Making gravy

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CUSTOMERS AT Chef & Brewer - Spirit Group's flagship food brand, and winner of the Retail Concept of the Year title at the Pub Food Awards 2007 -...

CUSTOMERS AT Chef & Brewer - Spirit Group's flagship food brand, and winner of the Retail Concept of the Year title at the Pub Food Awards 2007 - have high expectations when it comes to gravy.

Spirit challenged supplier Essential Cuisine to come up with a chicken gravy for use in its Chef & Brewer, Two for One and City Metro pubs. Did it meet Spirit's approval?

With roast chicken dishes increasingly popular on its menu, particularly as part of its Sunday lunch trade, Spirit Group asked stock and jus maker Essential Cuisine to create a chicken gravy which would come up to scratch.

The request followed the successful launch last year of Essential Cuisine's No1 Beef Gravy. Spirit Group head of food Paul Farr asked Essential for a similar chicken gravy, for use not just in Chef & Brewer, but in other parts of the business including the Two For One value operation and City Metro pubs.

Paul says: "For us, it's very much about value for money but customers now expect quality too.

"The top 10 pub dishes don't really change, and are essentially those that can't easily be made at home, such as steaks and fish and chips.

"We have been primarily concentrating on retaining and improving our best sellers while providing a wider choice. Our value food business is showing year-on-year growth and part of that success is due to understanding what our customers want.

For example, through quarterly feedback groups, we now only use British meat in Chef & Brewer."

Spirit's approach to gravy has also changed. "As a big accompaniment in our business, we knew we had to invest in homemade tasting gravy that could be prepared quickly," explains Paul.

"We were really impressed with No1 Beef Gravy, and with sales of poultry dishes such as half a roast chicken consistently high, not even dropping during bird flu, we approached Essential to see what they could do for us."

The finished product had to be cost-effective enough to enable Spirit to continue with offers such as two chicken meals for £8, but also had to be an improvement on the 'starchy' products the company was using. Consistency across the board and ease of use were also important factors.

No1 Chicken Gravy has now been launched in 1.5kg pots which make 20 litres of gravy. Paul says: "Our chefs have been positive and say it's a great product to work with. If there was negative feedback, you can rest assured we'd have heard about it."

Nigel Crane, managing director of Essential Cuisine, is a trained chef who founded the business because the products in the market didn't meet his needs.

He says: "It is well known that for diners, the gravy is one of the most important parts of a meal, and memorable great tasting gravy will always ensure customers return.

"Most gravy products currently available don't contain any meat stock; however they do contain MSG so they don't actually taste like a real gravy.

"We wanted to create a premium gravy for chefs, which is also very versatile so it doesn't compromise creativity - they can add their own touches to it."

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