Liz O’Keefe is a trade food and drinks journalist, recipe developer and qualified chef with a passion for cooking. In her first opinion post for Produce Business UK she guides us through the latest developments taking place in the UK’s vibrant foodservice sector
There’s so much more to the fresh produce arm of the foodservice industry than taking an order, then sending off a consolidated delivery and forgetting about it. Having worked as a chef before becoming a food journalist with a hankering for the fruit and veg sector, I had a chef’s eye view of that fact. But interviewing Martin Mash, patriarch of New Covent Garden Market’s (NCGM) catering supplier Mash, for Produce Business UK reinforced the reality.
After more than 40 years in the industry himself, Mash has realised through the family’s long history that listening to what his customer, the chef, wants and also what the grower needs means his role is equally as important to contributing to a happy, productive supply chain as in bringing new life to consumer interest in fruit and vegetables by supplying niche and exciting new products.
It’s a simple yet effective philosophy, but it goes over the heads of both buyers and suppliers more often than you’d think.
Mash will relocate from NCGM on the eve of the market’s regeneration to a new purpose-built facility, leaving smaller companies still in need of the mighty buyers’ walk where they amalgamate. And, although larger companies like Mash, and previously Fresh Direct, do outgrow the market, newcomers still recognise NCGM’s numerous benefits for caterers and chefs.
I for one am excited to see what comes of the redevelopment. My own awe for the market is shared by the participants of last year’s London Produce Show’s catering student programme with Westminster Kingsway College. When I spoke with them I learnt how the next generation of chefs viewed the market, enjoyed their work experience behind the scenes at the Grosvenor House hotel, met fresh produce companies and discovered new-to-them fruit and vegetables.
And talking of exciting products, Martin more than helped me out with a bit of info on cultivated sea kale. This isn’t exactly new, as you’ll read in our profile on sea kale, but the product is going through a mighty resurgence and is set to follow new season asparagus in its level of popularity in restaurants.
Resurgence is an apt word when it comes to fresh produce – the industry sees a similar pattern of demand as the fashion world, particularly with vegetables coming in and out of favour like colours year after year.
Chefs are accustomed to a wide selection of wild and cultivated mushrooms grown around the world, but the Mushroom Bureau has found out that consumers barely know their chestnuts from their buttons following its campaign, Just Add Mushrooms. So, get ready for mushrooms to become even more sought after as consumers learn more about the basic varieties in this £2.4m push.
Following a solid sales period for hospitality in London over Christmas and, according to some I have spoken to, as busy a January as they have experienced, new restaurants are also emerging in the city, with Manchester following close at the capital’s heels, as you’ll find out in our guide to new dining destinations in the UK.
And the foodservice sector is not just about the restaurants; the pop-up supper club scene is also thriving and going national. Make sure you stay in the loop and don’t miss out on any new opportunities by giving our pop-up feature a read.