Pies and Prenuptials

It’s that time of year again when we’re asked by Hallmark to love our partners just a little bit more than any other day of the year – Valentine’s Day.  There’s a lot of scepticism around this date in the diary as people ask ‘why do we need just one day to prove our love for someone?’ I agree with this sentiment but I do believe that the holder of this belief is thinking more about their wallet than their partner.

Having said that I am a Valentine’s Day fan. We all lead busy lives and whilst we should exhibit our love on a daily basis I think that if we pause from the chaos that life can bring and enjoy some good food with the person we love then that’s a good thing. Mrs Munkee and I don’t buy into the commercialism of Valentine’s Day but we always take the opportunity for a nice meal and exchange cards and gifts.

Don’t worry, I haven’t gone soft…this is still a foodie blog but I’ve foraged the internet for any interesting, food-based love stories. I have chosen to avoid the traditional trap of creating a long list of food aphrodisiacs but instead found something a little different…

This story hails from sunny Accrington in deepest Lancashire, England. The opening line of the report from the Accrington Observer tells you pretty much everything you need to know: ‘guests chomped their way through hundreds of pies at the wedding of Jenna Wallis and Stephen Tobin’ (2015).

You read it right…this Northern couple had a pie wedding – bloody brilliant! You might be forgiven for asking ‘how has he got away with that one?’ It’s every northern blokes’ dream right? Well actually this was Jenna’s dream wedding! The addition of Hollands Pies to the happiest day of her life captured the essence of where Jenna grew up with the beautiful smell emanating through the town of Baxenden.

Pies were so important to this couples’ day that they arranged for part of their honeymoon to include a tour of the Hollands Pie Factory!

I think this is a fantastic example of how love and food go hand-in-hand. Food is very emotive and it is usually a shared sensory experience which makes it synonymous with relationships. So whether you believe in St Valentine or not: turn of the TV, put some John Legend on Spotify, turn the lights down low and share a great Food Adventure with the one you love.

Details: http://www.accringtonobserver.co.uk/news/happy-couple-say-pie-do-9967500


Notes from the other side from the desk…

Part 3: Getting to ‘Yes’!

I have had the pleasure of being a Retail Food Buyer for two years in the Convenience sector in the UK. As a result of the global financial downturn I noticed a dramatic difference in the size of businesses that were coming to see me; the big boys got bigger, the small got smaller and more niche and the middle got squeezed out. This meant that I had the pleasure of meeting with and, in some cases, working with some very young businesses and I really felt like part of their journey. I must admit some of them did a great job, others…not so much! So I thought I’d pull together a short series of blogs based on my experience and, if you’re a young business wanting to crack mainstream retail, I hope this might be a useful read.

This instalment of my musings focuses on getting to ‘yes’.
So you’ve managed to get your meeting (tick), you’ve understood the business you’re dealing with (tick), you’ve been thorough and appropriate with your preparation (tick) and you’re as confident as you will ever be (tick tick); is that job done? Nope! Buyers can be fickle, they can be emotional, they can be irrational, they can be disorganised and they can be lazy because they’re all just people. Interactions with a retail buyer can be something that’s shrouded in mystery and potentially demoralizing and demotivating. What I want to do with this post is to offer a peek behind the curtain into the way I would approach a pitch from an artisan supplier, what questions I would ask myself and what my objectives were.
Firstly, and most importantly, I want to try and explain, succinctly, what I was aiming to achieve as a buyer. Put simply, I was aiming to drive as much sales value and profit through the space I had available to me. It’s not rocket science. Extra space meant extra investment, which I didn’t want to spend. So I had to ‘sweat the fixture’ and manage my range to deliver consistently improving profits to make that metre of space more valuable to my business each year. So what sort of things did I need to consider?
Range: was I confident that I offered the right range to cover all the essentials and offer my shoppers something different to ensure that they were loyal to my shops? Unfortunately, if a shopper only buys Heinz Ketchup and I don’t stock it, they will leave to shop somewhere else. So there were some products that I had to stock. I also wanted to excite people with my range and inspire them to spend more money; for example a really great curry sauce could inspire someone to cook a curry tonight and then lead them to also buy a packet of rice, poppadoms, raita, mango chutney, onions, cream, naan breads and some chicken. In that example a £2 jar of curry sauce has just inspired a £15 spend – winning!
Price: this was very important but something that buyers and suppliers can get too easily hung up on. All I needed was the confidence that I wouldn’t be embarrassed by what I saw in the market place and that it would fit within my current range hierarchy. Not all buyers know what their competitors are doing on price but you can be sure if you propose something they’re not familiar with they will check! I also needed to see a strong promotional package. I had seen a number of artisan producers who believed that their product shouldn’t be promoted and it will sell at full value from shelf. It might do at a farm shop but not in mainstream retail. For artisan products, promotions aren’t about trashing prices, they’re about increasing awareness and driving trial. Shoppers are now more savvy than ever but if you can tempt them they’re also adventurous. A shopper is much more likely to try something new if they feel they’re getting more value for money.
Something different: whilst it is important to look sideways at what your competitors are doing, it’s also good to look at what they’re not doing. To be best-in-class I wanted to try new things to give my shoppers something different that wasn’t available anywhere else so, in theory, they’d be loyal shoppers. This ‘something different’ could be anything as simple as a different way of merchandising to a different range or something completely off the wall.
That’s a really superficial, top line view of what I was looking to achieve. However the easiest answer for a buyer is ‘no’; it involves less paperwork, less risk of failure and less cost in clearance. So, how do you make ‘yes’ the easy answer? Well that’s for another blog and another day.
Northern Munkee.

Notes from the other side of the desk…

Part 2: Now you’ve got my attention, what are you going to do with it?
I have had the pleasure of being a Retail Food Buyer for two years in the Convenience sector in the UK. As a result of the global financial downturn I noticed a dramatic difference in the size of businesses that were coming to see me; the big boys got bigger, the small got smaller and more niche and the middle got squeezed out. This meant that I had the pleasure of meeting with and, in some cases, working with some very young businesses and I really felt like part of their journey. I must admit some of them did a great job, others…not so much! So I thought I’d pull together a short series of blogs based on my experience and, if you’re a young business wanting to crack mainstream retail, I hope this might be a useful read.
This next section focuses in on what to do once you’ve got that coveted appointment. I asserted in my last post that getting the appointment is one of the hardest aspects of the sell, and it is, so now you have the opportunity to get in front of a decision maker make the most of it. Let your passion and enthusiasm for your business and products sell.
The best advice I can give anyone entering any sales pitch at any level is – prepare! Nobody can walk into a meeting without preparing and expect the best potential result, I don’t care who you are or how experienced you are if you fail to prepare…etc! The most vital element of your preparation is working to understand the customer you’re going to see. Do whatever you need to do to get to know more about how they operate, who their customers are, what their category currently looks like and what you believe you’ll add to their category. Remember any buyer is incredibly busy and the easiest response for them to give is ‘no’ because that involves no additional work. Listing your products involves a lot of work for them; in paperwork, selling into the business and the risk involved in taking a punt. A mis-directed pitch can be very frustrating. I recall one start-up business coming to see me with a fantastic Coconut Oil brand, really high quality stuff. The sales person knew the product and the process inside out, but when it came to the commercials he was way off the mark. His product would have been the most expensive on my fixture by at least £5 and there’s just no way it would sell. When I asked who else he’d presented to he said I was the first and only meeting he had. Unfortunately this type of product wouldn’t have appealed to my customers and wouldn’t have worked. Knowing the market well, I recommended some target accounts for him where the retailers could charge the prices he was asking for; and off he went!
So now you know a bit more about who you’re going to see what do you say when you get there? In terms of your pitch I’d say just keep it simple. Make sure you know your products, the competition and your plans well. Let your food do the talking. It speaks volumes when a sales person has that much confidence in their product that they are happy let it sell itself. The most impressive pitch I witnessed was from a premium popcorn business who brought in their samples and samples from all their competitors. They were that confident that their food was superior – and it was!
You need to understand what makes you different. To give an example I used to see a lot of artisan crisp businesses who would bring their hand cooked, quirky-flavoured food in matte packaging to me. They all tasted and looked fantastic but for me, they were all the same. SO when I’d ask ‘What makes you different?’ the answer never fully convinced me. I used to hear, ‘it’s the potatoes we use’ or ‘it’s the heritage of our family’ or ‘we only use British flavours’; but how does a shopper know this when their stood at a shelf for no more than 15 seconds selecting what snack will go well with tonight’s episode of Peep Show? So before you break into song about your USP make sure it’s something tangible, saleable and something that is clearly communicated on the packaging. It’s easy to sell your food at a festival when you can speak directly to a shopper but when it’s sat there looking lonely on a shelf next to some FMCG giants it’s a completely different ball game.
Finally, ask a LOT of questions. It doesn’t matter how much research you do beforehand you don’t uncover a business need unless the words come out of the decision maker’s mouth. I’ve sat in many sales pitch where I’ve been presented at and believe me I was BORED! Engage with the buyer and they’ll be more likely to open up. As a rough rule of thumb the buyer should be talking 80% of the time because you’re asking the right questions. Treat them as the category expert and glean as much information from them as you can. Opportunities come and go so quickly in retail that if you’re not there and not asking the right questions you’ll miss them.
My final advice may be a little confusing, so I’ll try to explain it succinctly: don’t damage your brand but don’t let your pride beat you. I’ve had too many presentations from small businesses that have been fantastic and then the commercials let them down when they say things like ‘I know this product sells at this price therefore I won’t give it to you for any less’. Well great – I know what price point works in my business and what doesn’t. If you’re confident that working with this particular customer is the right thing to do then you may have to compromise on price or find a creative way to appease the buyer (offer sampling, free stock trial, marketing support). Contrastingly if you’re not confident that this customer is the right one to work with for your brand don’t do anything that will damage the name you’ve built. It’s all well and good saying this now but in the heat of the moment I’ve seen great businesses crack under negotiation to the detriment of their business. So it’s worthwhile playing these scenarios through before you go in and sticking to your conviction.
The next edition in this series will look at what happens next: the negotiation and getting to yes!
Northern Munkee

Notes from the other side of the desk…

Part 1: Get My Attention!
I have had the pleasure of being a Retail Food Buyer for two years in the Convenience sector in the UK. As a result of the global financial downturn I noticed a dramatic difference in the size of businesses that were coming to see me; the big boys got bigger, the small got smaller and more niche and the middle got squeezed out. This meant that I had the pleasure of meeting with and, in some cases, working with some very young businesses and I really felt like part of their journey. I must admit some of them did a great job, others…not so much! So I thought I’d pull together a short series of blogs based on my experience and, if you’re a young business wanting to crack mainstream retail, I hope this might be a useful read.
My first subject is all about engaging with the buyer, if you can crack this part you’re probably 50% of the way to getting a listing; but for that reason it’s not easy.
First thing’s first, do your research and find out who the right person is. Do a Google search, a LinkedIn search or ask around. Don’t just send it ‘FAO The Grocery Buyer’. I wouldn’t see anyone that couldn’t be bothered to do a little research. If you’re charming or persistent enough you might even get a receptionist or colleague to give away a name.
Buyers are all very busy, they don’t like having their time wasted. Grab their attention with your product. If you believe in what you’re selling then let it do the selling. Send in a smartly presented sample box with a one-pager on why I should give you 30mins of my time and a way to contact you.
Quickly follow this up with an email or a phone call but don’t leave it too long. My desk was always littered with samples and if it wasn’t important to me at the time I received it it was going to be less important when it goes out of date.
Finally: be appropriate. Understand what this buyer’s workload is like and how up their agenda you are likely to be. Once you make contact offer a wide range of dates to meet so they can be very selective.
Don’t give up the chase. It’s a fine line between being effective and bloody annoying but I remember one new supplier in particular would persistently call me each week and send more samples in every other week. I didn’t particularly want to see him but he wore me down and I agreed to meet him. When we met he was brilliant and I listed four lines there and then. So although I felt he was annoying he got the result he set out to achieve.
I can’t emphasize how difficult this part of the sales call is and therefore it’s really important to have a structured and well thought out approach. It’s really easy for a buyer to ignore an email, screen a phone call or just say no. Make them feel like their missing out and you’re going to make their decision a really easy one when you get there.
Northern Munkee

Following ‘The Crowd’…

Crowd funding is a phenomenon that’s taking the UK and the world by storm with more and more start-up food and drink businesses turning to ‘the Crowd’ to realise their growth ambitions. ‘But why now?’ I hear you ask; well let me attempt to explain my view on this.

Since the financial crash the UK food and drink market has presented two opportunities: one of consolidation and one of niche, reactionary opportunities. The consolidation end of the spectrum has seen the likes of Warren Buffet merge huge global enterprises increase the power held by market-leading business. This, in turn, has made big companies less agile and less able to react to emerging market trends which has allowed start-up companies to get a foothold in retail and meet the needs of the fickle consumer. This opportunity wouldn’t have been afforded to emerging businesses little over ten years ago as they would have been strategically strangled off supermarket fixtures by category powerhouses. One example of this can be seen in the Crisps and Snacks category in the UK with the rise of the premium popcorn sub-category led by Propercorn. Traditionally Walkers would have seen off the challenge to their market share in bullish fashion but the market shift has meant that the Leicester-based manufacturer had kept hold of their core products tightly and allowed Propercorn to own a sub-category and space on shelf. So the global financial shift has brought about more opportunities for fledgling businesses to flourish but why has crowd funding proven such a popular method of fuelling growth?

I believe that this method of fund raising offers more benefits to the entrepreneur and business than just hard cash. Crowd funding acts as a phenomenal marketing tool and a great way to get a large number of people to see your brand and business and have a vested interest in how you perform. Unlike Angel Investment, it provides a brilliant ‘shaggy dog’ story to talk to the press about if you’re successful. Unlike a bank loan, ‘the Crowd’ offers a cost-effective way of raising capital without it heavily impacting your bottom line. Finally, I believe crowd funding to be a success because it allows your Average Joe to feel like Duncan Bannatyne and play at Dragon’s Den without having to give away £200k of your children’s inheritance.

Crowd funding has raised over £115M in the UK in the last five years alone and is only set to increase as more start-up businesses exploit the multiple benefits it holds for them. There are some great opportunities for Food Adventurers to further explore their passion and get involved with a young business and potentially find the next Propercorn!

Here is just a couple of great Northern food and drink businesses that I’ve found who have chosen to turn to ‘the Crowd’ to further their journey:




Northern Munkee

Sultanas, currants or rasins. What’s the deal?

I was asked a question by one of the catering students I was working with in Bruges about Cadbury’s decision to change the recipe of their Fruit and Nut bars, after the student had read an article in The Sun.

‘Sultanas, currants or raisins. What’s the deal?’ inquired the student.

‘Fair point’, I thought, but there has to be something in it if a business like Cadbury’s has made this change; and if disgruntled chocoholics have brought it to the attention of the press.

This was actually something that I covered in January for The BBC documentary, Rip Off Britain saying that the bulk industry will add more fruit, nuts and other inclusions to keep their price down as the cocoa commodity price continues to rise.

This is still my answer to such a question but this led me to investigate further and I discovered that sultanas contain less sugar. Could this be a deliberate ploy to reduce the sugar content in their bars following government pressure and the so-called ‘sugar tax’?

So what is the difference between the three fruits? I went shopping to Waitrose to find out exactly…

Raisins = £3.40 kg

Dried white Moscatel grapes resulting in a dark, dried fruit and like a currant, dense in texture and bursting with sweet flavour. A raisin can (unlike currants) soak up other flavours, which is why its popular to soak raisins in flavoured alcohols such as Amaretto or brandy, before using in cooking. The main producers of the Muscatel are the USA, Turkey, Greece and Australia
• per 30g serving
Per Portion
Energy 373kj
Fat 0.4 g
Saturates 0.2 g
Sugars 69.3 g
Salt 0.02

Sultanas = £3.40 kg

A sultana is a dried white grape but this time, coming from seedless varieties of grape.Usually Thompson Seedless variety. Sultanas are golden in colour and tend to be much plumper, sweeter and juicier than other raisins. Sultanas will absorb other flavours so are good for soaking (Sultanas may have been bleached to make them lighter in colour than raisins.) sultanas are sometimes dried with vegetable oil and acid. Turkey is the main producer of sultanas
per 30g serving
Per Portion
Energy 377kj
Fat 0.1 g
Saturates 0.0 g
Sugars 20.8 g
Salt trace

Currants = £3.40 kg

Dried Black Corinth (also known as Zante) grapes the name currant comes from the ancient city of ‘Corinth’ Other names for currants are Zante currants, Corinth raisins, or Corinthian raisins,
per 30g serving
Per Portion
Energy 1220kj
Fat 0.4 g
Saturates 0.1 g
Sugars 67.7.8 g
Salt 0.04

Prices Based on 5th November 2015 Waitrose

So to fully answer that student’s query:

Cadbury’s may be killing two birds with one, small, sultana-shaped stone. The inclusion of sultanas in their bars decreases their cost of goods because the cocoa price is outweighing the soft fruit price. This move also curries favour with government bodies demonstrating a tangible reduction in salt and sugars, which, in today’s climate, is a big deal. In my opinion Cadbury’s have made a very shrewd move here which decreases their costs, improves health credentials and makes little or no difference to the taste. Well played sirs.

Northern Munkee