Food Adventures in Harrogate…

Foodies Festival: Day 2

So today’s Foodies blog is focussing on beautiful food products that I’ve found on my adventures in North Yorkshire.

As I was searching the colourful aisles of the Festival I turned a corner and the light that filled the room was obscured. I looked up to see what was shrouding the room and it was the imposing figure of a South African, ex-Bull and fellow Food Adventurer; and so my first food find is a carnivore’s dream…Limpopo Biltong! As an ex-rugby player I love meat snacks; they’re a great source of protein, easily accessible and great tasting. However, be warned: not all biltong is good biltong!

The stand looked phenomenal there were cured meats hanging from every possible space and the smell was incredible. Now, as I said, I do like my biltong and I know a little about it having looked after the category as a Retail Buyer. So, armed with a little knowledge and a lot of enthusiasm, I engaged with the man mountain. He boasted a plethora of flavour combinations including garlic, fiery chilli, biltong scotch eggs, biltong cheese and minced biltong. I was loving it. I opted for the Butcher’s Choice variety and ordered a £5 portion. That wasn’t the end of my interaction though as I was asked, ‘How do you like your biltong? The wetter the better?’ Yes, winner! For me biltong should be soft and melt in the mouth like a good carpaccio of beef.

So, did it deliver? Yes it bloody did! Even though I’m not in training any more I will definitely be snacking on Francois Van Der Zee’s biltong.

My other find of the day was a sweet delight from north of the border: a Maple and Pecan Brownie from Wood’s Brownie Co. Again I was drawn in by the engaging purveyor with his Scotch charm and quirky Pork Pie Hat! It was towards the end of the day and he’d clearly done a good trade as the selection was a little more limited than it would have been a few hours earlier; however, I was still in awe. The stand had a real craft kitchen feel and the packaging was perfectly on trend. Boxed and embossed and adding real value to an already great product.

I managed to wait until I got home to devour my brownie so I could enjoy it with a nice medium roast Latin American coffee – it was worth the wait. The brownie was exactly as it should be: crisp on top and moist throughout. The maple syrup added a creamy richness to the indulgent dark chocolate and the snap of the pecans gave a real texture difference on the eat. Brownie brilliance!

Finally, I just need to rate my lunch. Today’s lunch was provided by the guys at the aptly named ‘World Food’. I went for, what I thought was, a basic chicken wrap; how wrong was I! The wrap was a beautiful behemoth of world-food goodness. It was huge. Imagine the scene…one large naan bread, a smearing of hummus, a mountain of grated carrot, a handful of pickled turnip, a dash of sun blushed tomatoes, a pinch of coriander and a sprinkling of mint topped off with a couple of handfuls of shredded chicken and a network of garlic mayonnaise lines – boom! All this for £8 too, winner!

Roll on the final day in Harrogate.

Northern Munkee.

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Food Adventures in Harrogate…

Foodies Festival: Day 1
I’ve been to a few Foodies Festivals over the last couple of years and I must say, I love them! They’re a fantastic day out whether you want to get boozy with the boys, take the Mrs for a different date day or just go and gorge with the family. For me as a Food Buyer it was great for foraging and seeking out local hidden gems. In fact I listed no less than four new suppliers after seeking them out at Foodies Festivals, for me it gave my stores and customers a point of difference to be proud of.
This month’s festive Foodies Festivals is in one of my favourite spots in Yorkshire, Harrogate. Unusually for a Foodies this was an indoor affair but Harrogate is the perfect town for it with the world-famous Betty’s Tea Shop sat proudly at the top of the hill. I decided I was going to pace myself at it’s a three day festival and spend some time at the chefs theatre. There were some fantastic, innovative and interesting chefs on show and I just want to share my highlights.
Firstly, Murray Wilson from Norse in Ripley. Now I must admit, I’d never heard of their restaurant but Rachel Green raved about them in her role as compere  so I listened eagerly. He was fantastic! I learnt more about Scandinavia in that 45mins than I have in 8hrs assembling a Malm bedside table! My next highlight was Rachel Green herself who was showing off her fabulous skills as the ‘canapé Queen’…I’m definitely going to try the mini frittatas this Christmas. The exuberant chef kept the audience engaged and enthralled throughout with her quick wit, handy tricks of the trade and beautiful food – well worth a watch if you’re there on Saturday.
My final highlight from the theatre was a demonstration by Master Chocolatier David Greenwood-Haigh because it was perfect for a Food Adventurer. David cooked two indulgent savoury dishes using chocolate as an ingredient: Yorkshire venison with a rosti and a rich chocolate sauce and a white chocolate and crab risotto. Chocolate has increased in popularity amongst Foodies over the last few years with provenance becoming increasingly important. David paired two fantastically simple dishes with two complimentary chocolates and walked the audience through the subtle nuances. Really enjoyed this.
Before I sign off I want to take advantage of the eclectic street food on offer and rate by lunch each day of the festival.
Today I went to see the Indian Street Food Company and ordered a Shish Kebab Naan. My food was hot and ready within three minutes of ordering and beautifully presented. The soft mince kebabs were nestled beneath a mound of colourful fresh salad and a handsome helping of curiously sweet raita. The salad had a handful of fresh mint, birdseye chillies and coriander which really lifted the, potentially, dense shish. I ate what I could with my wooden fork and then wrapped the remainder up in the floury naan
The meal cost me the princely sum of £7 and it was heaven on a polystyrene plate! Was it value for money? Probably not if you were just after something to soak up 8 pints of Stella, but if you want a real Foodie experience then it certainly delivered.
Roll on tomorrow Foodies…
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:

www.seedrs.com/charbrew

www.seedrs.com/coeur-de-xocolat

www.brewdog.com

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
88kcal
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
89kcal
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
287kcal
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

Product Review: Punjaban Sauces

Review – Tamarind Curry Base [Punjaban]

Punjaban Curry Base - Label Front

Rating: 8/10

Appeals to: time-pressured foodies who want to serve a restaurant quality meal in less than half an hour and for less than £10

Packaging

Packaging is so important for small producers and it really can be the difference between a great product working and a great product withering. Most small producers have a great story behind their food but most of them struggle to get that story, and their food, off the shelves.

Punjaban, meaning Punjabi lady, has opted for classically premium packaging with a mostly black label. I like the fact that they have featured Charlie, the creator, so heavily on the packaging as this is a great way to get people to buy into your mission. The label design is very simple but I do find it effective. The curry base is nut-free, dairy-free and gluten-free but this isn’t over communicated on the packaging – which, for me, is a big plus. I have a real issue with food products whose main selling point is what isn’t in it; have some pride and tell me why your food tastes so amazing!

The fact that this product is a curry base, not a sauce or paste, may be lost on some users but the instructions are idiot-proof so this won’t be too much of an issue.

One potential miss from Punjaban is that they have opted to put their products in glass jars. I appreciate the fact that glass is much cheaper to buy in small runs than bespoke and innovative packaging but the Cooking Sauce category has left the glass jar behind and moved into (slightly) more exciting things like pouches, tubs and bags.

Price

£2.50 is a reasonable price point for a handmade sauce and it does signal to the shopper that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill curry sauce. It certainly won’t break the bank when you add your recommended 650g of protein, a pilau rice and some appropriate breads.

Preparation

Punjaban Curry Base - Cooking

This was very simple and took me less than 15 minutes to do, even with a couple of additions. I chose to fry my turkey in butter first, which is one of the options the directions gives. The aromas that hit me as soon as the base hit the hot pan were incredible. I could almost taste each individual spice used which you don’t expect from a jarred sauce. Once I’d followed the directions I chose to add a small handful of fresh coriander, not because the flavours were lacking but you can’t beat fresh herbs, and a spoonful of crème fraiche to soften the heat a little. I served the dish with a side of pilau rice and a small glass of Chenin-Blanc Voignier.

Delivery

Punjaban Curry Base - Served

The flavours that came through from this curry were spot on. The first to swallow your taste buds was a deep tomato that sat beneath a crisp layer of spices that set in after your first chew. The heat wasn’t offensive but it lingered at the end of each mouthful to let you know it’s there. My only potential criticism is that it was a bit too ‘saucy’ and may be the extra water recommended in the instructions wasn’t required, however, as a regular curry eater, it should be a compliment that this was one meal that I didn’t want to end.

Verdict: In a word – brilliant. As a dish this worked fantastically well and I’d be proud to serve this at a dinner party and pretend that I’d spent all day searching for the right ingredients to produce an authentic Punjabi meal. This certainly represents a step up in terms of quality from the plethora of £1 curry sauces that adorn supermarket shelves. The only reason for docked points is that I question whether I’d pick this product up in the first place based on appearance alone. It’s not clear from the packaging that it houses a fantastic quality product. I have no doubt that once people try it they will clear their cupboards of any remnants of Uncle Ben’s curry sauces but what will encourage them to find this hidden gem?

Details: www.punjaban.co.uk

£2.50

Other variants: Bombay Potato, Hot Authentic, Medium Authentic, Mild Authentic, Naga Chilli, Butter Chicken and Keema.

Northern Munkee.