With the convenience market showing no signs of slowing down and shoppers becoming more sophisticated in their tastes, yet discerning in their demands, produce grower-supplier Mudwalls Farms in Warwickshire has responded with a new locally sourced food-to-go range that is being rolled out by convenience retailer the Midcounties Co-operative. Following a successful trial period, PBUK speaks with the two companies to find out what makes this premium range stand apart.
The eating out-of-home (OOH) market is worth £49 billion in the UK, according to data provided to PBUK by consumer insights researcher Kantar Worldpanel. It’s also growing by 4.3 per cent year-on-year (for the 52 weeks ended November 2017).
Of that total, £29 billion is spent on food to go, a figure that Kantar Worldpanel determines is growing by 2.2 per cent (OOH Purchase, 52 w/e 31 Dec 2017 vs 01 Jan 2017).
Eager to satisfy that market, regional c-store operator the Midcounties Co-operative approached its longstanding, premium produce supplier, Mudwalls, to procure prepared salad bowls, and later baguette sandwiches, for its high-end demographic stores.
The key, however, was to distinguish the range by applying Mudwalls’ principles for quality, provenance and traceability.
“The majority of shoppers believe supermarkets should focus on selling food from British farmers and growers, and they are happy to pay a premium for the locality,” Kieran Chand, category analyst at the Midcounties Co-operative, tells PBUK.
“Food-to-go is a growing market, and with today’s consumers leading busier lives, they are looking for that quick meal. The least we can do as a retailer is make sure that meal is nutritious and traceable.”
The result is the ‘Mudwalls Food To Go’ line, which comprises four salad bowls and four baguette sandwiches made with British produce that’s predominantly grown or sourced locally to where the Midcounties Co-operative operates.
“We’ve taken the theme of local sourcing to the next level with an added-value food-to-go range that features the best quality local produce,” comments George Beach, managing director of Mudwalls Farm. “It’s all about local provenance and following the flavour.”
The range is being stocked at 40 Midcounties Co-operative stores located across Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire. Each option is priced at £3.49 and has a three-day shelf-life.
Mudwalls supplies the Tenderstem broccoli and kale featured in the vegetarian salad bowl, while the tomatoes, lettuce and mixed leaves are from the Vale of Evesham, which is 10 minutes from Mudwalls’ base.
Other standout ingredients include: cooked meats from Adlington, a Warwickshire-based premium meat supplier; Worcestershire Gold cheddar cheese supplied by Croome Cuisine; Tracklements chutney from Wiltshire, Cotswold honey from Keepr’s; and chipotle mayo from regional sauce company The Sauce Shop, among others.
Point of difference
Although offering shoppers locally sourced produce is nothing new, Jon Lippett, Head of Sales and and Operations at Mudwalls, believes the provenance of the range is a clear point of difference within the convenience market.
“It’s certainly unique,” he claims. “I’ve not seen anything like it within the food-to-go channel. You might see a local baker offering handmade sandwiches but not a professionally assembled, consistent range produced in high volume to go into an increasing number of stores.”
At a time when convenience and impulse purchasing is on the up, Lippett says local sourcing is also key to delivering what shoppers want.
“There has been a huge focus from a number of retail customers switching to the local theme,” he says. “Provenance seems to be paramount. This is great for us as our new range sits well with what retailers are trying to achieve.”
Chand at the Midcounties Co-operative agrees, adding: “As a local team, we aim to bring the best quality, local food to our customers, but this is something we hadn’t tapped into from a food-to-go perspective.
“We have a longstanding partnership with Mudwalls and their produce is loved by our customers, so it makes sense that we would carry out this new venture with such a renowned brand who shares our passion for local food.
“Mudwalls has also collaborated with some of our other key suppliers, helping us to support more local businesses whilst giving the customer a story of where their food has come from.”
For retailers, Lippett says the Mudwalls food-to-go range is an assurance of great quality and distinctiveness.
“It drives footfall and complements the current ranges at the Midcounties Co-op,” he notes. “It’s also in season and on trend. It’s food with pride, which supports the values of the Midcounties Co-op."
For shoppers, it’s all about freshness, and understanding where the ingredients have been grown and sourced.
“Usually, if a shopper picks up a standard Ploughman’s [salad or sandwich] they wouldn’t know where the lettuce or cheese comes from,” Lippett suggests. “Here, it’s clearly displayed.”
At the same time, consumers are still looking for something different, especially at lunch time.
“They want something that’s not run-of-the-mill," Lippett says. "They want value for money but also great taste. These products stand out on the shelf with a clear point of difference."
Chand adds that the range suits any shopper looking for healthy and tasty food-on-the-go.
“Whether that be workers and students on their lunch breaks or even consumers looking for a convenient evening meal, the salads are versatile enough to make a great accompaniment or a main meal,” she suggests.
Above all, the taste difference is the true added value, according to both Chand and Lippett.
“The added value is, of course, the origin, but also the vibrant flavours,” Chand notes. “The focus is traditional, well-loved combinations, and the Mudwalls team have used the freshest local ingredients to make the range flavoursome and also fuss-free (with no fiddly sachets of dressings/sauces).”
By using award-winning, high-quality local ingredients, Lippett says Mudwalls is confident the range delivers better flavour.
“I don’t think there’s anything as good on the market in terms of taste – not on this scale anyway,” he points out. “The flavour is completely different to a standard sandwich or salad that’s been manufactured.
“We’re sourcing the best quality, regional ingredients, and that is paramount when it comes to providing a taste difference. This is in keeping with the Mudwalls Follow The Flavour mantra, which means our products should taste differently.”
Attention to detail
It’s also about attention to detail. Even the sandwich assembler – the Soho Sandwich Company – was hand-picked by Mudwalls, having just moved into a brand-new facility.
“They are well-regarded as a UK sandwich manufacturer who are second-to-none in terms of quality,” Lippett explains. “They are big enough to be professional but small enough to accept what we’re trying to achieve. We felt it was a relationship that could grow.”
Even though the Soho Sandwich Company is based in London, Lippett says the deliveries are set up to be efficient. When the vans drop off the prepared salads and sandwiches, they take with them on their return journey the ingredients to make the next day’s orders.
To ensure shoppers are fully aware of the effort that has gone into bringing these products to market, Mudwalls was careful to choose transparent packaging and clear labelling.
The label is white, carries the Mudwalls Follow the Flavour brand, the word ‘handcrafted’ and a Union Jack flag to identify the British origin. It also features details about the ingredients, their provenance and where the product was assembled.
Expanding the range
Already, Mudwalls Food To Go has passed the trial stage, with availability at the Midcounties Co-operative extending from the initial 30 stores to 40 outlets.
So far, the most popular items are the vegetarian Rainbow Salad Bowl with apple slaw with chipotle mayo, and the Roast Chicken Breast Baguette with mayonnaise, mixed leaves and tomatoes.
“The range is only in select stores at the moment and is performing well, with more stores across our estate requesting to stock the products,” explains Chand at Midcounties Co-op.
“We aim to extend the range out to more stores, ensuring we get the product mix right in each area. We’ll also continue to refine the current range to ensure each product tastes great, and offers a good value-for-money, food-to-go option for our customers.”
The future pipeline includes plans to add further products featuring locally sourced fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy, such as: protein pots, scotch eggs, sausage rolls, mini quiches and other savoury items.
“The protein pots with spinach and free-range boiled eggs are still in development,” Lippett notes. “Protein pots have become popular, so we put together our own version for The London Produce Show and Conference 2018 to gauge the reaction. There was quite a lot of interest.”
The original range of salads and sandwiches also may undergo a couple of annual changes to reflect the changing seasons around March and September, plus a possible one-off Christmas special.
Added to that, Mudwalls has received interest from other retailers in the UK who want to trial the new products.
Mudwalls Food To Go range:
- Rainbow Salad
- Farmer’s Ham and Slaw Salad
- British Honey and Mustard Chicken Salad
- British Dressed Chicken Salad
- British Roast Chicken Baguette
- Ploughman's Baguette
- Smoked Turkey Club Baguette
- Smoked Ham and Mustard Baguette