present. A good example would be where I presented to one of the chain restaurants. I created a white chocolate and asparagus tart, basically where you infuse the milk with the asparagus. The chain’s development chefs turned it into a panna cotta, using the same method, taking the ideas and incorporating them to make it their own.
Q: I’m not sure in your role and in your collaborative process of food development how involved you get on the supply side. I was reading about how Reynolds works to bring its customers closer to the growers and producers.
A: Yes, that’s more on the procurement side, which is not something I take care of.
Q: So, when you’re creating these recipes, do you need to know what’s available, or you’re coming up with the macro concepts in a team effort to execute them. For instance, would you channel specific items based on “what’s in season” (or at least perceived that way by consumers in our fluid global trade environment), and build recipes around that...
A: It’s a little of both. Seasonal menus are an interesting topic, understanding of seasonality is completely shifting. For example, you can get strawberries all year-round. We live in a global village. It’s about where you best source it when it’s in season from that particular country. So, the whole dynamics of seasonality is changing. Yes, I do take that into consideration, and I am quite lucky because our work is where our main warehouse is. If I ever get stuck for inspiration, I just walk downstairs and see what’s available.
Q: That’s so cool, and very efficient.
A: It really is cool. And just getting advice when I’m there. That’s where our procurement team plays a vital role as well. They’ve got the ears to the growers. One of my procurement team came to me to let me know that sweet potatoes are going to be really expensive in the next few months because of all the flooding that happened in America, so to just make your customers aware of that. I think it’s important to have that routine relationship with procurement. Sweet potatoes might be available now, but if I’m presenting to a customer looking to put it on their menu for the next six months, we can give them that insight, which is very valuable information for our customers.
Q: It shows the benefits of working at a multi-faceted company like Reynolds and having the ability to get involved in the many different aspects. This must be a major advantage...
Q: Your viewpoints will certainly add to a vibrant discussion at the Foodservice Forum.
A: With the panel I’m on, the other speakers are really interesting. The fact that you have Mildreds, which has been in the forefront for over 25 years. And how suddenly what they’re doing is right on trend. Hats off to Jane Muir, who started the restaurant and kept it going for all those years, to suddenly being one of the trendiest restaurants in London, So, I think it’s truly exciting to see how vegan and plant-based trends have changed the dynamics of that kitchen or restaurant.
And Aggie from POD is on the panel. She’s had to do a lot of development and kind of cover all aspects of food-to-go, which is one of the biggest growing markets. Food-to-go is crucial to capturing the plant-based market because there’s so much competition.
Bill Collison of Bills will also be on the panel.
Q: I find it charming that instead of expounding on what you could bring to the discussion, you turned to highlight the other panelists...
A: As a part of the panel, I could definitively vouch for the fact there is a movement to people choosing a healthier lifestyle, and putting more prominence on their produce, so it’s not necessarily a meat or fish driven story. People want to know where their fruits and veg come from. And I think as a company we can supply that information.
Q: So, this is another point you’re bringing up.
A: Yes, consumer desire for transparency folds into this movement.
Q: During your time at the Show, what are some of your goals?
A: Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to the London Produce Show last year. I went to the one before that, and over the years I’ve seen the Show grow. The seminars and discussion panels are so interesting, and the topics you select are really relevant to a lot of people attending. I’m looking to get insight and do some networking as well.
The produce industry needs a seamless supply chain on the foodservice sector. Come to the Foodservice Forum and see how that is being built.
You can find the website here.
Registration is open right here.
And send us your questions at this link!
Attendees will visit HOP Vietnamese, Biff’s Jack Shack, Farmer J, Old Spitalfields Market and more on the bespoke tour hosted by foodservice expert Andy Weir from Reynolds.
The London Produce Show and Conference 2019, taking place this week on June 5-7, 2019, will culminate with a series of insightful and unmissable industry tours that will showcase the spectrum of the UK’s fresh produce business, from production through to retail and foodservice.
PBUK speaks with Andy Weir, Head of Marketing for UK foodservice operator Reynolds, to uncover what he has in store for the hugely popular Foodservice Tour that will take in HOP Vietnamese, Biff’s Jack Shack, Farmer J, Old Spitalfields Market, and more.
Head of Marketing
Q. Andy, you’ve been hard at work organising The Foodservice Tour for this year’s LPS. Can you reveal what the overarching message will be for attendees in terms of the consumer and market trends that will be demonstrated?
A. Obviously, there will be a massive slant towards the use of fresh produce in the UK eating-out market. In particular, there will be a big focus on operators offering vegan food because, for me, veganism has been the mega trend of the past two years.
Q. Of course, we’ve heard so much in the press about UK diners reducing their meat intake in favour of a more plant-based diet. Just how prominent is veganism on the UK foodservice scene, in your opinion?
A. Between 2006 and 2018, the number of vegans in the UK increased by more than 360%, according to the Vegan Society. That is quite incredible! Certainly, there is a view that the UK foodservice market is leading the way; not just in terms of the amount of dishes on restaurant menus, but in terms of menu development too.
Demographically speaking, a lot of younger adults are driving this trend. Among the 16-24 age group, 8% are aiming to go vegan, which is quite high.
But whilst veganism is a major trend — along with flexitarianism and plant-based eating in general — it isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of the UK foodservice market. There are a lot of people out there who are still eating meat, and there are many operators with meat-based menus.
Q. In what ways will the tour differ to last year? How will attendees benefit this time around?
A. London is so fast-paced and changing that it’s impossible to experience everything. Last year, we went to Covent Garden, which tends to be more slick and polished from an eating-out perspective. Where we’re going this year is more eclectic and street-food focused, while each of the operators we’ll visit are different in their own way.
Every year, the tour highlights some of the operators who are making good developments in the fresh produce arena for the interest of produce experts attending the LPS. Of all the brands we’re seeing in 2019, the majority is relatively new to the eating-out scene. They’ve been around for three to four years, yet all are evolving to a certain extent.
None are standing still, for sure. They’re all opening new sites, and almost certainly we’ll see these companies evolve into bigger operators because they have a unique food offer, and really experienced, passionate people working for them. Also, some of these operators already have the financial backing to move things forward.
Q. So, tell us what you have planned for this year. Where are you taking attendees geographically speaking?
A. We’re focusing on the Spitalfields and Shoreditch area of London. It’s quite trendy from an eating-out perspective, because there are bags of street-food vendors, various new concepts popping up and a lot of newer and innovative operators opening their first site or one of their first sites in that part of London.
It’s a good place to test new ideas and concepts.
Q. Attendees are bound to witness some fantastic innovations. Where will the tour start?
A. We’ll start at HOP Vietnamese, which is a really unique grab-and-go brand, founded by Paul Hopper in 2015 that has a bit of a street-food vibe. It’s been operating for a few years, but the brand has evolved since Paul launched it. We’re going to visit his newest opening, which is in the Leadenhall Building, otherwise known locally as ‘The Cheese Grater’.
As the name suggests, HOP’s menu is very much Vietnamese. It has been tweaked throughout the four years in which HOP has been operating, which is what operators tend to do when they launch a new concept. Certainly, the new site has some new ideas. In particular, there is a new breakfast menu, which we’re going to dive into and try when we arrive!
Also, this site is HOP’s first to have an evening meal offer as well. Paul is embracing the all-day dining concept, which is something we’ve talked about before on The Foodservice Tour. The likes of Bill’s and Côte are two of the most well-known and popular high-street brands that are doing all-day dining really well… and capturing a bigger share of the consumer’s wallet as a result. Obviously, this gives operators many more options food-wise.
Crucially, Paul will talk to the group about his journey, some of the challenges he faces and where he sees the business going in the future. Personally, as a marketeer, I really admire this operator because the attention they have given to the interior of their sites and the branding in general are really ‘on the money’. It’s very different and vibrant.
Q. A Vietnamese breakfast menu certainly will be intriguing. What types of dishes can attendees expect to trial and taste at HOP?
A. Whilst it’s Vietnamese, some parts of the menu are more Anglicised than others, and breakfast is one of those. For example, within HOP’s ‘Breakfast Banh Mi’ selection, there’s a bacon option, an egg option and a bacon-and-egg option (with Vietnamese herbs, pickles, spring onions, coriander and Sriracha mayo, of course).
This is because us Brits — particularly when it comes to breakfast — can be quite stuck in our ways. So that fusion between a British and Vietnamese breakfast, with a modern slant, is a good way for an Asian brand to incorporate breakfast onto their menu.
Also, on the HOP breakfast menu is a range of porridges. One is called Congee, which is a savoury rice porridge with egg, spring onion and coriander; while others are sweeter, such as the Sunshine Bowl (served with fresh mango and coconut) and the Super Berry Bowl (with fresh blueberries, berry compote and coconut).
Q. Which other London eating-out concepts that are celebrating fresh fruits and veggies will be highlighted on the tour?
A. We are going to Farmer J, where we’ll meet a guy called Nick Sandler. Nick’s been working in the foodservice industry for quite some time. Previously, he was the Development Chef at Prêt, and now he’s the Creative Chef at Farmer J, where he’s responsible for formulating the food offer.
Farmer J is a health-focused, fast-casual concept that is purely London-based, as is HOP. At the moment, Farmer J operates three sites, having just opened a restaurant in Canada Place, Canary Wharf. But we can expect to see this brand grow in the coming months and years, as the firm has just secured some new investment.
Q. What will pique attendees’ interest at Farmer J in terms of the operator’s use of fresh produce?
A. What makes their concept particularly interesting is the amount of vegetables on the menu. Around 70% of the menu is veg-based, and although it isn’t exclusively vegan or vegetarian, there is definitely a plant-based slant.
Farmer J serves breakfast through to dinner. On the menu is a range of rice or grains, veg sides and mains, grilled meat and fish. Many of those dishes are inspired by Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Asian flavours. There are various strong spices and herbs used throughout the menu. For example, the whole roasted cauliflower with Harissa; or the broccoli and kale Mac’n’Cheese, which is really popular.
But what makes Farmer J unique is their ‘fieldtray’ offering. Basically, diners receive the different portions of their meal — so the rice or grains, meat or veg, salad or side and sauce — in different compartments on a tray. As I said, it’s a healthy, fast-casual dining concept that offers really good value.
Nick will tell us about his background, the story of Farmer J, the food they offer and where the brand is headed. We’ll arrive just as the menu switches to the lunch offer. By midday this place has queues outside the door, so we’re getting there early before the masses arrive!
Q. Will attendees have the chance to appreciate any other aspects of the London eating-out scene as they walk between these venues?
A. We’ll have a look around Old Spitalfields Market, which is London’s historic produce market. Nowadays, the market is home to a range of stalls; from antiques and bric-a-brac to records and handmade decorations. Also, there is an awful lot of great food stalls, which are run by dozens of different street food operators, some of whom have only the one site. Some of these operators may have been in the market for just a few weeks, while others are more established.
We’ll have half an hour to walk around the market, which gets very busy, to see what the street food operators are doing there. Any foodie can’t help but get mesmerised by all the different smells and flavours on offer.
Q. Indeed, street food is another major trend on the UK eating-out scene, isn’t it?
A. Yes, street food is influencing an awful lot of the eating-out market across the UK. Old Spitalfields is one of the better places to try street food in London at the moment, but there are so many to choose from that it is hard to know where to start. You’ll notice that most traders have a vegan food offer too, whatever their concept.
Q. Where will you head after Old Spitalfields Market?
A. From Old Spits, we’ll walk up to Shoreditch, which is another melting pot of cuisines. In fact, I don’t think there’s a cuisine that you won’t find in Shoreditch; it’s one of the most vibrant eating-out areas in London.
We are going to visit Boxpark in Shoreditch, which is built from old shipping containers. It started out as a pop-up shopping mall, and since then it has evolved. Now, it houses predominantly street food vendors and bars. It’s a busy, bustling place that goes absolutely crazy busy at the weekend. Again, it’s a bit like Old Spitalfields market in that it offers a real mix of different eateries and operators. The food vendors there revolve; typically a trader may only be on site for six, nine or 12 months before they move somewhere else. So, it’s a good place to test new ideas. Even some of the more established restaurateurs have set up a pop-up in Boxpark for a few months to test new menu ideas. It’s a really eclectic place to go and eat.
Q. What type of exciting operator will the tour visit in Boxpark, Shoreditch?
A. We’re going to Biff’s Jack Shack. Originally, Biff’s Jack Shack was a street food vendor working with KERB, probably London’s first proper street food movement. Now Biff has three sites. Boxpark was his first, plus he operates in Homerton and Walthamstow.
We’ll meet founder Biff Burrows, who will give us a flavour of what’s he’s doing with his brand. It all started while Biff was backpacking in Germany during 2016. He decided to go vegan, so he set about creating alternatives to burgers and chicken wings. He uses jackfruit, which, without a doubt, is the food trend of this year. Jackfruit is going mainstream for sure via the big retailers and high-street chains, so it’s tipped to be THE top ingredient for 2019.
For me, it was Biff who really brought jackfruit to the masses. In Shoreditch, we’ll try some of his jackfruit dishes, such as ‘The Big Jack’. This is Biff’s nod to the Big Mac at McDonalds, and, honestly speaking, it’s an amazing meatless replica. We’ll try some of his ‘jackfruit wings’ as well. I challenge any meat eater to close his or her eyes and guess if they ate meat or not. Jackfruit will feature on The Foodservice Forum programme, so this will give attendees an opportunity to try the product in the best format I’ve experienced so far.
Q. Where have you chosen for the final stop?
A. We’ll visit something completely different in Shoreditch, but it’s a secret! HOP, Farmer J and Biff’s Jack Shack will be the highlights of the first part of the tour, but there will be other surprises along the way!
Additionally, if there’s time, we’ll stop to look at a few other quirky places, such as Cereal Killer Cafe, where you can try any manner of different breakfast cereals from around the world. And although, arguably, the ‘better burger’ trend has peaked in the UK (despite the odd US operator still coming over) there is an emergence of plant-based burgers on the London eating-out market currently. There are a few operators around Shoreditch, so we’ll have a peek at one called The Vurger Co – Vegan Burger Restaurant. Having seen these burgers on the plate, they are quite a sight to behold.
Q. Lastly, are there any other important details for attendees?
A. We set off at 8:15am, the first stop will be at 9am, and we’ll finish by 2:30pm, arriving back at the hotel by 3:15pm. That’s five-and-a-half hours of unadulterated food! You should not eat beforehand! Maybe have a coffee, but rest assured there will be a lot of food.
We owe a debt to Reynolds as from day one, they have supported our efforts here in London, and organizing this special tour is a part of that. It is an intimate experience and, having personally done the tour several times, we can attest to this special experience.
It is limited in number, so you probably won’t get on! But if you have interest, do let us know by sending an email here, and we will let you know if we have any cancellations.
In addition to this tour, we have 5 other tours:
BESPOKE LONDON RETAIL TOUR
8am-3pm: only 40 places available)
PRODUCTION TOUR, HOSTED BY THE FRUITERY/CHAMBERS
(7.30am-3pm: only 15 places available)
LOGISTICS TOUR, HOSTED BY HALO
(6.30am-1pm: only 40 places available)
TWO WHOLESALE MARKET TOURS
06.00 – 10.00 NEW COVENT GARDEN WHOLESALE MARKET Tour (12 places available)
06.30 – 11.00 NEW SPITALFIELDS WHOLESALE MARKET Tour (only 10 places available)
So do go on one and be a part of the experience.
You can check out the website here.
And if you have question please ask them here.
Amanda Freitag is an accomplished, New York-based chef, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, a TV personality and cookbook author. She is a judge on the popular US Food Network’s television cooking game show Chopped, a competitor on Iron Chef and Next Iron Chef, and a co-host of American Diner Revival.
Next, as part of her involvement in The Culinary Diplomacy Project, Amanda is heading to the UK to share a taste of American culture and cuisine. Whilst in London, she has the honour of being the 2019 Show Ambassador at The London Produce Show and Conference. We asked Gill McShane, contributing editor for sister publication ProduceBusinessUK.com, to speak with Amanda to understand how she might influence and inspire the fresh fruit and vegetable trade representatives attending the event on June 5-7, 2019.
London Produce Show Ambassador
New York, NY
Q. Amanda, we are delighted that you are the Show Ambassador this year! Why did you decide to take this opportunity, and what do you hope to bring to the table in your role as ambassador and as one of the chefs cooking in the Live Demonstration Kitchen?
A. I really wanted to have the opportunity to show our pride in US produce and the extent to which chefs in the US are focused on that pride. I want to demonstrate how ingredient-driven chefs really are in the US, and explain the many stable farmer relationships with chef-driven restaurants.
My message will be about how chefs are devising their menus in terms of working with many more fruits and vegetables, and making those the focus of the plate. In the US, chefs are changing the way they look at food; we are considering our carbon footprint, using less meat, paying more attention to over-fishing, using more veg, and getting more creative in the way that we look at the plate.
We’re not just putting the meat-based proteins in the centre; now we’re using more vegetables and less proteins.
Q. I understand that you are working with the US Embassy in London to support the development of a food perception programme to promote US food in the UK, and to debunk some people’sperceptions about American cuisine. Can you reveal more about this campaign, and your role within it?
A. The campaign is via The Culinary Diplomacy Project, which is a non-profit organisation founded by Lauren Bernstein, with whom I’ve worked since she ran a programme, called The Diplomatic Culinary Partnership through the US State Department. The idea is to exchange food ideas and creativity from chefs in the US to chefs all over the world. We have just been to Israel; next we’re going to the UK, and in the fall [autumn], myself and other American chefs are going to Jordan to cook with Syrians in the refugee camps.
The goal is to show that American food is more than just hamburgers and French fries. Our chefs have a great passion for food, for cooking with fresh, local ingredients and for creating farmer-supported menus. Also, our cuisine is very regional; there is not one blanket US cuisine. We have regional styles from the Northwest, the Southeast and California, etc. Across the country, everywhere you go has its own flavour, and there’s always a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables featured in those dishes.
For example, San Francisco serves a very famous seafood stew called cioppino, which is almost like a French bouillabaisse. It's very popular in San Francisco. It’s always served with sourdough bread, which is a signature bread in San Francisco. It has a tomato base and features lots of different seafood. It’s a very rich broth that’s a little spicy.
If you travel to the South or to New Orleans, you’ll find dishes like gumbo and jambalaya, which have a lot of French influence. In the South, there is also a fried chicken dish called hot chicken, which is served with coleslaw or mash potatoes, black-eyed peas and salad. Then, if you travel to Miami, you’ll eat a lot of Latin foods, like tropical fish, ceviche, and coconut-based dishes, as well as mangos and pineapples.
As for my presence in this programme and at The London Produce Show, I will be talking about my career during which I have touched upon so many different US cuisines that I’ve tried, worked with and love. I can only speak from my experiences but I do travel a lot, and I do get inspired by the food around the country. These influences definitely show up in my menus, and in the food that I cook.
[Editor’s note: The goal of the US Embassy food perception programme is to dispel the myths circulating around the UK about US food products and American food culture. Working with prominent US chefs, the programme will celebrate America’s culinary diversity and regional variety, while promoting regional specialties, including high-quality, locally sourced food and agricultural products.
The mission of The Culinary Diplomacy Project is to promote mutual understanding among people of different cultures through the power of global culinary exchange. Working with accomplished chefs, The Culinary Diplomacy Project travels to destinations around the world to engage communities, governments, NGOs and the media with a focus on culinary cultural exchange.
Following each international trip, the chefs engage with American audiences by participating in events and social media programmes designed to share their experiences. Through these activities, the project acts as a resource, builds networks and brings communities together in an effort to bridge the cultural divide.]
Q. Will you be promoting any US-grown fresh produce in particular through the food perception programme in the UK?
A. It’s more about cooking from ingredients that are fruits and vegetables, and creating menus around those produce items. It’s about how to use fruits and vegetables better, and how to use them more. We’re very lucky in the US; we want to share the fact that because the US has extensive farm land and numerous growers, we’re cooking a lot fresher than probably the rest of the world thinks we are.
Q. What’s your take on the food scene in the US with regards to the availability of fresh produce? Clearly, there is a great number of burger joints and a lot of fast-food options. Do you think that many US consumers have jumped on board the health/plant-based train yet, as they have in the UK with the rise of veganism, vegetarianism, flexitarianism, and even ‘reducetarianism’?
A. It’s very similar [to the UK]. The whole trend is being embraced not only by US chefs but by the wellness community — people who are much more health-conscious, and those who really want to know where their food is coming from. The trend goes across many age ranges too. Anybody aged between 30 years old and 45 years old is looking at their health, how they eat and how to change their habits. It’s about longevity for yourself and the environment.
Now you can find a lot more US restaurants that have either vegetable menus or vegetable-focused menus, or they offer a lot more vegetable options. They are not vegetarian per se, but there are many more veg-focused restaurants that are doing really well.
This is happening in New York, and from travelling around the US, I see this trend also popping up in places that perhaps have been more meat-centric in the past. Wherever there are young chefs who are creative, you will find menus that are breaking the boundaries with new and interesting vegetable dishes.
Q. Likewise, what do you think of the London food scene currently? What are your thoughts on how it has changed over the years and the use of produce on restaurant menus?
A. That’s a great question, because I haven’t been to London in so long, and I’m looking forward to coming. I do remember how much I loved the dairy in the UK; how different it was and the richness of the yoghurt. Although I’ve not been to the UK for 25 years, obviously I follow the food scene through social media, cookbooks and the chefs that I love in the UK.
We are working on our itinerary for London, but we’ll definitely visit The River Café, [one of the branches of] Ottolenghi, and the markets. We will host a masterclass at Westminster Kingsway College [a culinary institute], and we are going to Manchester.
Q. Who are your favourite UK chefs?
A. I’ve always been a huge fan of the women who run The River Café in London [chefs Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray]. I just went on a trip to Israel, so currently I’m obsessed with Yotam Ottolenghi. I’ve always been a Jamie Oliver fan, and I’m huge fan of The Great British Bake Off. I follow Heston Blumenthal and Fergus Henderson too. So, all the top chefs. I’m not so aware of the younger chefs as yet, but I hope to find out more [on the UK trip].
I like the Mediterranean feel to the cooking by Jamie Oliver and Yotam Ottolenghi. The way they cook at The River Café is always in the Mediterranean style too, which is very ingredient-based, ingredient-driven and ingredient-inspired.
Q. What do you think is the potential to include more fresh fruits and vegetables on plates both in the UK and internationally, and why?
A. The potential is high right now because chefs always want to be on-trend, and they always want to give customers what they want. A lot of this [trend] has come from what customers were asking for, and what they want more of. Their demands always indicate how menus change and how chefs cook.
Chefs are food activists essentially. They want to use more fruits and vegetables; they want to have a fresher style to their menus, and they want to attract the customers who want those things. On the flip-side, it’s also about chefs satisfying their own creative side, wanting to compete and to become a part of the [plant-based] movement.
The idea of making a head of cauliflower taste as good as a prime rib is a real skill challenge, and that’s fun for chefs to take on.
Q. What do you see as the obstacles to getting more produce on plates? How can these be overcome, in your opinion?
A. It’s about training your cooks and educating your customers – if they are shy to trying new dishes. It’s a little more labour-intensive to work with vegetables than to fill a plate with a piece of meat. There is more cutting and prepping involved, so it’s more detail-oriented than grilling a piece of meat, for example. There are a few obstacles but nothing that’s impossible, for sure.
From a customer point of view, they really want more produce on plates; it’s the customer who is looking for it. The only obstacle is variety, as people always want menus to change and to try specials. When you’re working seasonally, that can be difficult to do sometimes. In winter, for example, when squash and potatoes are plentiful, that could get a little dull, so you have to jazz it up.
Q. What would you say to UK chefs, foodservice, hospitality and/or catering operators to inspire them to incorporate and celebrate more produce in their dishes?
A. First of all, it’s very appealing to your customer, and economically it’s great because vegetables cost less than meat. Also, considering the footprint on the environment, it’s a plus to use less meat or less fish, and on a health level, it’s good for everybody across the board to eat more fruit and veg.
Overall, I think you need to be more aware of your impact as a restaurant or as a chef on issues such as food waste and supporting local farmers, etc. I don't think you can run a restaurant or a foodservice operation without thinking about that any more.
Q. Can you describe the best produce-based dishes you have eaten recently, where you tasted them, and why you liked them?
A. Well that’s fun, because I’ve been eating a lot of produce dishes lately! In Israel, there was a spread of vegetables on the breakfast buffet every morning, with chopped cucumbers, peppers, celery and tomatoes. We had a Mediterranean salad with our breakfast, which is such a great way to start the day. At lunch, there was another big display of food on the table, with whole roasted cauliflower heads, whole roasted eggplants [aubergine] — it was so delicious!
Recently, I ate at a restaurant in New York that served big ‘Hen of the Woods’ (or Maitake) mushrooms that were roasted whole and presented as the centre of the plate. It’s really dramatic in a restaurant to present veg that way, and it was so rich and juicy that it was like eating a piece of meat.
Big pieces of vegetables that are roasted and seasoned well are really succulent. For me, that is so satisfying, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything at all.
Q. What are your own favourite ways to cook and prepare vegetables?
A. You can coax a lot of flavour out of vegetables when you roast them. I like to get some caramelisation on the outside of a cauliflower, or a really nice seer on a mushroom because that changes the flavour. I like to take the simplest of vegetables, like broccoli or Brussels sprouts, and seer them in the pan until they become really toasty and nutty. If you play around and experiment, you can totally change the flavour profile just by using a different cooking technique.
Also, I like to think about the natural flavours of the product and bring those out. I think broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts — all those cruciferous vegetables — are really nutty, so they pare well with lemon or olive oil. Then you can add a nut or a seed to enhance that flavour further. Or, if I’m working with a sweet potato, which happens to be sweet, I might balance that with something spicy.
Q. From your Instagram profile, you clearly like to cook with and eat lots of colourful fresh produce! Which fresh fruits and vegetables are you enjoying the most at the moment, and why?
A.It’s late spring in New York, and I’m very much in tune with the market and the seasons. Right now, I’m obsessed with asparagus because it’s fresh. It’s so tender. I want to eat asparagus with my eggs in the morning or in salads. I want to eat it raw or with Parmesan cheese. I’m embracing it!
We also have Ramps, which are wild onions that are in season right now. They’re like a very small leek or a scallion [spring onion]. You can grill them and eat the whole thing; you can take off the bottom and pickle them; or you can make a purée or pesto with the leafy green tops. The very bright spring green vegetables are what I’m cooking with right now.
When it comes to eating root to tip, I think it’s very important to use every part of a vegetable and to not waste it. Beetroot, in particular, is a good example. For so many years, we just ate the beet part and the leaves were discarded, but the leaves are delicious. You can use every part of most vegetables and you get so much more in terms of the cooking choices.
Q. Do you know yet which recipes you will be demonstrating at The London Produce Show, and which fresh fruits and vegetables you will be showcasing?
A.We want to showcase some interesting produce items from the US and to demonstrate them in their best light. I have some recipes from my book,The Chef Next Door: A Pro Chef's Recipes for Fun, Fearless Home Cooking, that I would love to use, but depending on our produce selection I may have to create a new recipe or revise a recipe. There are so many options right now!
[Editor’s note: Since this interview, it has been confirmed that Amanda will create a classic American Waldorf salad, featuring California raisins, California walnuts, US-grown apples and US-grown red seedless table grapes.]
Q. As an accomplished chef having graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, what would you say have been the biggest influences on your career, especially when it comes to your use of fresh produce? How have your experiences had a lasting impact on how you view, prepare and use fruits and vegetables?
A. Early on in my career, I worked for a woman who really taught me about seasonality here in New York, as we were close to Union Square Greenmarket. After that, I had a great opportunity to work at a restaurant in Paris, where at the end of the day there would be absolutely nothing left in the refrigerator and every morning all the ingredients would come in fresh. We had whole fish, chicken with their feathers still on, entire carcasses of meat, and all types of vegetables. Everything would come in that day and nothing would be left over. That was fascinating to me.
Of course, this restaurant had the ability to write its menu every day. They would talk to their farmers, purveyors, butchers and hunters the night before or that morning, and they’d plan the menu around what they had. Obviously it was a high-end restaurant, and not everyone can do that, but the experience had a big impact on my thinking in terms of only using what you have in front of you.
Then in Italy, I learnt how the produce, dairy or fruit from a region will dictate its style of food. In northern Italy, the food is creamier and more cheese- and pasta-based, with lighter vegetables. While in southern Italy, where they grow capers, tomatoes, eggplants and spicy peppers, they have bright bowls of spicy and sharp flavours.
Across the different regions of Italy, the food is taken from what's grown in their backyard. That’s why southern Italian food tastes different to northern Italian food, while that tastes different from Roman food, which features a lot of artichokes because they are grown in that region. That was a big learning experience for me.
Q. Are you including more fresh produce in your dishes these days? Are you using any for the first time?
A. I’m eating more produce, definitely. Especially when I cook for myself at home, my meals are way more vegetable-based these days. I call myself a ‘closet vegetarian’ because I eat a lot of vegetables over heavier meat. I like the way it makes me feel.
Eating is part of my job whether I’m travelling, taking part in events or doing cooking shows, so when I’m at home, and I can control what I'm eating, I like to eat clean. I like to feel good and to have that opportunity to reset. That doesn’t mean less flavour, rather making vegetablesthe focus of the plate.
Q. Which are the next trending fresh fruit and vegetables, in your opinion?
A. Cauliflower has been trending for a while; from eating it whole to shredding it and calling it cauliflower rice, or using cauliflower in the crust of a pizza. After being in Israel, I think eggplant could have a big influence because it’s really satisfying. It can be eaten roasted on its own; it can add a really beautiful starchiness to a sauce, or it can be puréed.
I think eggplant is a vegetable that is under utilised, for sure. It's inexpensive, and we have it in great abundance, so I think the humble eggplant is one vegetable that will get used a lot more in the future.
Q. As a frequent judge on the US culinary game show Chopped, how difficult is it to judge the contestants when they are using baskets that are filled with some crazy produce items?
A. Judging the contestants is difficult no matter what products they are using, and it’s a really interesting learning experience for all of us — the chefs that compete, us as judges, and anyone that's a viewer — to learn about these ‘new’ products.
We source fruits and vegetables from around the world to surprise and stump the chefs. Many times, the judges have never seen certain products either, so we all learn the different ways to cook them. Whether it’s a chayote from Mexico or a durian fruit from south east Asia, the bitter melon that’s popular in Japanese cuisine, or the jackfruit, it’s a learning experience for everyone, and it gives us the inspiration to try something different.
Even if the contestants don’t know the vegetable, we can judge them on how they look at it, how they related it to a fruit or vegetable that they did know, and how they manipulated it.
Q. How would you approach a fruit or vegetable with which you’re not familiar personally?
A. If I had a mystery basket and there was a fruit or vegetable that I’ve never ever seen before, like, let’s say, a dragon fruit, I’d cut it open and taste it. That’s the only way. You’ve got to cut into it, shave off a piece, taste it and start to cook with it to see how it reacts. Eating, tasting and experimenting is the best way to learn about any fruit or vegetable.
Q. Likewise, you’ve competed in various Iron Chef competitions… how tough is it to not only go up against the best but to formulate a great dish on the spot?
A. As a chef, I work really well under pressure. Actually, I thrive in that environment! Chefs are all very competitive too, so the clock, the time frame and the mystery ingredients are great equalisers.
Once you’re under that kind of pressure, you have to perform, and you have to get creative very quickly. I like it and I find it very interesting. The first thing that pops into my head is usually what I go with. Also, as an experienced chef, I’m lucky to have many different recipes and experiences to pull from and apply.
Sometimes young chefs have a hard time in competitions because they don’t have a lot of experiences or much traveling to pull from. They may look at an eggplant and have never really used it before, whereas I’ve eaten eggplant in Sicily, Israel and France, and seen it used in various cuisines. Those memories are really helpful in competitions.
Q. Amanda, you always seem to be testing the water in food via your involvement in TV shows, chef competitions andrestaurants, etc. What could your next projects include?
A. I want to do something with a teaching element, maybe cooking classes. I love to teach, and I forget that people want to know more about the basics of cooking than the fancy recipes. For example, when I teach a cooking class, if I cut an onion and go straight to cooking it, people will ask me to go back so they can watch how I cut that onion.
It’s fun to teach, and that knowledge has to be passed down. Also, people like experiences. Rather than just going out to dinner, they want to experience being with the chef, and to be a part of the action.
Q. Finally, what do you see as the future of food, in general?
A. In relation to The London Produce Show, the future lies with educating people about where their food comes from, how to use ingredients, and how to cook. If we want people to eat more produce, like vegetables, they have to know how to cook them.
Equally, we need to teach people that cooking fresh food at home is better than ordering out or getting fast food. Yes, that might have to happen sometimes because you’re a busy family, but cooking with and cooking for your family — and sitting down at the table together — are all really important; for health purposes, for social interaction, and for creating experiences.
Kids love to cook so much, and they can be the catalyst for bringing the family together at the table. People are interested in food, but sometimes they just don’t know how to approach cooking it. We must teach people how to cook simply, and inspire them to get in the kitchen and to make some mistakes. People just need to try, and to not be afraid.
Amanda Freitag is a superstar in the American Culinary Scene. In fact, at home the Pundit scored major points in attracting Amanda to the show as the Junior Pundit, Primo, aka William, has been watching Chopped most of his life.
Produce is a big winner for chefs. We have done a lot of presentations at the Culinary Institute of America for professional chefs, and we have seen it first hand: Chefs are constantly berated – use less fat, less salt, less meat, etc. — but produce, beautiful, colorful, delicious fruits and vegetables — this is one area where chefs are urged to use more!
The challenge for the produce industry is how to transition the excitement over veg-centric cuisine, which one sees among the chefs at white tablecloth restaurants, to a broader consumer base.
For the typical dinner house, the consumer value is driven by the protein – how big and tasty is the steak. Although it is true that produce is less expensive than protein, it is also true that starch is cheaper than produce.
So for the great masses in America, the dish is often a big chunk of protein to establish value, a mountain of mashed potatoes to fill the plate and the stomach and two sprigs of asparagus and a cherry tomato for a little color.
Our challenge is to change the consumer value perception so chefs are free to be veg-centric.
We are honored to have Amanda Freitag, Chef, Food Network star and an inspirational spokesperson for American produce, as our Show Ambassador. In addition to doing a demonstration of her cooking, she will be participating in the Thought-Leader panel and cutting the ribbon to open the show.
Come to London, hear Amanda’s perspective and be a part of #CelebratingFresh.
You can check out the website here.
Register at this link.
Ask any questions here.
Maria Wieloch has graced many of our events with her presence. Some of her sessions have been memorialized in pieces such as these:
Global Trade Symposium Welcomes Maria Wieloch, Who Will Give Insights On Produce Category Management At ICA Sweden
2018 London Produce Show’s Thought-Leader Breakfast Features All-Star Cast of Industry Luminaries
Lessons from Sweden: Leading food retailer steps up sustainability initiatives
London Produce Show: ICA scoops international award for marketing produce to kids
When we heard she would join us at The London Produce Show and Conference, we asked Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to get a sneak preview of her presentation’s focus this year:
Senior Category Manager
Fruit, Vegetabes and Flowers
ICA Sverige AB
Q: It was wonderful seeing you in New York, and look forward to reuniting in London for LPS19. We’re honored you’ll be doing another educational session, especially since ICA Sweden won the International Award for Marketing Fresh Produce to Children at LPS18. [Jim Prevor presented the annual award to Maria with Tim Heddema of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in London, which sponsored the award. ICA was recognized for its imaginative initiative over the Halloween period, where it launched a line of monster-themed fruits and vegetables with notable sales results and great media buzz].
What’s happened subsequently? Could you give attendees a “sneak preview” of ICA’s latest initiatives to increase produce consumption and the challenges involved?
A: Thank you again for letting me be a part of The New York Produce Show and soon the LPS19! The honor is mine, and I look forward to the event. My talk will extend what I did in America. The crowd in London will be a little different, so it will be more European-focused.
I will talk about how you can increase sales by doing different campaigns that are limited in size. We have Halloween, of course, as our main example, but we also had a very nice effect with fruit sales tied to the football soccer cup in Europe, and we’ll be repeating the campaign this year, since we now have the women’s tournament in Europe.
I will also share what we’ve been doing with the Pink Ribbon campaign, which you have in the U.S. as well. We can increase sales by changing the design but also donate to a good cause; get people to choose the tomatoes that are in that design and in that donation instead of choosing another tomato, and by that you steer the sales.
Q: In that instance, does steering sales translate to increased sales or just redistribution of the items that consumers are purchasing? Are you able to measure short-term and long-term effects on produce department sales of your different campaigns?
A: That’s an excellent question and complicated to answer. I’ll discuss what we are doing at ICA, including holiday- and category-focused campaigns, and the varying impacts, show data and sales figures, and how the campaigns look in the stores. I always say if doesn’t happen in store, it doesn’t happen at all. We can have all these nice plans but when you come into the store, you need to see and feel the campaign that is going on.
Q: Do you find store-wide campaigns and holiday- and category-specific ones in the produce department can foster competing loyalties for consumer purchases?
A: With regards to campaigns, we have our central partners, so we collaborate with the Red Cross and the Cancer Society, and those are partners for ICA, not just fruit and veg. That’s something where we want to target fruit and veg, but it’s part of a bigger machinery, so the campaign is throughout the store. Especially for the Pink Ribbon campaign, the whole store is almost turning pink in the month of October.
When it comes to Halloween, that was more an idea to drive our single purpose, which is to increase produce consumption, because everything we’re doing now is related to that. There’s a lot to be done until we reach our 500 grams a day. It’s currently at 160 grams a day. We’re kind of stuck at 160 grams; it’s not really moving up as quick as we want it to.
We have central campaigns linked to bigger strategies, and produce-specific ones, more targeted to kids, finding ways to get them excited about fruit and veg and about trying new things. These may be short-term focusing on the here and now, but with underlying growth in consumption of fruit and vegetables. That’s why we do it.
Q: On the store-wide campaigns, how important a role does produce play? Do you find it harder when the campaign runs through the whole store?
A: Actually, produce is a driver in these campaigns because, first of all, we have very dedicated produce personnel. They like when there is something happening, so they kind of go all in.
We have 1,300 stores, so not everybody, but the great majority are really engaged, using the campaign material and the product to do nice expos. In many stores, the produce department is at the front of the store and sets the feel for the campaign.
When there is a contribution campaign, we normally outperform or exceed what we’re expected to sell, and when you look at the produce department, we are almost always in the top three departments having a bigger increase on the campaign compared to normal performances.
We have the advantage of having nice colors and nice fresh produce to work with, even though we often package these things, and bigger flexibility on merchandising than in meats and dairy, for instance.
Q: In what ways?
A: All our stores have these expo areas for seasonal items or products they want to showcase. It’s a very flexible area they can use in most of the departments to highlight some of the products in the campaign for a good effect, then incorporate the connected materials.
It may be a bit harder to do that in other departments where products are quite set in place. I find even if these other departments rebrand as part of the campaign, the product still has its normal positioning. There’s a bigger possibility with produce to build up your market area.
Q: How much influence do you have over the individual stores? Is there consistency across the chain? How does it work with store autonomy? Is everyone left to do their own thing? Is there a system in place to share ideas, compare what worked, what didn’t? Do you measure individual results, etc.?
A: All the ICA stores are privately owned. We’re not an integrated chain; we just serve them the possibilities and then they choose themselves how they want to use them. We supply them with an assortment, the conceptual idea, materials, but then in the end, it’s always up to the store owner and his department personnel to decide whether they want to go with it.
We have an experienced crew here to inspire the stores. It’s up to them to make it happen, but we have to do a good job and come up with the right thing. We get feedback, and if it doesn’t sell we take it out. I believe we cannot keep doing the wrong thing for more than one year without changing course.
We have a dynamic Facebook site, and department managers are connected to share information and post pictures of their departments to trigger each other, and say, ‘oh this is what I did for Halloween, and this is what I did...’ It’s a very nice community.
Q: Could you expound on why certain campaigns, like Halloween, take off, while others hit snags, and where you’ve gained valuable lessons for the future?
A: A very good example is where we have quite similar campaigns, yet the results are quite different. We started targeting kids with our Halloween campaign to great success. The next holiday facing the same issue with kids and sweets is Easter, a big holiday in Sweden. So, we said, ‘Let’s do the same thing we did for Halloween. Let’s do an inspiring design and try to get kids to have more vegetables in their Easter eggs from the Easter bunny. But when we tried that, for the first year it was not really kicking off. Ok, let’s do it another year, so we just did it this year.
Q: Did your persistence pay off? Why or why not?
A: Halloween is quite a new holiday in Sweden, so we took on that holiday and now kind of own it. Easter is a holiday that’s been here a very long time. Other food is a big part of the holiday, so it’s difficult to get the media attention we wanted. Even though we are turning to children, there is a lot of other produce that’s in season that must take its place in the store.
We concluded, ‘OK, we had a really good thing going here targeting kids and wanting to increase consumption, but there are too many other things competing in the campaign and other products in promotional leaflets for people’s Easter tables.’
We’re still thinking about how we can get kids to consume more fruit and veg, even though we couldn’t do it that way at Easter.
Q: What were the key products competing for attention in your kid-targeted Easter campaign? Were these produce items?
A: In the produce section, there are a lot of things people want to have on their Easter table that we need to allocate space for, like asparagus, for instance. You have a lot of cooking greens, because it’s a big cooking holiday in Sweden, a lot of herbs, like dill and chives, and onions. It’s also a new season in Europe, the beginning of the new harvest, where we sell items such as whole carrots with the green tops still on.
Q: Well, carrots (albeit kid-sized, minus the green tops), seem apropos with bunnies for an Easter promotion targeting children.
A: Yes, we have the mini carrots, and we did those, but it’s also hard to admit, we lost the battle for candy on this one, because it’s such a strong candy holiday also, like Halloween, but with Halloween, it’s only candy.
Then with Easter you have other foods that are big. Lamb is really big at Easter time, herring as well. It’s a food holiday where the kids eat sweets. We’re just thinking whether we should do a third year or if we should say it didn’t work out and move on.
Q: When you do your analysis, how does it work? What measurements do you undertake to determine if something’s effective or whether to do it again?
A: It’s hard to analyze… when we look at sales we’ll see quite good sales, because people still have to buy the produce that we rebranded, but maybe that’s not the main purpose we want to achieve. We want to actually increase the consumption and change the buying and eating patterns so the parents give their children more fruit and veg and less candy.
We see the engagement of the personnel in the stores when doing expos on Halloween. When we compare that to doing expos for Easter, there’s a huge difference. Just 10 to 15 stores posted on Facebook with expos of the Easter assortment, whereas with Halloween you have hundreds of pictures.
Q: What about the hard numbers?
A: We monitored the Facebook site, but we also get feedback from stores and personnel were saying this is not working. We had a good dialogue. You can always play with numbers and maybe get them to say what you want them to. It’s important when looking at results to understand the real underlying reasons for the increase. That’s why we rely on our relationships with store personnel. We listen to what they say because they are with the customers every day.
They are saying it’s a good cause, but it doesn’t really get the attention during this period; we really have to focus on the good volume items, especially because Easter is a huge holiday. They don’t have the ability to do designs like they do on Halloween. They just need to focus on getting their everyday volume products through.
Q: What is your plan going forward? Do you have other ideas in the pipeline?
A: We’re just now launching a campaign on stone fruit. We have our campaign assortment, which I’ll be talking about. We’re also doing something called an uplift, where we take a whole category and we really do a deep dive in the category — we’ve done it with citrus, apples and tomatoes so far.
We do product development, where we see how every product performs. And then we do a redesign and a communication package as well. And we’ve just done that for stone fruit. The whole stone fruit uplift is in our private label.
We did that all last year with citrus, and we’re now launching the uplift again with stone fruit, so I’ll be sharing that as well. Stone fruit is a big season coming up. In the summer time, you have stone fruit and melons as the weather heats up.
We see potential. We believe there is potential in increasing sales in stone fruit focused on nectarines and immense varieties of different apricots, donut size peaches, plums... if we want to increase consumption, we need to create excitement and change the perception of stone fruit.
Q: It’s interesting that you talk about changing consumer perceptions of a category... Is this part of a broader strategy to recalibrate consumer mindsets about produce?
A: It’s like doing a campaign but longer for a whole season, so we have a new design harmonizing all stone fruit, so you can recognize all stone fruit throughout the department. Also, it’s appealing to do expos when the packaging is in the same coloring, with integrated signs and so on.
We’re both broadening the product range, taking in some new items, and packaging it in a smart way, so it’s not just a nectarine, but what kind of a nectarine are you eating, what kind of apricot are you eating. This enables nice expos that make the department look good. We also provide a communication package with recipes and information on the different stone fruit that sits next to the products, and is going to be on our website, stone fruit school, for consumers who are really going all in.
Q: Are you doing any types of cross-merchandising?
A: No cross-merchandising. No, departments are really their own entities. The fruit and veg department rarely takes something from another department. That’s not in the business model unfortunately. That’s why recipes are really important because they provide another way of cross-merchandising, and getting customers interested in purchasing more items. If you have a recipe, of course, you have other food in the recipe, which inspires people to use stone fruit as part of that.
We need to show consumers ways to be more versatile in how stone fruit is consumed, as more than a stand-alone snack. You can have it in salads, on the barbeque, you can have it with cheese, burgers... getting consumption up by broadening the ways of using that fruit. Also, getting consumers to try different types of stone fruit, and discover the different tastes, to help move consumers towards their consumption of 500 grams a day.
We had a smaller fair for stone fruit, and I can show photos. It takes time to develop a concept like this, so this has been a strong focus for us, to do a good package now for the stores.
Q: Could we delve further into the Halloween campaign. What were the key factors that made it successful, contrasting the Easter campaign. And have you been able to sustain or grow the sales momentum of the first year? You had noted the campaign helped to notch an eight percent year-on-year increase in total produce sales over the period. How has the Halloween campaign evolved? What does the data reflect?
A: We had a good boost of sales with Halloween. It’s a stand-alone holiday in Sweden, it’s not connected to Thanksgiving or anything, compared to Easter. It leads its own life. Easter is a big established calendar holiday already. People have an Easter break with three days or so off work, and a lot connected to that. The assortment has bigger competition from other produce that is not in the concept, and other categories in food.
That’s the main reason it couldn’t get the attention it deserved. It’s not the fault of the people in the store because they had a lot of volume of produce they had to focus on, instead of moving a nice expo for the kids. That’s the learning.
For Halloween, we’ve done it two years only, so I think it’s difficult to draw out much on the data. The first year was a great success, and we met those figures for the next year in sales, and it’s still driving sales. We do a lot of marketing locally and combine that with social media. There’s more focus on central marketing and from store organizations. And we did some new produce in the campaign and now are currently evaluating the assortment for next year. We want to have a new monster every year. I think we will keep 80 percent of the products in the Halloween line, but we want to have a launch of a new monster or other things to keep the campaign fresh.
Q: On the product side, some of your fun, monster-themed products, such as Dracula hearts (pre-boiled beetroot), and Zombie brain (cauliflower), don’t seem particularly kid-friendly from a taste standpoint, especially during a candy-infused holiday (trick or treat?)! Do you find Swedish kids actually eat those? Are you looking to build the line with fruits and vegetables that kids typically prefer, or intentionally try to push them out of their comfort zone to try new things?
A: For the first year, it was a big trial and we were just trying to find things that looked a bit Halloweenish or scary. I know kids are not fond of beetroot and cauliflower, but we could do something fun with it. It’s a combination of a creative idea and trying to find something that kids like, so for next year we increased the number of fruits because we know kids like fruit, but at the same time we want to have vegetables in the campaign and promote the case to eat more vegetables and try new things. And doing it in a playful manner, to take Spider Bodies (blue potatoes) and make blue mashed potatoes. Getting kids to try new things by attracting them.
Q: Do you see prolonged effects of the Halloween campaign period sales jump spill over during the rest of the year? Does it generate excitement in the produce department after the campaign ends or perhaps create interest in items played up in the campaign? I imagine that’s challenging to measure due to the many variables involved...
A: That is difficult to measure unfortunately. What we want to see based on the studies is an increase in consumption especially of items that kids need to consume. That’s our main goal. The consumption is too low. I think this is a long-term commitment we need to do. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s hard to change consumer behavior and consumption patterns. Of course, we see continued growth in sales, but I can’t necessarily attribute that to the campaign. I can’t really give that correlation.
Q: It could overlap with trends related to healthier eating and other factors...?
A: Exactly. It is something that helps promote these trends, but I cannot give the credit to the campaign. This is an overall society issue, and we must do everything we can to give it attention and find ways to get more fruits and vegetables in kids’ diets.
It’s a long-term effort. It takes time to get the consumption to rise, too long in my opinion, but we’re doing everything we can.
Q: We’ve discussed challenges of changing eating habits, and you’ve been keen to reach children (and their palates) at early stages of development. Could you share some of your thoughts here?
A: What we see, which is quite frightening, is the preference for taste is developed at a very early age. We need kids to start eating different types of fruits and vegetables. Some scientific studies say as early as the age of two, preferences for tastes are being shaped; there’s a critical window between ages two and five. I’m not saying that after that it’s impossible, but if we can get kids at an early age to taste broccoli and cauliflower —and the different vegetables that are not sweet — and have them eating more vegetables at an early age, that makes it easier down the road.
That’s why in our Halloween campaign, we had fruit, which is easier, but we also had the vegetables like beetroot and cauliflower, which you might not think are for kids. We try to do anything to intrigue the younger generation and also to get the word out to the parents that you need to start at an early age to get your kids’ taste buds accustomed to these tastes.
Q: Furthering our discussion of short-term and long-term impacts of different campaigns… Often in a category promotional campaign, such as citrus or stone fruit, it increases sales of that category, but it doesn’t necessarily boost overall department sales, but just redistributes sales numbers from one category to another. For instance, the consumer picks stone fruit instead of grapes. It sounds like your strategy is to design category campaigns that stimulate broader category sales as well as those of the whole department...
A: That’s our firm belief, and what we want to do. Every fruit has its own characteristics and taste and what you can use it for, and a reason to add one more thing to the basket. We want to broaden people’s knowledge about fruit. It shouldn’t be apple or nectarine, but apple and nectarine.
Also, it’s about expanding the assortment and bringing new products that are unfamiliar to Swedish consumers. We know from earlier campaigns like citrus, where we sell by variety and name, when people find a new variety they like, they buy that one and also buy the other one they know. It’s the same with apples… you buy specific varieties, you don’t just buy a bunch of apples.
This is what we want to do with stone fruit as well. There’s the big apricot and the small plum, and the normal nectarine. It’s another kind of fruit to consume, so it’s about adding to the basket. This is driving value when you do this, because you can add value products, but you also drive uplift volume.
We don’t see cannibalization (I think that’s what you’re asking). It’s building the whole fruit category. Of course, it drives value more in the category you’re focusing on, but we don’t see decreases in the other categories, if it doesn’t have another explanation.
Q: Like what?
A: For example, every other year, pears are more expensive because one year you have a good harvest and another year a supply issue increased the cost, so it’s because of a price issue, not because of the category campaign.
This campaign has a big communication package. Educating the consumer is very important. We have stone fruit schools in the stores, and on our website, recipes really show the versatility of the product, so it’s not just a snacking product. That’s increasing sales, because you see it can be used in cooking, which you may never have thought of before.
Q: Are there in-store demos and tastings?
A: That’s up to each store… we encourage them to do that because we have new products we want consumers to taste, but it’s not something we organize centrally. Each store is its own entity, but the produce people are really good salesmen and saleswomen, and they understand the value of doing demos or slicing up the fruit for consumers to try.
Q: One other thing I wanted to follow up on with the more general store-wide campaigns, where you collaborate with organizations like the Red Cross and the Cancer Society. With the Pink Ribbon campaign, for instance, do you look to connect the health benefits of produce? In the U.S., there are strict regulations on product health claims, which retailers and suppliers must follow.
A: When we look at other assortments involved in the campaign, we are the main driver because a good diet is clearly linked to reducing the risk of cancer. We as a retailer can’t make too many claims in this area, but when we have collaborations with cancer organizations, they do a lot on their side with science and research saying that produce is important.
And I think our department has by far the most SKUs connected with this campaign than any other department in the store. All the departments in the store do a really good job, but when you walk into the produce department and see the design and the complementary color assortment, you can really see a big part of the campaign is done in our department. We try our best to connect healthy eating with less red meat and more fruit and veg, and while we’re restricted on what we can say as a retailer, the cancer association can do a lot as a partner, and they really do.
Q: Another issue on tap at the London Produce Show is the consumer shift to plant-based diets. England Marketing will be doing a seminar addressing the significant changes. During my preview interview with Jan England, she argues the fresh produce industry should be taking a more proactive role to capitalize on the trend...
You’ve talked about Meatless Mondays in Sweden. A lot of these “meatless” products, such as the impossible burger, are filled with soy and beans, rather than fresh produce ingredients. Is this something you’re interested in?
A: Yes, we see this transition in our company as well, and we do a lot of things in vegan. That’s another department, but I’m in a project to closely monitor plant-based eating. We cannot sell these kinds of products in our department, but we also know by research, if you’re a vegan, the fresh produce department is very important. So, when you get these consumers in the store, what else are they consuming with that soy burger? Also, not everybody is wanting a protein substitute with lettuce and tomato. People are exploring new ways of eating vegetarian foods, where fresh produce is the main ingredient.
We’re engaged in the conversation and acknowledge there’s a shift to plant-based diets, which is important to our category as well, and we need to understand how this change in consumption effects the produce department. What are the big produce items for vegans and how can we substitute meat proteins with raw produce and make an aubergine (eggplant) burger or a shitake burger instead. So, we’re in the discussion, although maybe we’re not in the lead because it’s not our department. That session on plant-based diets and the potential for produce should be very interesting.
Q: Attendees certainly have much to look forward to...!
Maria’s work is interesting in part because she can’t just dictate down a corporate structure; she has to offer promotions that her individual store owners find useful and profitable.
So she wrestles not just with what kind of promotion is eye-catching, but with what will produce results.
This means struggling with questions such as whether a burst in current sales steals from another time period, the long term impact of children’s consumption patterns and whether or not a focus on one fruit is just swapping sales from another.
Maria will both be presenting a seminar session during the trade show on June 6 at 12:45 — titled, Raising Consumption: Promoting Fruit & Veg During Holiday Periods — and participating in our Perishable Pundit Thought-Leader Panel, so please join us as Maria shares lessons from retailing in Sweden.
You can check out the website here.