After 150 years of affiliation with London’s New Covent Garden wholesale market, the Mash family is moving on. Martin Mash talks to Produce Business UK about the family’s latest catering supply company – Mash – and the importance of establishing relationships with chefs and growers
It’s quite easy to find catering supplier Mash in Vauxhall’s New Covent Garden Market (NCGM). There was no need for a unit number or to ask directions since a good deal of the company’s 25 lorries are always busying around its three units, even past 10am – beyond the end of the working night for most of the wholesalers in the market.
As you walk in, it’s clear to see the firm is bursting at the seams in this facility, with storage rooms converted to stock space, and the healthy hustle and bustle of the many staff it takes to daily supply 300 of London’s top chefs and caterers.
After 16 years in its current spot, Mash has outgrown its surroundings and, as I meet Martin in the offices above the amalgamation of coldstores and delivery bays, it’s clear that he’s eager to embark on that next big adventure: a built-for-purpose 53,000ft2 facility in Park Royal, west London.
“Standalone facilities for catering wholesalers are the future and, at the rate the business has grown, we have to be able to control our environment,” says Martin, who moves on the eve of NCGM’s much-awaited regeneration.
“What it came down to was that we needed a certain amount of surface area and it couldn’t be guaranteed [in the new NCGM plans].”
The new Mash facility, which will be ready for April (2015), will have multiple offices and meeting rooms to host chefs and growers alike, shower rooms, solar panels, rainwater collection, re-charging bays for electric vehicles and full disabled provisions – a far cry from the old Covent Garden Market in central London, where Martin first started working with his father in the late 1960s, after leaving school.
“We have kept the family name going in the fruit and veg trade, through various businesses, for 150 years,” says Martin, who now works with his own son, Charlie.
In early 1970 Martin diversified his father’s business, Mash and Murrell, from a ship store wholesaler to a new hotel and catering serving company, Mash Roe, when shipping moved from cargo to containers.
Mash Roe folded in 2001, but in the meantime, Charlie had already left the company to set up Mash in 1999.
Working with chefs and growers
Sticking with the magic formula of forward-thinking, Charlie realised that Mash Roe had become a slave to the medium to big catering heavyweight customers and, much as they had previously seen on the ship store wholesale side, it was being squeezed into non-existence. “Charlie and myself saw history repeating itself and we didn’t want to make the old mistakes,” says Martin. So, they decided to learn from the best and hone in on top-end chefs, serving exactly what they were after.
“There were a number of high-profile chefs who guided us enormously in the early days – namely Raymond Blanc, John Williams at the Ritz and the Roux brothers,” continues Martin, who strategically names Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons as one of his favourite restaurants, along with “old friend” Tom Kerridge's The Hand and Flowers, in Marlow.
“We worked with them on delivering what they wanted, which was lacking at the time.”
The chefs were looking for a full range of French, Italian and Spanish produce that could be grown in the UK, as well as consistency of supply and value for top quality.
Mash set about establishing relationships with growers all over the UK, in the same one-on-one way as it did with chefs, facilitating many a food trend, from the massive influx of edible flowers over the last eight years to cultivated sea kale, just recently.
“We visit all of our growers on a regular basis and we are always looking for more growers, as chefs are constantly asking us to source new products,” explains Martin.
“We are a conduit; we get the two things together – the product and chefs. Historically, one of the biggest failings, going back to the Mash Roe days, was there was no real working between the chefs, the supplier and the grower – there were too many people in the middle.”
Mash also works with its 30-strong grower network to help chefs understand the nature of growing for demand, and to back this up with a strong team of salespeople and buyers, who are all specialists in their fields.
“There’s no point in having a salesperson who knows nothing particular about wild mushrooms talking to an experienced chef,” points out Martin.
“They see through it in a second. They need that knowledge and they need to be listened to. It’s the same when it comes to purchasing the product from the growers.”
But, after moving from old Covent Garden to the new site when it relocated more than 40 years ago, is it sad to leave the market?
“Having a name that’s been associated with it for 150 years, yes, I’ll miss it,” responds Martin. “But we are looking forward to the future, on our own terms. There is nowhere else vacant on Covent Garden for us to move into tomorrow, even if there was no redevelopment. The market place just isn’t as necessary as it was to us.”
So, it’s onwards and upwards, as a new dawn beckons the Mash family to Park Royal. As well as continuing to pioneer to bring new English product like chicory, salsify and okra to chefs, Mash is diversifying its supply area to the Home Counties and venturing into high-end products, such as oils, caviar and foie gras, as well as offering a range of cheese – all with key experts in place.
“It can be a case of trial and error in this business and you have to move with the changes, but most of all you’ve also got to understand why good food is important and have a passion for it,” says Martin, enthusiastically. “I think we are proving that.”