Talk to the Palm!

Product Review: Traidcraft Oaty Biscuits

This product review is inspired by Fairtrade Fortnight (29/02 – 13/03) and comes from a fantastic ambassador for the Fairtrade cause, Traidcraft. Traidcraft boast an exciting range of world foods that don the Fairtrade mark and support producers in some of the world’s poorest areas. So as a #FoodAdventurer it’s a double-whammy: you get brilliant hard-to-find foods and the knowledge that the supply is sustainable and fair, so you can enjoy it for longer – result!

The product I’m reviewing today also has a little more depth as it contains palm oil. Palm oil has become a dirty food in recent times with a number of people choosing to boycott any foods with palm oil. So why is it so bad? Primarily the production of the oil has a huge impact on the eco-system and is responsible for mass scale deforestation leading to endangerment of species as well as rainforests. However rest assured that the good people at Traidcraft aren’t turfing orang-utans out of their homes; this palm oil is from FairPalm so the Ghanaian farmers are paid fairly for their wares and the production methods work to develop the environment rather than destroy it. So you can enjoy this completely guilt free knowing that no humans, plants or animals were harmed in the making of your biscuit!

Rating: 8/10

Appeals to: snackers with a moral compass and a hunger for not just your average oat biscuit

Packaging

Spot on. It’s simple and effective. The key messages are put across quickly and the main focus is the great-looking product. The streamline boxes also mean that they don’t take up too much room on a supermarket fixture or in you cupboard (not that mine lasted long in there).

Price

£2.00 – in my opinion this is priced perfectly for a mainstream and ethically conscious shopper. This price point also serves to set it apart from some of the cardboard flavoured  biscuits that may be sat on the shelf near it. You need to know that you’re buying a better quality product!

Northernmunkeebites.traidcraft1

Delivery

Mature Cheddar Cheese

I really enjoyed these – I had to make myself put them down and step away from the cupboard! They are golden discs of cheesy goodness! You get a nice soft crunch as the biscuit breaks with a thud not a snap. The initial flavour is of wholesome buttered oats that is followed up by a rich, mature cheese that swamps the tastebuds. The perfect partner for a glass of red wine and some green grapes.

Black Pepper & Poppy Seeds

With this flavour you get the same soft crunch but the heat of the pepper starts to build as soon as you sink your teeth through the oats. The poppy seeds add a great texture differential giving a crisp crunch throughout. These beautiful biscuits would go perfectly with a light creamy cheese or dip.

Verdict – in a word, beautiful. Beautiful in every sense of the word. Oat biscuits can be a bit of store cupboard necessity and rarely exciting, but you can eat Traidcraft’s Oat Biscuits unaccompanied and without guilt. These biscuits won’t just make you feel happy but they’ll make the producers and some monkeys happy too – what’s not to like?

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

Northern Munkee.

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Me gusta Spanish Passion!

World Foods was one of my favourite categories as a Food Buyer because it’s so dynamic, volatile and relatively inelastic. There will always be a core of world foods that fight for space on fixture, share of promotions and pounds in the wallet but there’s also the element of the unknown in the category.

World Foods, as an entity, is a brilliant socioeconomic dipstick as it is wonderfully self-funding: as the economy improves it becomes cheaper to travel, so more people travel; this, in turn, exposes people to more new food; these people come home and want to enjoy those experiences to remind them of a happier time so new restaurants emerge; as the wake type of restaurants build in popularity these cuisines creep onto food fixtures, firstly via the specialist outlets and other early adopters and then, when it’s safe, by bigger food retailers. I find it fascinating and, if you step back from the present for a moment, you can spot the trends and what has driven their development. For example, it’s no coincidence that Thai cuisine (Pad Thai, Chicken Laksa, Masaman Curry etc) have surged in popularity since Thailand became a regular Gap Year stop off.

So, you might ask, why don’t we enjoy more Spanish foods at home? Great question! We Brits love Spain but we’ve never fully understood its culture, preferring Irish Bars to traditional Catalonian Tapas Bars. You could argue that this is disappointing but I would challenge that and say it’s very exciting; a whole new Spain to explore!

Tapas bars are no longer novel but good quality products that allow us to emulate authentic Spanish cuisine is but I have found the answer – Spanish Passion!

This artisan producer works closely with a variety of experts in Spain to capture the essence of the culture as opposed to bastardising their flavours and Anglicising them.

Product Review: Spanish Passion Catalonian Sauce & Hot ‘n’ Spicy Harissa Sauce

Rating: 9/10

Appeals to: someone seeking restaurant quality food with minimal effort, foodies with a discerning palate

Packaging

I love the packaging on these products. The label oozes quality from the script to the grade of materials used. The messaging is simple but absolutely appropriate with a signature from Loretta to add authenticity and a credible back story. The instructions offered by the manufacturer highlight the versatility of the sauce whilst inducing suggestive inspiration. If I was being picky I might say that the glass jar is a little outdated with most large manufacturers moving to more convenient packaging (e.g. pouch or tub) however this trend isn’t reflected in the artisanal movement and, for me, there is a type of catharsis with shaking out a jar of thick sauce into a sizzling pan.

Price

£2.99 – this price point is absolutely appropriate for the market and a product of this quality. The big boys in this category would fight it out at £1 but, in World Foods, you get what you pay for. Well worth the money.

Delivery

Catalonian Sauce

Fantastic! I was really impressed with this sauce. It’s initially creamy, then sweet and then you’re hit by the tomatoes with a beautifully smooth texture that’s politely interrupted by perfect almonds. The sauce is light yet satisfying and it really lifts a dish and engulfs all the components and links them together.

Hot & Spicy Harissa Sauce

Again – fantastic! This sauce had a different feel and a different appeal to the previous. The lasting heat from the North African chillies is its signature but the depth of flavours throughout build a complete picture. The blend of tomatoes, sugar and sunflower oil sets great foundations for the hot and spicy kick!

Verdict – in a word, amazing! If this is how the explosion of Tapas Bars has translated into the retail arena then long may it continue. I believe the UK consumer has a lot to learn about Spanish food and I’m more than happy to let the guys at Spanish Passion take the lesson!

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

Northern Munkee.

Whitworthless…

Product Review: Whitworth’s Fusions Chilli Nutty Coco-Chaos

This post is a product review on one of my favourite category: snacking! The world of snacking is fast-paced, ever evolving and always exciting however, that doesn’t mean that all innovation is good innovation! In my role as a Food Buyer I saw hundreds of pitches from companies, big and small, with their idea of what the next big snacking movement was and how it was going to change the face of the category and add incremental value to my business. I can think of just one pitch that actually delivered on that claim in the snacking category.

I’m always looking for new things to review and new ways to enjoy snacking and I thought I’d found something tasty and interesting in Whitworth’s Fusion…

Rating: 4/10

Packaging

Whitworth’s are a large business and the packaging is spot on trend as you’d imagine with a company of their size. The re-sealable foil, stand-up format is perfect for the sharing snacks category and gives it great impact on shelf. The pack imaging and messaging is also spot on giving the shopper a sense of the freshness of the food inside and captures the essence of what they’re trying to achieve with the fusion of flavours.

Delivery

 I was disappointed by the delivery of this product. Fusion flavours and textures are right for snacking at the moment and there are many great examples of this working out in the industry; however, I think the flavour profile of this product missed. The ‘chilli’ element of the whole product was a very salty dusting on the almonds which didn’t blend well with the other flavours. The chocolate used was dark, which I think is the right format, but very powdery and didn’t melt to the touch or taste which indicates to me that it hasn’t been cared for in the production process. True to form the cashews and soft fruits were fabulous, as are all similar products from Whitworth’s. I persevered through the bag with a nice crisp cider but the most interesting thing about the whole proposition, the chilli almonds, ended up being discarded in the empty bottle.

Verdict – in a word, disappointing. I don’t want to be too downbeat about Whitworth’s as a company because their portfolio is really good, in particular their on-the-go Shots, but this just didn’t hit the mark. With a few tweaks to the flavours I think they could be onto a winner; perhaps a chilli chocolate as opposed to an overly salty dust.

Northern Munkee.

Rest in Reese’s

Product Review: Reese’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Spread

In a previous product review I’ve alluded to the fact that the UK spreads market is evolving month-by-month and the growth is being driven by two areas: nut butters and chocolate. In fact this week, we saw another trend coming to fruition as Whole Earth knocked Sun-Pat off the top spot in peanut butters signalling a shift in consumer habits and shopper buying patterns – let the battle of the premium spreads commence! However, Nutella is still driving a significant proportion of that growth backed by a big budget and a strong heritage. If you couple that information with the surge in popularity of all things American then a Reese’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Spread should set the UK on fire, right? Erm…best not tell Hartley’s just yet.

Rating: 4/10

Appeals to: fans of the super sweet and synthetic, you know who you are!

Packaging

Perfect and fit for purpose. Let’s be honest, if you have a great brand, which Reese’s is, then you should milk it for all it’s worth. This was about the only thing the product delivered on.

Price

£3.49 – don’t worry I didn’t actually pay that, it was on offer!

Delivery

You’ve probably worked out from the tone of this post that I wasn’t going to cover it in glory but it wasn’t good at all. I don’t think I ask too much from a Peanut Butter and Chocolate Spread when I ask for a well-formed peanut flavour and a real chocolate; however I was let down on both fronts. The chocolate was slimy and synthetic and the bubbles of peanut that ran through it had no impact on the flavour whatsoever. I do think this would be better positioned as a dessert topping rather than a spread, something needs to mask the flavours slightly.

Verdict – in a word, poor. I was disappointed by this product which, in theory, shows a lot of promise. There are other, non-hazelnut, chocolate/peanut butter combinations out there which, I believe, do a much better job (take Sun-Pat’s Choc-a-Nut for example). I always set out to be a ‘nice blogger’, if there is such a thing, and not be an overly pretentious, hateful blogger but it’s more important to me to be an honest blogger so I think Reese’s should just stick to what works for them: pieces and butter cups.

Northern Munkee.

Put down the bucket and pick up the poshcorn!

This blog is in honour of National Popcorn Day.

I am a huge fan of the current popcorn craze the UK snacking market is experiencing. It’s about time that Butterkist were given a run for their money. Popcorn has moved from being a super sweet snack that was only purchased by the trough for £5 to be consumed alongside a bucket of carbonated soft drink at the local cinema to a fun, trendy, lifestyle product that now proudly sit in any credible retailer’s Meal Deal. The trend has been an absolute phenomenon and has taken the large suppliers my surprise. So why has it been so successful? Well in my opinion the new sub-category of premium popcorn has filled a very apparent consumer need that other pieces of innovation have failed to address for a number of years: namely it’s a healthy snack. Now you might say that there is a raft of healthy snacks clogging up snacking fixtures from Pops to Walkers Sunbites and whilst this is true these products haven’t fully addressed the snacking consumer’s need. All the predecessors have focussed on being healthy whereas the premium popcorn category has focussed, exclusively, on fantastic flavours…and it’s healthy. In this category FLAVOUR IS KING! So if you can produce a great tasting product that also happens to be healthy, you’re onto a winner! That’s exactly what companies, such as Propercorn, have done.

As a buyer I was presented hundreds of different premium popcorn brands as soon as the trend started to gain traction and, in my opinion, there was one big difference between the suppliers that got it right and were successful and those that got it wrong and were unsuccessful: they understood their consumer. I’ll compare two brands on opposite ends of the success spectrum: Sexy Pop and Propercorn. Sexy who? Exactly! Sexy Pop as a food tasted OK, not phenomenal but it was OK. As a brand it was loud, brash and confident. Conversely, Propercorn as a food tasted fantastic, really great flavour profiles. As a brand it was very trendy, fun and didn’t take itself too seriously. Sexy Pop was much cheaper and offered a much higher margin whereas Propercorn was quite expensive versus other similar products on the fixture. Propercorn, for me, embodied everything that is right about the category. It’s on trend, it’s different, it drives new shoppers into the category and it adds value back into a declining market. Sexy Pop embodies everything that the category isn’t. Propercorn has, so far, seen off some ardent competition from the likes of Metcalfe’s, who have just sold their soul for investment, and Walkers, who did react with their own offering (Sensations and Mix-Ups) but it completely missed the consumer they should have been targeting.

I do predict that the popcorn bubble will burst and I hope that Propercorn are able to diversify to move with the times, however, at this current moment, there seems to be no indication that this phenomenon is going to slow down.

Product Review: Popcorn Kitchen – Sea Salt & Olive Oil
Rating: 6/10
Appeals to: health conscious shape-watchers
Packaging 
The packaging was what led me to buy this pack. It’s quirky, simple and fresh. I like the personal touch introducing the makers on the back and I like how simply the messages are communicated. You don’t need to study the pack long to get a real good understanding of what it’s all about. Does it ‘pop’ from the shelf? No, but, as someone who is already bought into the category, I was willing to give it a try.
Price
£2.50 – this is not value for money and the pack doesn’t scream premium like Joe&Seph’s does. I may be doing the manufacturers a disservice here, and I apologise if I am. I picked these up from my local farm shop, which isn’t a very good one and does enjoy getting fat off some unnecessarily large margins.
Delivery
You can tell the quality of a good popcorn before you even eat it. If the manufacturing process has been considered and cared for the corn kernels will have expanded at the right speed, temperature and with the right amount of oil and seasoning. The result should be a beautiful, fully expanded butterfly corn like a cream and gold rose. This bag had an uneasy blend of mushroom and butterfly corn and the pieces were uneven, closed and ugly. How disappointing. Flavour-wise there was a good fluffy texture but the only flavour that came through was the salt. I was really looking forward to seeing how the olive oil manifested itself. I wanted to taste it’s velvety sheen; but I couldn’t. The bag was gluten free, wheat free, dairy free, nut free, soya free, vegetarian, vegan, GMO free and, unfortunately, flavours free.
Verdict – in a word, weak. This bag does not do the expansive category justice. Propercorn can afford to stand down from their post as there won’t be a fight for the top spot just yet.
Northern Munkee.

Compliments to the condiments…

Product Review: Yorkshire Oak Smoked Mayonnaise and Jamonnaise

This review is a Yorkshire-inspired post after a visit to Spuds and Berries Farm Shop in Brackenholme (nr Selby). If you haven’t already visited this example of what a good farm shop should be, then I would urge you to do so. The fantastic fresh display that greets you as you walk through the door will make you want to explore further, as I did, and seek out some hidden food gems! If you haven’t spent all your money on fabulous food in the shop then you should explore further into their café where you’re likely to be served some of the great products on sale next door. The staff are very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful. It’s a must for any Food Adventurer.

Rating: 7/10

Appeals to: someone that demands a little more from their dips and wants a different experience; food adventurers who aren’t afraid to try new things

Packaging

My comments are the same for both products. The matt black labels and lids portray a sense of simplicity, class and quality. The distinctive pastel yellow contents of the jar make the label stand out well on-shelf giving it a good presence and visibility. The Jamonnaise product does a brilliant job of communicating the right messages to the shopper from the front of the product: ‘making boring food brilliant’ and ‘a devilishly clever mayo combo of chilli jam and rapeseed oil’. What more do you need than that? My only negative comment would be that the Yorkshire Oak Smoked Mayonnaise fails to communicate any USPs to the shopper; you actually have to work quite hard to tell it’s rapeseed oil if you’re not well-versed botanist. Rapeseed oil has some important health benefits that, if communicated clearly, would broaden the product’s appeal.

Price

£3.95 – this is exactly what I’d expect to pay for products like this. It’s artisan, it’s different and that’s something that you should expect a premium on.

Delivery

I tasted both products0 on their own and then with a water biscuit; please be assured that’s not how I usually enjoy my condiments but it’s the best way to ensure I’m not masking the flavours with a hearty skin-on chip!

Yorkshire Oak Smoked Mayonnaise

This is a great alternative to mayonnaise. It has a smooth creamy texture with an undercurrent of earthy notes that come from the rapeseed. Unlike the synthetic, unrecognisable mayonnaise that large manufacturers vomit into jars and force down the throats of de-sensitized consumers, this didn’t leave a sickly taste in the back of your throat; the creamy aftertaste sat and lingered softly for a while. The only drawback of this product is that I would have liked a more intense oak smoked flavour which would have added another layer to the mayonnaise. However the smoking process is quite a delicate balance and there’s always a risk it can completely overpower some of the other subtle flavours in the jar.

Jamonnaise

I loved this! It is layered to perfection in my opinion. The first flavour that hits you is the soft, sweet fruit which is succeeded by the earthy rapeseed and topped with a gentle chilli after burn. The intense cream, the delicate sweet and the subtle heat compliment each other really well. I can think of so many different uses for this product: as a dip, as a nacho topper, as a pasta sauce or to stir through a large bowl of hot, mashed potatoes.

Verdict – in a word, serendipitous! I’m really pleased with my fruitful trip to Spuds and Berries; I’ve found two products that won’t be sat in my cupboard for long! I may be taking a trip back to Brackenholme in the near future, I hear they’ve just taken a Raspberry Jam with Dark Chocolate!

Details:

http://www.spudsandberries.co.uk/

http://www.thechillijamman.com/

http://www.yorkshirerapeseedoil.co.uk/

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.