The Perfect Pair…

Food and Drink Subscription Boxes Mini-Series: Cocoa & Roast Club

This is the final instalment in my mini-series covering Food and Drink Subscription Boxes.

Food subscription boxes are still a relatively new phenomenon in the UK but they are going from strength to strength. The trend really seemed to gain traction when Ben Jones posted his first Graze box to offer lifestyle-conscious snackers an alternative to the dusty vending machine in the corner of the office.

Now you can satisfy your food foraging and drinks detecting needs for almost anything without even leaving the comfort of your own wifi hotspot. There are some brilliant subscription boxes out there for meat, alcohol, snacks, artisan food, grow-your-own kits and so much more. Think of them as your own personal foodie shopper trawling through the racks of artisan food and drink to find something that’s just in your size and colour.

Product Review: Cocoa and Roast Club with Coeur de Xocolat/Lulu Coffee

Rating: 9/10

Appeals to: foodie foragers, local business supporters those who enjoy the finer things in life.

Packaging:

The packaging was simple and minimalist but it just built my expectation to tear my way into it!!

Price: 

£19.99 which is the perfect price for the experience that Cocoa and Roast Club is introducing.

Selection:

Coeur de Xocolat Milk Chocolate with Salted Toffee & Dark Chocolate with Peppermint

Lulu Coffee Guatemalan Single Origin

Cocoa and Roast Club have created more than a food subscription box here, they’ve created an ambience, an atmosphere and a moment in your life. Food pairing is an art not a science and there is no more perfect example of pairing than a hot drink with an indulgent treat. Most food subscription boxes on the market, whilst great, are simply a personal shopping and discovery service; Cocoa and Roast have gone one step further and have infiltrated 30mins of your weekend by asking you to grind the beans, boil the kettle and savour the rich cocoa and coffee.

This particular combination of cocoa and roast went together like green and grass so I need to take a moment to pause and walk you through it: I opened with a sip of the coffee which commences with rich caramel tones that morph into deep earthy flavours and a soft nutmeg finish. The salted toffee bar presented a delightful mirror of flavours starting with a velvety smooth cocoa and caramel blend and into a salted lift to close. The flavour journey presented sweet into earth into sweet into salt and I found myself queuing up for another go!

Verdict: in a word, sign-me-up (still just one word)! I’m a big fan of this breed of subscription box. I enjoy the forage and discovery in farm shops, markets and festivals but having an expert guide you through the flavour experience as a reassuring maitre de maison is fantastic.

Northern Munkee.

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Private & Exclusive!

Product Review: Privateer Jerky

So here we are again – another meat snack review and I love it! There is a whole world of outstanding meat snacks from the UK now and I won’t be happy until I’ve worked my way through the lot!

Once again this is a very different meat snack to anything I’ve tried before. We’re now into the realms of premium jerky…

Rating: 9/10

Appeals to: meat snackers, jerky fans and those with a sophisticated palate

Packaging

The packaging is really simple. A well presented card detailing the premium branding sewn to a vacuum packed, meat pillow! And what more do you need?

Price

£4.00 (40g bag) – now this is the most expensive of the meat snacks I reviewed but £4.00  for a premium snack doesn’t break the bank and you can tell from the packaging the look of it that you won’t be disappointed!

Delivery

So what’s different about this meat snack? Well you get quality chunks of fantastic quality meat that has been cared for and smoked over Applewood to create a elegant undertone that permeates the whole snack.

Black Jack ‘The Mild One’

The smoked wood notes lay the foundations that are built on by a sweet black treacle which melts slowly into the soy flavours to leave a sweet, aniseed hint as the smoke creeps around your mouth. Enchanting!

Jolly Red ‘The Hot One’

This is fantastic! There is the familiar introduction of the smoke but then the sweet notes and the chilli heat begin to waltz with each other. The heat isn’t overpowering but it builds and sits on the tongue.

Verdict – in a word, exclusive! This is unlike any of the other meat snacks that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. It is more premium, cared for and more exclusive. It’s the difference between a cigar and a great cigar. There are layers of subtle flavours that gang up on your taste buds and ambush them in a symphony of premium tastes. Great work Privateer!

Details: http://www.privateerjerky.com/

Northern Munkee.

My Real (ale) Friend

Product Review: Cleaver and Keg

So, here I am reviewing another meat snack – it’s a hard life being a Food Adventurer!

I now consider myself somewhat of an aficionado when it comes to meat snacking having reviewed a number of different biltongs and jerkies and understood the subtle nuances of the process that have a huge impact on the flavour delivery. The meat snacks market has now left the likes of Pepparami in its dust and matured to cater for a more sophisticated and premium palate.

I have previously referenced how far behind the UK market is in comparison to our European counterparts but we’re catching up and (thankfully) we’re going our own way. Europe’s meat lust sways towards high salt and pork products which hasn’t translated well in the UK other than in specialist outlets. The UK foodie seems to have picked up South African and American meat snacking habits and run with them with sales on jerky alone growing by 52.9% YOY according to The Grocer magazine. As with all booming trends diversification is high which has lead to the development of meat snacking products using meat other than beef.

So what’s driving the trend? Well it seems as though it’s the fitness movement. Meat snacks have a fantastic protein to fat ratio and also easily lend themselves to countless free-froms making meat snacks a very permissible treat. For the same reason the category, quite uniquely, transcends any gender preference with a good proportion of females also buying into the new trend.

This perfect storm of health and flavour has spiked interest amongst the hipster communities who are searching for something different to accompany their newfound love of hoppy IPAs. So we can see a decline in the urine-clad bowls of peanuts and garish bags of Mr Porky’s replaced in real ale pubs by olive wood platters of well-seasoned meat snacks. Which leads, nicely, into my review…

Rating: 9.5/10

Appeals to: free-from revolutionaries, hipsters, protein-junkies and beer lovers!

Packaging

I’m a big fan of this packaging. It’s bang on trend and is very well positioned to sit beside a bottle of premium, real ale. The wax paper bag and old-world imagery conjures up quality and premium connotations with is complimented well by a characterful narrative on the back of pack. I think this is possibly the best example I’ve seen from a meat snacks company in terms of communicating the brand personality on pack; it’s quirky, it’s personable, it’s friendly, it’s brilliant.

Price

£2.50 (45g bag) – you could argue that this is a little steep but if you compare it to the premium jerky option in a mainstream supermarket which retails for £2 then it’s not so bad. Plus in this category you really do get what you pay for. I’d be questioning any ‘meat’ snack that sold for much less than £1.50.

Delivery

The whole Cleaver and Keg brand ethos is about complimenting drinks, with their tag line being ‘Meaty Morsels for the Modern Drinker’, so, naturally, I had to oblige and enjoy these snacks with a 7.4% dry cider…

Chorizo Cuts

Just wow! These little bites are beautifully chewy, well-seasoned with a creamy opening that gave way to a soft but deep paprika note that lingers on the tongue.

Strips O Beef

I’ll be honest, I went into this bag expecting jerky or biltong – I was wrong to do that! These are beautiful strips of chewy, tender and creamy beef that just melt with each bite.

Hot Strips O Beef

Now, imagine the flavour above but intensified with heat. I can handle my spice well but what started off as a warming hug quickly developed into a slap to the chops as I devoured the bag. I think I’m in love!

Salami Bites

Here is the snack that is most akin to the European trend in terms of flavour profile, however it couldn’t be more detached in delivery. It’s light, salty, herby and not greasy at all. A brilliant snack!

Verdict – in a word, amorous! Cleaver and Keg have produced something different to anything else on the market that I’ve seen and I love it. It is the perfect partner to a pale ale or dry cider and I think I’ve found friends for life. I think you’ve just found yourself a new best customer!

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

Northern Munkee.

Pasta La Vista!

Crisps Mini-Series: Pastinos

This is the fourth instalment of my mini-series focussing on Crisps.

Anyone that has been following my Food Adventures will know that I am a big fan of the crisps category; it’s fun, fast paced, innovative and driven by one overarching factor: taste. This was my favourite, and most valuable, category as a Retail Buyer and I had to keep my ear close to the ground with new product developments, competitor activity and sales driving initiatives. For an ambient product, crisps, have a relatively short shelf-life and therefore it was of utmost importance for me that the rate of sale is high and I wasn’t left with any dusty packets.

The market has undergone a change in the last five years as the consumer base has been made to feel increasingly guilty for eating foods that they enjoy and crisps are an easy target. Therefore suppliers have worked tirelessly to find the golden egg and produce a great tasting crisp that ticks a number of boxes for the health-conscious, calorie counters. In my opinion, the big boys have failed at this and only managed to produce different flavours of cardboard that aren’t going to satisfy anybody craving a hunger fix. This has led to the growth of a, still relatively, new sub-sector: popcorn. This mini-series is all about crisps and not the whole snacking category but it is worth noting that the growth of brands like Propercorn have chipped (unintentional pun I promise!) away at the share held by potato crisps in the aisle and this trend doesn’t appear likely to slow down any time soon. A fact that demonstrates this seismic shift is that, in the last couple of weeks, Propercorn have been named as branded Snacks Supplier of the Year in 2015 by The Grocer.

So potato crisps have to react…

The artisanal world of crisps has exploded making it a very saturated market so the need for differentiation and something that allows your product to raise its head above the parapet is key. The mainstream market is dominated by very few, very large suppliers but they are very poor at reacting to trends leaving a bit of an open goal for smaller producers. However, this blatant opportunity also created a bottleneck with a plethora brown paper brands springing up almost overnight. The problem that I faced as a buyer presented with a deluge of options was how to make the right choice. They were all great quality, hand cooked crisps with an endearing heritage and backstory. A small supplier has a number of tools within its gift to create that point of difference (brand, flavours, packaging, marketing, target audience) but achieving the utopia of a unique proposition is no easy task.

However this mini-series is about more than just reviewing a selection of crisps. No, it’s much more than that. This blog is about reclaiming the meaning of quality, potato-based, snacking. I grew up with Kettle being a treat that was savoured only on special occasions but for too long has that ‘premium’ brand let me down. No bag of crisps that features on the shelves of B&M can boast a premium appeal. In fact I was in my local Lifestyle Express the other week and I saw a bag of Kettle crisps with a £1.29 price-mark on a Buy One Get One Free promotion. The buyer in me thought, ‘what an amazing deal, why wasn’t I ever offered that?’ but a little part of my crisp-loving soul cracked, broke off and shattered like the greasy little crumbs in the corner of the bag. 64.5p per bag of ‘premium’ crisps? No sir, I’m not having that!

Right, enough of that! On with my review…

Product Review: Pastinos

Rating: 9/10

Appeals to: early-adopters, snackers with a little more class and a desire to impress at parties

Packaging

The packaging is perfect. It oozes authenticity and really encapsulates the Italian experience. There was always a risk with this type of product that it could be confusing to a shopper but the guys at Pastinos have done a fantastic job of communicating the right messages on pack – this is a gourmet snack!

Price

£1.99 (150g bag) – this is exactly where a gourmet sharing snack should pitch itself. If you go above the £2 threshold you run the risk of not achieving any base sales but £1.99 is just the right price to drive value but also encourage trial amongst curious foodies.

Delivery

So Pastinos are a gourmet snack made completely from pasta and they look exactly how you’d imagine fried pasta should look. I remember sampling these in my Retail Buying role with the whole buying team over lunch and everyone had the same reaction:

‘Erm, crisps made from pasta?’

‘Trust me, try them!’

Arrabbiata

The snacks are light, airy and have a satisfying crunch that leaves a smooth wheaty texture as you finish the mouthful. The chunky vegetable flavours that are held within the pasta snack envelope the whole eat in a neat parcel.

Classic Pesto

This snack is brilliant. It has an intense garlic opening which paves the way for a rich pine nut hit which compliments the light, crisp snack.

Tomato and Sweet Basil

If I had to pick my favourite Pastino, here he is! The rich tomato flavours is complimented perfectly by a sweet sauce that is accented beautifully by an uplifting basil. Spot on!

Chianti and Olive

Confession time: I don’t enjoy olives, I wish I did but I just don’t. However, it really doesn’t matter with this snack, I love them. The chianti is the first flavour I recognise as a light dry note that is surpassed by a rich, smooth oily flavour that lasts long after the swallow.

Verdict – in a word, different! In terms of reclaiming gourmet snacking Pastinos is an excellent ambassador. If you want to differentiate be different and do it well and this is exactly what Pastinos do. I can understand why you might be hesitant at first, it seems unnatural right? But trust me, you won’t look back if you overcome that nervousness. Be an adventurer and get on these!!

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

Northern Munkee.

Tag That!

Crisps Mini-Series: Tags

This is the third instalment of my mini-series focussing on Crisps.

Anyone that has been following my Food Adventures will know that I am a big fan of the crisps category; it’s fun, fast paced, innovative and driven by one overarching factor: taste. This was my favourite, and most valuable, category as a Retail Buyer and I had to keep my ear close to the ground with new product developments, competitor activity and sales driving initiatives. For an ambient product, crisps, have a relatively short shelf-life and therefore it was of utmost importance for me that the rate of sale is high and I wasn’t left with any dusty packets.

The market has undergone a change in the last five years as the consumer base has been made to feel increasingly guilty for eating foods that they enjoy and crisps are an easy target. Therefore suppliers have worked tirelessly to find the golden egg and produce a great tasting crisp that ticks a number of boxes for the health-conscious, calorie counters. In my opinion, the big boys have failed at this and only managed to produce different flavours of cardboard that aren’t going to satisfy anybody craving a hunger fix. This has led to the growth of a, still relatively, new sub-sector: popcorn. This mini-series is all about crisps and not the whole snacking category but it is worth noting that the growth of brands like Propercorn have chipped (unintentional pun I promise!) away at the share held by potato crisps in the aisle and this trend doesn’t appear likely to slow down any time soon. A fact that demonstrates this seismic shift is that, in the last couple of weeks, Propercorn have been named as branded Snacks Supplier of the Year in 2015 by The Grocer.

So potato crisps have to react…

The artisanal world of crisps has exploded making it a very saturated market so the need for differentiation and something that allows your product to raise its head above the parapet is key. The mainstream market is dominated by very few, very large suppliers but they are very poor at reacting to trends leaving a bit of an open goal for smaller producers. However, this blatant opportunity also created a bottleneck with a plethora brown paper brands springing up almost overnight. The problem that I faced as a buyer presented with a deluge of options was how to make the right choice. They were all great quality, hand cooked crisps with an endearing heritage and backstory. A small supplier has a number of tools within its gift to create that point of difference (brand, flavours, packaging, marketing, target audience) but achieving the utopia of a unique proposition is no easy task.

However this mini-series is about more than just reviewing a selection of crisps. No, it’s much more than that. This blog is about reclaiming the meaning of quality, potato-based, snacking. I grew up with Kettle being a treat that was savoured only on special occasions but for too long has that ‘premium’ brand let me down. No bag of crisps that features on the shelves of B&M can boast a premium appeal. In fact I was in my local Lifestyle Express the other week and I saw a bag of Kettle crisps with a £1.29 price-mark on a Buy One Get One Free promotion. The buyer in me thought, ‘what an amazing deal, why wasn’t I ever offered that?’ but a little part of my crisp-loving soul cracked, broke off and shattered like the greasy little crumbs in the corner of the bag. 64.5p per bag of ‘premium’ crisps? No sir, I’m not having that!

Right, enough of that! On with my review…

Product Review: Tags Crisps

Rating: 9.5/10

Appeals to: real crisp fans, if you want to embarrass your Walkers-eating friends then do it with this crisp!

Packaging

The packaging is very market appropriate. It’s absolutely inline with a shopper’s expectations on what a premium crisp should look like: it’s matte, it has rustic imagery and a great food shot. Spot on!

Price

£1.48 (125g bag) – this is perfectly priced to be competitive in the industry. £1.48 is a great every day price for a sharing crisp and it gives them the flexibility to sell on promotion at £1. These crisps at £1 should fly!

Delivery

The delivery is what makes Tags different. When the founder of the company went on Dragon’s Den the potential investors commented that Tags were the best crisps they had ever tasted; and I have to concur! They are a proper crisp. Thick cut, skin-on and full of flavour that doesn’t come off on your fingers. You won’t find a better tasting crisp on the market.

Malt Vinegar and Sea Salt

Tags crisps have a great crunch that releases the high quality ingredients and the rich malt vinegar rushes through the salty snack giving a great finish.

Sweet Chilli

This isn’t like any other sweet chilli flavour that I’ve tasted before. It has a really sweet, Chinese spice filled with a strong fennel flavour that dances beautifully with the paprika and tomato tones.

Mature Cheddar and Red Onion

Here is my favourite Tags crisp. It’s phenomenal. The sweet red onion hides behind an intense, mature cheddar that work together to deliver an outstanding crisp.

Sea Salted

Brilliant! This is the most pure Tags crisp that allows you taste the fantastic quality ingredients and the detailed manufacturing process.

Verdict – in a word, winning! It’s always a risk producing such well known flavours but Tags aren’t afraid and nor should they be! In a saturated market you need to find a way to stand out from the crowd – Tags are doing it by being better. I salute you!

Details: http://www.facebook.com/tagssnacks

Northern Munkee.