Going upmarket

Related tags Alcoholic beverage Foodservice

ANOTHER WEEK, another hospitality show. Let's be honest, the idea of traipsing around a large hall looking at the latest innovations in paper cup...

ANOTHER WEEK, another hospitality show. Let's be honest, the idea of traipsing around a large hall looking at the latest innovations in paper cup technology or cutting-edge peanuts can sometimes make filling in the VAT return seem like an attractive option after all.

On the whole, publicans don't automatically identify with the wider foodservice industry. So, to help gauge the effectiveness of time spent at a hospitality event, we drafted in an expert.

Ben Bartlett, catering development manager with Marston's Pub Company and himself a former licensee, toured the recent Hotel & Catering Show in Bournemouth with an expert eye. Ben, the current holder of the HQ Food Champion title in The Publican's Pub Food Awards, is a trade show veteran, and has a pretty good idea of the type of business building support pubs are looking for.

"I sometimes put 'potwasher' down as my job title," he says. "That way, people look at your badge and assume you don't have any buying power. They're not trying to sell you anything, and you can get a better idea of what they're really about."

On the Tilda stand, we sample the rice specialist's new range of frozen risottos, aimed at bringing what has become a signature dish for many top-end restaurants into the pub menu market.

"Risotto definitely fits into pub menus, with more customer interest in al fresco dining and Mediterranean flavours," says Ben. "As a vegetarian option, it's also a great alternative to the vegetable lasagne."

At the 3G Foodservice stand, the new Signature range of premium frozen desserts catches Ben's eye. "A good crumble is something pubs can do themselves, but you need to mix and match. Pubs generally won't have the patisserie skills or preparation areas to make cheesecakes, for example, so you are probably better buying in," he says.

Boost sales

Ice-cream is a simple dessert, and Ben has proven that table-top menus in pubs can dramatically boost sales. Dairy company New Forest Ice Cream, exhibiting at the show, is keen to work with pubs but more cautious about Ben's suggestion of supplying branded freezers. "Pubs need help with food, and suppliers need to meet them half way. There's a big untapped market," explains Ben.

Upmarket soft drinks supplier Lus-combe Organic recognises the need to take its message out into the mainstream pub market from its current base in quite a small number of bars.

"We've been helped by the development of adult soft drinks such as J20," says managing director Gabriel David. "Pubs can persuade customers to trade up on wine, we have to show them how to do it with our products."

John Gerard Wines, which specialises in imports from Western Australian producers, is also looking at the quality end. "We can't compete with the big players as a main wine supplier," says managing director John Walmsley, "but we're increasingly finding pubs are looking for a second, niche wine supplier."

Ben has been tracking the growth of consumer interest in the provenance of food. "Good quality, local food shouldn't be a premium, it should be the norm," he says.

At specialist butchers Browns of Romsey, Jerome Saunders believes the upmarket restaurants and hotels he supplies are well behind many of Ben's pubs in this area. "Perhaps 10 per cent ask about provenance," he says. "Most chefs still buy on price."

Meat origin

Ben is a keen supporter of the Meat & Livestock Commission's menu transparency campaign, but Jerome believes "many restaurants would have a real problem if they had to say where their meat comes from".

One salesman bemoans the number of students touring the show, a perennial complaint at such events.

"That's so short-sighted, when we're supposed to be encouraging young people into the industry," says Ben. "I was a catering student in Bournemouth, and I now make buying decisions for more than 2,000 pubs."

Publican Live: Last chance for tickets

If you're serious about offering good food and drink, a visit to the Publican Live event is a must. This takes place in London from April 2 to 4. Any licensee who hasn't already marked at least one day in their diary to attend had better do so quickly, before word gets out and questions start to be asked. To register click on the link on the right or call 01923 690642 for free tickets.

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