Fine dining is a fine thing

fine dining

Tan Parsons reveals why wholesalers should invest in fine dining despite consumer cost cutting

For an economy recovering slowly, fine dining could be seen as a risky proposition for wholesalers. Why get involved in a market that relies on consumers having extra cash to spend?

But a growing number of wholesalers are migrating to the high-end foodservice market – partly because there is an opportunity for growth, partly so as not to be left behind.

Pilgrim Foodservice, based in Boston in Lincolnshire, launched its ‘Speciality Selection’ in November last year with 300 SKUs of ‘gourmet delights’ covering chilled, ambient and frozen products.

MD Charles Bateman says his business needed to diversify to keep up with trends. “There are customers who go to extremes, going down the Heston Blumenthal road, but basically people want to add decadence to their menus,” he says.

“For example, a simple pasta dish can be transformed with the addition of minced black truffles. As a wholesaler, you want to give them that option.”

WHATS ON THE MENU?

GOURMET DELIGHTS: Pilgrim Foodservice’s ‘Speciality Selection’ has 300 chilled, ambient and frozen SKUs.

CUSTOM CUTS: Dennis Foodservice has built a £2.5m butchery operation for custom-designed cuts.

LOCAL SOURCING: Kent Frozen Foods has had a locally sourced ‘Excellence’ range for 10 years.

CAVIAR AND TRUFFLES: Booker is tapping into fine dining with its Ritter Courivaud offering in Makro depots.

HANDMADE CAKES: JB Foods last year launched its ‘Chefs’ Selections’ range, which includes handmade miniature cakes.

The explosion of cooking shows on television has resulted in a wave of talented chefs coming through and running their own kitchens. To stand out, they invariably want something different.

Fresh, seasonal and local ingredients with clear provenance are the key. For example, Pilgrim sources cheese from Goatwood Dairy, a local artisanal producer that makes exceptional cheese using milk from its herd of goats.

“Customers can use this information on their menus to add interest,” says Bateman. “As a wholesaler, I want to make sure I can provide everything on the plate.”

Kent Frozen Foods was ahead of the curve when it targeted the fine dining market with its ‘Excellence’ range 10 years ago. Now Booker is joining in with its Ritter Courivaud offering in Makro depots, as is Scottish wholesaler JB Foods with its ‘Chefs’ Selections’ range, which includes handmade cakes.

In all these examples, wholesalers are given the chance to offer a product with a point of difference. This is why Devon-based Philip Dennis Foodservice invested £2.5m in a purpose-built fresh meat butchers that allows customers to have custom-designed cuts, such as meat diced into half-inch cubes or centre-cut steaks.

MD Stephen Carr says: “National statistics show the higher end of the restaurant sector is booming and we are very committed to continuing our growth in this area.

“Through foodservice wholesalers’ vast product ranges, there is a move to produce bespoke brochures and literature highlighting products and ranges suitable for this sector.

“With traditional wholesalers stocking many thousands of lines, producing literature of this kind aligns them closer to the needs of this niche market. Rather than the restaurant having to search through large catalogues, they are presented with a consolidated offering.”

Foodservice consultant Steve Dixon of Cognosco Marketing says this is being driven by consumers, who are becoming more demanding.

“Fine dining has to be seen as a margin opportunity for wholesalers,” he says. “While people are going out less, they want better quality and something with the wow factor – almost to justify going out and spending at all.”

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