‘Better than ever’ fresh produce opportunities in UK foodservice
Tony Reynolds says the food industry is being shaped by a relentless demand for healthy eating

‘Better than ever’ fresh produce opportunities in UK foodservice

Gill McShane
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The message is loud and clear; fresh ingredients are in demand on the UK’s eating-out market. So says Tony Reynolds, a third-generation greengrocer and managing director of Reynolds, one of the leading fruit and vegetables suppliers to the UK foodservice and catering industries

“There are better opportunities now than ever for greengrocers,” Reynolds begins. “The food industry is being shaped by a relentless demand for healthy eating. Operators are understanding how important it is to have fresh ingredients on menus.”

The eating out-of-home market is huge in the UK, according to Reynolds. Worth £85.3 billion in 2015 with 329,683 outlets across retail, travel and leisure, hotels, pubs and restaurants, he suggests the marketplace is growing by 2-2.5% annually.

Now “a real melting pot” of cuisines and taste, Reynolds claims the market is probably “one of the most diverse” in the world, which was not the case 15-20 years ago.

“There is so much coming out of the market – we’re having to constantly evolve to respond,” notes Reynolds. “From premium casual and all-day dining to street food and regional cuisines like South American, Mexican, Peruvian, Brazilian and Asian (Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Asian fusion) – it’s unbelievable what’s out there now.”

On the back of that, Reynolds says demand is rising for fresh ingredients – largely produce, including fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs – which is being fuelled by various factors.

“There’s an increasing demand for fresh ingredients – that is coming through loud and clear, which is great news for greengrocers,” he explains. “We need to work collaboratively to get more fresh produce into the foodservice sector.”

Factors driving demand for fresh ingredients

Here are what Reynolds considers to be the top drivers of the current trend for fresh:

Switched on operators promoting their offers

“Fruit and vegetables are on prominent display, through salad carts and open kitchens for example. It’s all about fresh flavours, and consumers have an idea about what to choose for a healthy option.”

Good food being marketed as a lifestyle choice

“Pod, Tossed, Chop’d, Abokado, ITSU – these chains are all promoting healthy grab-and-go ranges. It’s the new fast food. It’s very much for youngsters, and it’s the millennials that are picking up on this trend. They are the demographic profile; their culture is to go out and eat because they use it as their social backdrop.”

Meat-free diets becoming more popular

“In 2014 a Mintel report indicated that 12% of the UK self-identifies as vegetarian or vegan. That rises to 20% among 16-25-year-olds. Flexitarianism is a growing trend too, which is where consumers reduce their meat consumption on a part-time basis, fuelled by their concerns for the environment and health.”

Seasonality

“This is also helping to drive increased demand, and we’re latching onto that. Food integrity is demanded relentlessly. British and local food is making more headlines. It’s so important that we link up with provenance to explain how product are grown and sourced. Many industry initiatives, like the Soil Association’s Food for Life or Food Made Good from the Sustainable Restaurant Association, are all pushing local, fresh British food.”

Food to go

“Savvy operators are tapping into the breakfast market and more snacking occasions to offer consumers greater convenience. The industry can to do a better job in providing solutions which assist operators in promoting healthier choices, such as fruit pots or ready-to-go salads.”

Raw foods & juices

“The growth in raw foods and juicing is seeing a huge trend. Cold pressed juices are popular, in particular. Many operators make juices and smoothies on-site and they need lots of fresh produce. Again, this is good news for our industry.”

Supplying the foodservice sector

In view of the demand for fresh, Reynolds says his business is trying to encourage more foodservice companies to switch from frozen and processed produce to fresh.

Prêt a Manger is converting one of its outlets to a vegetarian- and vegan-only offer, which gives you some idea of how important the fresh produce element of foodservice is today! There are lots of raw food and vegan restaurants popping up in the south east of the UK and I think that trend will continue.

While the eating-out market in London is not yet saturated, Reynolds points out that the options are countless, which is putting some of the more mature chains under pressure from the “ankle biters” coming through.

Nonetheless, he says there is a “certain amount of stability” that foodservice operators can offer fresh produce suppliers and importers. This is important considering the UK retail market is still suffering from price deflation, while the big four remain embroiled in a price war to try to keep up with the discounters.

“The opportunities are definitely mind-blowing,” Reynolds points out. “We have a couple of great relationships with avocado importers and we want to develop those. But it has to be on a win-win basis – collaboration is very important to us.

“Our customers are also more open to broadening their specifications if they can be sure that spec is what they will get. For instance, we’ve been working on ‘wonky veg’ for 20 years already. It’s a subject matter which has had an awful lot of column inches recently. Now it seems everyone is jumping on the bandwagon.

“The foodservice sector needs consistency, more provenance, and seasonality that is well communicated to customers so they can market it directly to the consumer. Then sales growth will come.”

New trends in foodservice

Other areas in which the fresh fruit and vegetable industry can excel on the UK foodservice market is by tapping into its current trends. When it comes to eating out, free-from foods and superfoods are two of the biggest trends right now, according to research and insight business CGA Peach.

“They’re not unrelated but they didn’t register on last year’s trends, which just shows how quickly things are moving and how we have to keep up and even go beyond those trends,” Reynolds explains.

“Avocados fit into the superfood category. It’s a remarkable fruit. Not that long ago there was a complete misunderstanding about avocados. But Reynolds’ sales have grown by over 40% in the last year.”

Tony Reynolds was speaking at the 2016 edition of FPJ Live on April 21.

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