Has The Artisan Bubble Burst?

OK, so this post is a little uneasy for me to write because it’s challenging everything I love about the modern food industry but I fear that the artisan bubble might have burst!

northernmunkeebites.artisanfoodfestThis fear was first aroused after a disappointing visit a couple of weeks ago to, what was, my favourite food festival in the calendar. I bounced along through the sea of marquees with Mrs Munkee full of enthusiasm, gusto and a tingling palate ready for some fine food foraging. To my dismay all I was met with was wallpaper: gin, cheese, gin, uncovered cakes, gin, brownies, pickles, gin, pickles, pickles, gin, cakes, cider, jam, big corporate stand, big corporate stand, jewellery (?), massage tent (?), gin, tea, yoga (?) and a few more gin tents. Now you might be looking at that list and be thinking: ‘well, that sounds like a belting day out…what’s this chap’s game?!’ and I could forgive you for thinking that but where have you been for the last five years?! It’s all good stuff but give me something new! Food festivals used to be about discovering the next trend and challenging your taste buds and perceptions, now I struggle to tell them apart from what’s on the shelves of mainstream retailers. Does that mean that mainstream retailers have upped their game or does it mean that startisans have run out of road?

Farm shops, delis and food halls have also lost their way in my opinion. They used tonorthernmunkeebites.artisanfoodhall represent the little guy (or gal) making a go on their own and real show of local produce and talent. Now they might as well wear badges saying ‘Every Little Helps’.

I’ve written in the past about the unique market conditions that have afforded small businesses the opportunity to thrive in the food industry but is this a sign that the opportunity is waning? Have the initial visionaries graduated from standing in fields and facing the elements of British summer time in wellies and checked shirts to seated behind large oak desks in sought after London-locations adorned by Savile Row? Don’t allow me to mislead you, it’s fantastic that small businesses have earned their stripes in the farmer’s markets and progressed and built businesses that can compete in the tough Top 4 Retail environments but why has the pipeline dried up?

northernmunkeebites.artisanmarketCould it  be that this once empty space has been occupied and strangled by big multi-national corporations aware of the need to act on trends? Big manufacturers are now either investing into capex and developing their own ‘artisan’ ranges or buying up emerging businesses and welcoming them into the fold. This shift has sprouted a post-modern foodie who scoffs at the words ‘artisan’ or ‘artisanal’. Even the word has lost its way and become pastiche.

This post has been difficult to write because I type it with exasperation. I have gone through a real pyschomachia (thanks to my A-Level English teacher for increasing my verbosity with that word!) writing this and that’s because I feel like I’m in mourning. It’s less of a light bulb moment and more of a dimmer switch being gently turned down from light to dark.

But surely this can’t be it? Who can the revolution look to for their new champion? Wenorthernmunkeebites.artisanrevolution‘ve done all the innovating now and it’s out of our system and we should just be happy with bacon jam and popcorn. No. I’m not having it. If you’re a small business reading this hear my plea: don’t stop the revolution just because some of the leaders have left; keep challenging and exploring!

Northern Munkee.

Any thoughts on my wee rant? Pop them below whether you love or hate it because sharing is caring.



Check out my mantlepiece!

It’s award season for the food industry with some iconic award processes already underway. This blog is looking at how relevant the awards are and if it’s important from a Buyer’s perspective that a product carries an industry recognised award.

So, you’re an artisan producer and you’re just starting out. You’re really happy with the product, friends and family think it’s incredible and your confidence is starting to build from sales in farm shops, at food fairs and even online. Now you need to start to think a little bit about marketing. It’s a scary thought; spending some of the money you’ve worked so hard to earn when there isn’t a tangible return on investment. Naturally you want your product to stand out. You want to give people a reason to pick it up and buy it.

So you reach the conclusion that your product needs an award, a badge of honour, a mark of trust; but which one? will it demonstrate an appropriate return on investment? will people care? These are all the right questions to be asking if you’re going to spend some of your hard earned cash but I want to consider this from a buyer’s perspective and discuss whether it’s important to a buyer.

Firstly, to answer the question of whether awards are important: the quick answer is yes. Awards are like a Masters degree for a job candidate, they’re not essential but they are important and they’re certainly not a deal breaker. What awards demonstrate to a buyer is that your product has credibility and it has been independently supported. You can tell a buyer how amazing your product is until you’re blue in the face but it’s your baby, you wouldn’t ever call it ugly even if it looked like a thumb! It also tells a buyer that your product delivers against expectations. A lot of awards are designed to assess a product’s suitability based on packaging and description.

OK, so which award should you go for? Well, there is a whole plethora of options to choose from so select carefully. The Great Taste Award is fast becoming the best-known and most subscribed to award for producers large and small. It is even beginning to resonnate with consumers as a recognisable brand in its own right so I would definitely be recommending that one – and it doesn’t break the bank. I would also advise that you enter any free award; there are a number of them out there and why wouldn’t you? Other than that it’s just about picking the right award firstly, that’s right for your product and seconly, that’s right for the person you’re wanting to sell to. If you’re focussing on a food service audience I wouldn’t be pushing the Farm Shop and Deli Awards. In my experience the most noteworthy awards that is recognised by buyers as a true mark of quality are The Grocer magainze’s awards. I would suggest getting a couple of years under your belt before attempting this one but it will make retail buyers pay attention.

I would give one word of warning when it comes to awards and that’s to be wary of the fate of Narcissus. It’s very easy to go overboard and spend a whole year’s marketing budget on accolades and ego-massaging trinkets but it’s really difficult to show a real return from awards. Whilst they do add value they certainly shouldn’t be the sole focus of your brand and marketing plans.

So, in summary…go get awards and be proud of what you’ve achieved. If nothing more it will give you more to talk about when you’re discussing features and benefits.

Northern Munkee.

Root-ine Check

Product Review: Leighton Brown Root Crisps

I’ve blogged on a number of occasions about the snacks category and it’s not secret that it’s one of my favourite categories. It’s dynamic, it’s fast paced and it’s exciting; I love it!

However, from a manufacturer’s, it’s a red sea of hyper-competition with some of the world’s biggest multinational corporations wading through it scaring away any brave minnows. Having said that there are examples of new entrants making their mark on the category and hurting the brand share of the big boys such as the continuously successful Propercorn.

So, like me, you love the category and you want to enter the market – what’s the best way to do it? Firstly, I’d say don’t play by the big boys’ rules. Don’t make a Cheese and Onion 32.5g bag of crisps – it’s safe to say they’ve got that covered thanks. Rather than focussing on what they’re doing focus on what they’re not doing or what they can’t do. These juggernauts are slow to move and not fleet of foot so if there’s a new emerging market trend jump on it and sail off on the current; they’ll just have to watch for a while, or at least until they can get the cap ex signed off!

This leads me onto my latest product review: Leighton Brown’s Root Crisps. Vegetable crisps aren’t a new thing by any means but they are becoming increasingly more popular. There’s a common misconception that vegetable and root crisps are healthy – they’re not. However it does add a completely different flavour profile and texture to a potato or corn snack and after all in this world, TASTE IS KING!

Rating: 9/10

Appeals to: snackers young and old; a snacker who cares more about his tastebuds than to assault them with a 20p bag of Oinks


The packaging is brilliant and a big part of Leighton Brown’s appeal. It has the premium matte colours juxtaposed with the retro, Napoleon Dynamite-esque typeface. The pack is shouting to early adopters: ‘try me, I’m the next big thing!’


£1.28 – this is a little pricey for 40g but I’d still say they’re value for money as the delivery far outweighs other 40g offerings. If you were sat in a trendy pub in the Northern Quarter in Manchester supping a refreshing IPA you wouldn’t hesitate to part with £1.50 for these.


Parsnip and Manuka Honey

The sweet soft crunch of the parsnip is enhanced by the rich and velvety Manuka honey as you first bite into the golden crisp. The garlic and soft spices gentle sweep through your mouth adding another layer to the flavour personality. You’re left with a smooth blend of herbs and spices as you dive back into the bag for another!

Beetroot, Horseradish and Dill

I’ll be honest -these are more of an acquired taste. However, they do deliver against expectations. The sweet beet is the starter, the horseradish is the main and the dill is a lifting dessert. The deep purple snack will really appeal to strong flavour junkies.

Sweet Potato, Cheese and Jalapeno

Wow! I think I’ve found a new favourite crisp! The nacho cheese that introduces the crisp is soft, creamy and delightful. It is then followed up by the sugars of the sweet potato and the acidity of the jalapeno. It’s certainly not blow your socks off heat but there’s enough to make you aware of it. These crisps are brilliant, it’s like a bowl of loaded nachos in every bite. On their own…this could have been my first 10/10!

Verdict – in a word, exciting! This is what the crisps and snacks category is all about. It’s not a done deal but the product is definitely right and, with the right strategy, Leighton Brown could be onto a winner. Watch out big boys!

Details: http://www.leightonbrown.co.uk