Swimming against the current

Fresh off the back of an award-winning creative rebrand, Bleiker’s Smokehouse is combining expertise with innovation to change the face of the smoked salmon market

Jürg Bleiker had a problem. A Swiss chef in the Yorkshire Dales, he found that he disliked all the smoked salmon delivered to his restaurant. The Scottish salmon was over-smoked, the London salmon was under-smoked, and neither seemed fit for his guests. Determined to find great quality smoked salmon in the UK, Jürg eventually decided that – as the old adage suggests – if you want something done, it is best to do it yourself. Thus, in 1993, using a kiln in an outbuilding of BS 165 bhis North Yorkshire home, Jürg began producing his own smoked salmon and serving it in his restaurant. The salmon’s popularity soon soared, so much so that, after 21 years in the restaurant business, Jürg left the kitchen and formed Bleiker’s Smokehouse.

In its humble early years, Bleiker’s was a small-scale production outfit supplying smoked salmon to the food service and farm shops in North Yorkshire’s Golden Triangle of Harrogate, York, and Leeds. Today, the company is in its third location and distributes its products to major retailers across the UK and Europe. Having joined the business in 2004, Jürg’s son-in-law, Charlie Andrew, has experienced Bleiker’s rapid expansion first-hand. Now the firm’s owner and Managing Director, Charlie claims that the superior quality of Bleiker’s smoked salmon means its increasing popularity is no real surprise.

“I had always been disappointed by the smoked salmon I’d bought from supermarkets and when I compared it to my father-in-law’s products, I truly tasted the difference,” Charlie says. “I thought to myself, this is what smoked salmon is actually supposed to be like, and it made me quite excited when I looked at the marketplace and realized the opportunity we had to take it into retail distribution. That’s when we created the Bleiker’s Brand.

“It didn’t take us long to find traction through the likes of Booths Supermarkets in the north. Within a few years we gained Morrisons, Budgens, Londis, and Waitrose. I realized it was all about how the product was presented, the perceptions the consumer took away from the branding, and ultimately, that the product always delivered on consumption. Eventually, we achieved scalability when we invested in a new factory at one of our sites before arriving at our current location which is near Northallerton, in the heart of North Yorkshire.”

Always searching for ways to help the business evolve, Charlie performed extensive research in 2019 as part of an attempt to understand the consumption patterns of the UK smoked salmon market. On discovering that the market was growing at around 10 per cent each year, and that this growth was being fueled by consumers in the 25 to 45 age bracket, Charlie decided it was time for the company to rebrand and reposition itself for the new decade.

“Lots of our previous branding, and lots of our competitors’ branding, was all gold, silver, and dark colors and had what I would call a ‘Royal Warrant’ feeling to it,” he states. “This is probably because in the past, smoked salmon was seen as a treat reserved for special occasions like Christmas or birthdays, but generally speaking, 25 to 45-year olds have a slightly different attitude and see it more as a convenient source of protein. As a result, we’ve repositioned ourselves to be a contemporary premium brand and more relevant to the people who are contributing most to the growth of our products. This market segment is eating smoked salmon for breakfast with scrambled eggs or as a protein element in pasta and other every day meals because it is a healthy, convenient, solution for busy, time-starved lives.”

Development process
Rolled out across all main supermarkets, including 262 Morrisons stores, the rebranded products were positively received and picked up a Silver Food and Beverage Design Award. Despite what has been a difficult period in retail, Bleiker’s has seen sales in some retailers grow by up to 28 per cent since the launch. Charlie believes the rebrand has succeeded because the new products stand out on the shelf, but do not alienate the older demographic.

“Our research told us that consumers generally found that smoked salmon looks quite boring and dull in supermarkets, so rather than dark designs, we’ve gone for a much more pastel-focused look,” Charlie reports. “At its core, it’s about proper smoked salmon. It’s about cues that the fish is responsibly sourced and high in both protein and Omega 3, and all those things that are important to, primarily, 25 to 45-year olds, whilst still appealing to the over 45’s too.”

Though the company also produces a small range of alternative fish products, such as mackerel, Bleiker’s is heavily focused on smoked salmon. One area in which the new packaging excels is in showcasing the huge breadth of flavors the company has developed to help enhance taste, add value, and take its offering to the next level.

“Of course we have a basic smoked salmon range, but what we are known for is our innovation and flavors like Yorkshire Peat smoked salmon, right the way through to Buck’s Fizz. Just this week, we launched a miso, nori-inspired flavor called Japanese Cure and have already received wonderful feedback letters and emails from some of our customers,” Charlie declares. “We are always thinking about trends and obviously sushi is growing in our target market, so that’s why we decided to develop Japanese Cure. Another flavour we’ve recently launched is Summer Punch, which uses a Pimm’s-based product to subtly bring out those summer flavours. By observing the market, bringing in our own ideas, and utilizing consumer panels, we develop products that we think can be a success. More than anything, we take consumer feedback incredibly seriously because, ultimately, they are the people buying the product and so we develop it accordingly.”

The more Charlie reveals about Bleiker’s development process, the clearer it becomes that passion, innovation, and a commitment to quality are some of the key factors differentiating the company from its competition. One thing’s for certain, everything Bleiker’s does is consumer-centric. Twenty-seven years since Bleiker’s opened its doors, the firm still hand tends its smokers and hand cures its salmon. This commitment to tradition, coupled with the company’s modern, creative approach, is something that Bleiker’s calls ‘smoke craft’. Unlike other larger, more corporate organizations, for Bleiker’s, producing great smoked salmon is an art.

Family company
Still, Charlie is keen to express that Bleiker’s could not create products of such high quality without sourcing the best responsibly farmed salmon the UK has to offer. As Charlie puts it, quoting his grandmother, ‘you can’t create a silk purse BS 165 cfrom a sow’s ear.’

“It’s pretty simple,” Charlie asserts, “in order to make good quality smoked salmon, you have to start with good quality salmon. As a result, all our farms are Global G.A.P approved, meaning they adhere to standards that are recognized in the industry for the correct husbandry and rearing of salmon.

“Speed is important to us too. The quicker we can get the salmon from harvest to cure, the better the quality of the smoked product. We target four days and that is an important part of the quality process as it ensures that we retain the freshness of the fish.

“Salmon as a protein is very responsible in its sustainability of global resources,” he adds. “For every ton of salmon produced, it only needs 1.2 tons of feed, whereas beef requires about six tons of feed for every ton produced. Salmon is also very efficient in terms of the percentage of the fish that is edible.”

Looking back over the last three decades, it’s safe to say that Jürg Bleiker solved his smoked salmon problem. From that solution has sprouted one of the UK’s most creative and exciting smoked salmon producers; a firm that maintains a distinct family culture thanks to Jürg’s continued involvement, along with his daughter and son-in-law Charlie’s contributions.

“We’ll always be a family company,” Charlie remarks, “and that means we will go out of our way to help people when they have problems, working over and above what a corporation would do. The power of the family values in this business means we look after our staff and reward them accordingly.”

Led by the passion of its management team, and their intrinsic connection to a product they have been hand-smoking over smoldering fires in the heart of Yorkshire for more than 25 years, Bleiker’s is looking forward to a bright future ahead.

“In the next three to five years, we want to be in a position where discerning consumers both in Europe and the UK have access to Bleiker’s products via all major retailers,” Charlie proclaims. “We want people to recognize the brand for what it is - proper smoked salmon with an innovative edge. There is always going to be something new coming along from Bleikers - it’s just who we are and what we do.”

The cow factor

A multi-generational family business, Superior Dairy has been producing milk and dairy products for customers across the USA for close to a century

Located in Canton, Ohio, Superior Dairy is widely regarded to be the largest independently owned dairy processor east of the Mississippi River. Naturally, things weren’t always that way, but though the company has grown and adapted SD 165 bthrough the years, Superior Dairy has always remained loyal to its Ohio roots and nationwide clientele.

Best known for providing high quality fluid milk products, cottage cheese, sour cream, ice cream, and chip dip, Superior Dairy private labels for many of its customers, meaning that millions of consumers enjoy its consistent and flavorful products, without necessarily knowing the Superior name. Distributing its products to stores across 44 states, Superior Dairy counts Costco, Aldi, and Sam’s Club among its top customers.

Much of Superior Dairy’s recent growth can be traced back to the year 2000, when the company launched major technological developments across all aspects of the business. CEO Greg Soehnlen suggests that the overhaul marked the point where Superior Dairy transformed from a small regional player into a national distributor of milk products.

“At Superior Dairy, we understand that the food and beverage industry is constantly changing and we are not afraid to change with it,” Greg remarks. “We are ultimately known for our food and dairy products, but we are driven by a really strong focus on manufacturing, technology, and logistics. We are capable of speedy mass production from a small capacity footprint and the technologies we use in the dairy space support our infrastructure, as well as the logistics of moving our product in a low-cost manner.

“Some of the internal technologies we possess include flexible filling, which is where we blend and standardize milk in a bottle - rather than in a more traditional tank - so we can have a really fast, high rate of order fulfillment with our customers, from a small space,” Greg adds. “When it comes to shipping, we are big proponents of caseless systems. This is where we ship products without using extraneous milk cases. Essentially, everything ships in one direction; nothing is returned. In recent years, we have even been able to develop different palletizing methods and systems to support the unique requirements of each of our customers’ operations. If you look at our work with Costco or Sam’s Club, they all have a palletizing format that we have to create and follow as we integrate with their respective operations. It’s what allows us to ship milk to 44 states.”

Problem solvers
When it comes to innovation and product development, Superior Dairy benefits from the services of its sister company, Creative Edge. Specialists in adding value and reducing costs for its clients, Creative Edge is a think tank engineering company with a strategy to improve and innovate on customer supply chains across a variety of areas, from raw ingredients to delivery. In an industry with low margins that can make investment in new ideas or concepts challenging, Creative Edge utilizes years of dairy experience, manufacturing knowledge, engineering, an internal fabrication shop, and industry contacts, to help solve customer problems and replace them with real-life solutions.

“Working with Creative Edge, we meet with our customers, and they can be from retail or a parallel industry to us, it could be somebody on our supply or vendor side of the business, but we work together to create new solutions to some of their problems. In the same way, Creative Edge also provides ways to stop our costs from going up or things of that nature,” Greg reveals. “They are a really solid engineering group that has a very different approach when it comes to creating a business model.”

Having invested more than $25 million into the business over a three-year period to help grow company infrastructure, Superior Dairy plans to continue with the expansion of its production facilities this year – a project that will result in the creation of around 125 new jobs. The development of the site will allow the company to add new aseptic processes and packaging lines that will enable Superior Dairy to expand into new markets. In the coming years, the firm also hopes to implement new manufacturing lines, which will facilitate growth in the company’s cottage cheese and cream product lines, as well as the addition of a new caseless line.

Despite all the new technology, at its core, Superior Dairy will always be a business about people. Led by the fourth generation of the Soehnlen family - and with a number of fifth generation family members at work in the production plant - the company is firmly a family affair. No matter how large the business grows, Greg says, its founding values and family culture will always come first.

“We have a really big group of family members in the fourth generation and they are very passionate about the family, its history, and its future,” he explains. “They all have very different skillsets and talents, and they all work in different positions. They are not all in leadership roles, but they are in important positions in the company. We fill some of the leadership roles with non-family members as well and it is this great integration of talent and values and passion in the business that keeps us moving forward.”

Family culture
In less than two years’ time, Superior Dairy will celebrate its 100th anniversary. A momentous achievement for any business, Greg suggests that the milestone would not have been attainable without the hard work and passion exhibited by the Soehnlen family over the ten preceding decades.SD 165 c

“Our family values have always spurred us on,” he declares. “We are very passionate about our business and integrating those family values into a business setting. We are very strong, hardworking people and we aren’t afraid to try new things and work to get into the market. These are just some of the inbuilt attributes that our family brings to the table.

“I like to talk about us as being a really edgy company. For me, that is what is great about Superior Dairy. We are very lean, as far as management teams go, and we can make some very quick decisions. As a business, especially compared to our competition, we can turn on a dime. Attributes like that keep us very, very competitive in the marketplace.”

By no means reserved for blood relatives, the family culture at Superior Dairy extends to the company’s workforce and local community. In keeping with this spirit, the firm has continued to hire staff throughout 2020’s Covid-19 pandemic in order to support Canton and the greater Ohio area. Ranging from technical positions to accounting, equipment operators to truck loaders, Superior Dairy is aiming to hire around 40 new team members this year and will look to enroll them into the business in line with the strict health and safety procedures it has in place to protect against Coronavirus.

As we head towards the final quarter of what has been a difficult year for many businesses across the globe, Superior Dairy is not only keen to show appreciation for its staff, but also for its vast network of partners. “So much of our success comes from our support partners,” Greg comments. “We have a really strong strategic relationship with companies like Serac, who has been a great partner for us and I think that, especially in a year like this, it’s important to let them know just how instrumental they have been to our success. On behalf of Superior Dairy, I would like to thank them all.”

With a focus on flexibility and adaptability, Superior Dairy hopes to blend modern methods with family values to help guide the company on its path to future success. Alongside the anniversary celebrations lingering on the horizon, in the next few years the firm aims not to build a portfolio of products, but a portfolio of capabilities that will enable the business to continue serving its customers for decades to come.

“As our consumers evolve and change, we want to be able to evolve and change with them,” Greg asserts. “We are planning on expanding into new product processes and with that, we will be able to satisfy new trends and markets. One area we are very interested in is dairy protein, plant protein, and the combination of the two. We are going to see these proteins growing together in really unique ways as we witness a new battle for the consumer stomach.”

A slice of the action

With more than 450 stores and counting, pizza franchise Papa John’s has made the adaptations needed to navigate the UK’s Covid-19 pandemic and remain on course for further expansion

For Papa John’s, the secret to success is much the same as that behind making a better pizza, and that is the more you put into something, the more you get out of it! The business was founded in the United States in 1984, and ever since its first Papa John’s pizza was made in a broom closet in Jeffersonville, Indiana, quality has been the principle ingredient at its core. It is that quality that has seen the company grow to more than 5000 locations in 45 countries and PJ 165 bterritories around the world.

Driven to be the best at making innovative new products and recipes, Papa John’s uses only fresh dough – never frozen – plus the finest, freshest ingredients all coming together to create a better flavor. This all forms part of the company’s ‘Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.’ concept, which continues to prove popular as the business expands across the UK, where it now has more than 450 stores bearing its name.

“Our top-quality pizza definitely sets us apart in the market, as does having the best people in place across all areas of our business, who are all working towards the same shared vision and goal,” begins Papa John’s UK’s Business Development Director, Justin Gilbert. “Our people are our foundation, and it is they who are out there every day, making, baking and delivering to consumers across the nation. Our success is down to the hard work and effort of the whole team, and our investment in – and respect for – our people is directly reflected in our success. Whether it is our head office staff, support teams, franchisees, partners or supply chain staff, our working environment creates an atmosphere where everyone is prepared to give their very best and to work together as part of a collective effort to foster a positive way forwards. That is something that is incredibly motivating and always appreciated.” When it comes to Papa John’s products, ingredients matter and it is those, as well as a passion to create, that make a great pizza. “During my time in the industry, I have really found that there is no great ‘secret’, other than delivering a super product made with high quality ingredients, piping hot and on time, every time,” Justin continues. “Whether it’s our signature sauce, toppings, our original fresh dough, or even the box itself, we invest in our ingredients to ensure that we always provide the finest quality pizza. Having the correct systems and processes in place to deliver consistently and in an efficient manner is also critical, and that’s what we’ve been able to implement company-wide at Papa John’s.”

As Papa John’s continues to expand its reach throughout the UK – searching for the best high street locations – more franchise opportunities become available to prospective franchisees. “We are always looking for new franchise partners,” Justin confirms. “These may be individuals with the passion and ambition to run a multi-unit franchise operation, or an organisation looking to add Papa John’s as a new revenue stream by offering an existing client base a quality food offering. Finding the right partners who share our brand values is important to us and is key to our collective success.

“Running a Papa John’s franchise means that you run your own business, safe in the knowledge that you have one of the world’s largest pizza businesses supporting you every step of the way. Our most successful franchisees are multi-unit operators, which means they can take advantage of economies of scale associated with running multiple stores.”

Successful franchisees
Anyone interested in taking on a Papa John’s franchise goes through the same basic process. This begins with a one-to-one discussion and a discovery day, with the company recently launching weekly ‘virtual’ discovery meetings online. These sessions are the first step in getting to know the candidate, and for them to get to know Papa John’s. Many have tried Papa John’s and love the product, and these meetings are the chance to learn how the tried and tested franchise concept works in more detail. They are also an opportunity for both parties to ask questions to see if there could be a good fit for the future. For successful candidates who want to go on and run a multi-unit Papa John’s franchise, help is provided with location selection, training and full turn-key opening of stores. As a franchise, the company supplies all of the assistance needed to get a successful Papa John’s up and running.

Brand consistency
Today, the company finds itself in the midst of updating its retail stores across the country. “Over the next couple of years, we will re-image all of our Papa John’s outlets in the UK,” Justin states. “The new format is fresh and fun, is designed to appeal to our ever-growing customer base, and is welcoming and tailored to each location, using improved layouts, a modern palette, key words and updated branding.”

PJ 165 cAs a global brand, consistency of service across all regions makes the company both appreciated and recognized by consumers world-wide. Justin goes on to describe how the differences between markets essentially come down to the competitive nature of each region and consumer buying habits. “We respond to these with small variations in our offering, which might include slight differences to menu choices, tailored to the communities that we serve.

“At Papa John’s, we also benefit greatly from having a flexible and dynamic marketing team, led by Giles Codd, whose job is to respond quickly to changing customer trends in the market. Giles has a big focus on innovation and keeping the brand fresh. This means we have the scope to innovate and move ahead with new product introductions, whilst maintaining our focus on the quality ingredients that make up our ‘old favorites’ and best-selling pizzas.”

Like all businesses in the food industry, Papa John’s UK found itself having to rapidly adapt its activities in 2020, when Covid-19 emerged in the UK and sent the country into a period of lockdown. “We were fortunate in that we were able to continue to support our communities by delivering hot food in line with Government guidelines, and this has allowed us to provide an enormously important service, especially during lockdown,” Justin explains. “We certainly needed to adjust our processes to ensure that our staff and customers remained safe at all times. This has been our absolute priority as a business.

“Among the processes that we implemented was contactless delivery. We removed the facility to pay by cash, and established a delivery only model, and also issued strict hygiene protocols to all franchisees. To protect our staff and customers, our employees observe social distancing while working. During peak times, this requires more pre-preparation, and much work can be done beforehand, which helps. We also found that franchisees have brought staff in earlier in the day, giving them plenty of time to get ready and accommodate all of the above-mentioned measures.”

Partner opportunities
Looking ahead to what everyone hopes to be a brighter future, Papa John’s UK’s focus is on enabling its growing customer base to access its stores and products, when, where and how they want to, most easily and in significantly more locations across the country. As a result, the company is looking to work with unique business partners across a range of different industries.

“We have been really successful in high street locations, delivering our top-quality pizza to the local community,” Justin adds. “We plan on continuing our growth on the high street, but also to partner with new organisations in unique locations. For example, we already have exceptional partnerships with several leading holiday park operators and sports stadiums. We are open to considering new partnerships that match our brand values, and are looking for a positive investment to add value for an existing customer base by serving Papa John’s pizza.

“Papa John’s is flexible and evaluates opportunities on an individual basis. This may be a new idea being brought to the table, but what we do is focus on the outcome we want and design a concept and offering to deliver that outcome. In this way, in the future, we would like to be seen as one of the biggest and best franchise opportunities in the UK.”


A grape escape
Nestled amongst the vineyards and valleys of Germany’s third largest state, Baden-Württemberg, the region of Stuttgart offers visitors the chance to combine business and pleasure

In February 2020, over 1800 participants, from 67 nations, descended on the city of Stuttgart for the Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung (IKA) or International Exhibition of Culinary Art. It was one of the last major international events before the Covid19 lockdown. Established in 1900, the competition sees teams of chefs from around the world conjure up spectacular edible creations in the name of national pride and bragging rights. Widely understood to be the oldest, SCB 165 blargest and most diverse culinary arts competition in the world, this year’s edition of the event took place at Messe Stuttgart. With an area of 120,000m², the city’s modern trade fair centre was the perfect venue for the celebration of food, allowing Stuttgart to combine its credentials as a world-class location for events, with the region’s celebrated reputation for food and drink.

Situated in the south-west of Germany, the Stuttgart Region is comprised of the city of Stuttgart and its surrounding districts. A thriving hub of economic, scientific and political life, some of Europe’s biggest companies, including Porsche, Bosch, Mercedes-Benz and Daimler AG, are headquartered in the area. Stuttgart might commonly be associated with the automobile industry, but the city once known as ‘the chocolate capital of Germany’ has a lot more to offer than cars.

Food & wine
In the early 20th century, chocolate manufacturer Waldbaur was famous in Stuttgart for its chocolate ‘cat tongues’. Nowadays, Stuttgart’s chocolate tradition is continued by Ritter Sport, which still produces its famous square-shaped bars from a factory in the west of the region. The food scene isn’t just for those with a sweet tooth, though. Stuttgart boasts nine Michelin-starred restaurants, including the two-starred Restaurant Olivo and Restaurant Top Air, which can be visited without even leaving the airport. The wider Stuttgart Region, meanwhile, has a further 16 Michelin-starred establishments. For those less interested in fine dining, the region’s focus on locally sourced products and traditional recipes means that visitors are sure to find something they enjoy, whether it’s maultaschen (filled pasta), linsen mit Spätzle (lentils with noodles) or Gaisburger Marsch (a hearty Swabian hotpot).

In the past, one of Stuttgart’s best kept secrets was its wine industry, but after years of international acclaim, the area is now making a name for itself as one of Europe’s finest wine regions. At the end of 2019, a number of Stuttgart wineries received industry awards, including ‘Wine Grower of the Year’ and ‘Up-and-Coming Vinter of the Year’. The region also plays host to the annual Stuttgart Wine Festival, where visitors can sample over 500 different wines from local Baden and Württemberg vineyards.

Traditional taverns
Stuttgart has been producing wine since around 3 AD, when Roman emperors first started growing grapes in the region. The unusual topography of the area means the city of Stuttgart sits in a valley basin and vineyards can even be found in the city centre. The main wines grown in the region are the red varieties Lemberger, Spätburgunder and Trollinger. The latter is a fruity, light red wine, as inextricably linked with Stuttgart as Porsche or Mercedes. For a truly local experience, visitors can sample wine in a Besenwirtschaften, or Broom Tavern - temporary wine taverns, run by wine growers and open for no more than four months of the year. The name ‘Besenwirtschaften’ is derived from the broom that hangs outside these taverns to show they are open for business. Inside, visitors will only find the wine-growers wine, usually served in long-stemmed glasses with a handle that are typical of the region.

Open for business
There might be more than 16 hectares of municipal vineyards to explore, but wine isn’t the only drink expertly made in Stuttgart. Hochland has been making coffee for the people of the region since 1930, and Martina Hunzelmann now manages the company her grandfather founded in the city almost 100 years ago. Germany’s proud beer tradition is alive and well in Stuttgart too. The Dinkelacker family brewery was the first in the region to produce beer in the pilsner tradition and it remains a popular brewer of regional specialities today.SCB 165 c

Of course, visitors don’t have to be at a vineyard or brewery to be able to sample the local beer and wine. The bar quarter surrounding Stuttgart’s Hans-im-Glück (Lucky Hans) fountain is busy with quaint old pubs and trendy bars such as Mata Hari and Deli. The city offers more novel places to spend an evening with a cocktail as well. In the Hospitalviertel, Jigger and Spoon is a bar located in the strongroom of a former bank. It was awarded ‘New Bar of the Year’ in 2019 by Mixology magazine. On warmer evenings, from spring to autumn, Sky Beach welcomes visitors to a beach on top of a multi-storey car park in the middle of the city. With over ten tonnes of sand and several bars, it is a laid-back, taste of the Caribbean in the Swabian city of Stuttgart.

With everything the region has to offer, it is unsurprising that it is an exciting venue for conferences and events. From September 1st congresses and trade shows with more than 500 delegates are allowed again following a strict safety protocol. Stuttgart international airport is open for safe travel and connects more than 100 destinations. The Stuttgart Region has 48 conference centres and 110 hotels in business and superior categories. For company’s considering hosting events in the region, the Stuttgart Convention Bureau offers comprehensive consulting especially according to the current situation, safety protocols of locations and hotels, information about valid regulations as well as hybrid event solutions. Further services are the online location database and free online hotel booking tool, administration of hotel room allotments, procurement of professional service partners, and even assistance with transport passes, city tours, guides and event tickets.

Family matters

Priding itself on having the best beef in the UK – in addition to a range of equally fine meat and pantry products – HG Walter has become the go-to butcher for London’s most prestigious restaurants, chefs and retail customers

For almost 50 years, London’s Barons Court has been home to the butcher shop of HG Walter. Founded in 1972 by Peter Heanen, this independent, family-run business has come to be recognised as one of the capital’s most respected butchers, responsible for supplying the very best of British meat to some of the finest chefs and restaurants. Renowned for its provenance, welfare and flavor, its meat is typically sourced from small farms rearing free-range native breeds, such as Hereford and Aberdeen Angus cattle, and Hampshire Duroc pigs.HG 165 b

“When my father started HG Walter back in the early 1970s, he did so with what was then best described as a small, intimate shop with only four members of staff,” begins Managing Director, Adam Heanen, who, together with his brother Daniel and sisters Clare and Louise have followed in their father’s footsteps into the business. “From the outset, his ethos was built around sourcing only the best quality produce, and it was this – coupled with its work ethic – that helped drive the business forward over the following years.”

Looking back over the history of the company, Adam notes several important milestones that have been critical to its success. “One event that immediately comes to mind would be the complete overhaul of our Barons Court shop in 2000. This transformed us from being what was a rather old-fashioned butcher with sawdust on the floor, to a modern, all-singing and all-dancing shop, at a time when the industry itself was actually going through something of a dip due to rise in popularity of the supermarkets. Despite the risks, these efforts resulted in trade virtually doubling overnight.”

At this time, HG Walter still focused predominantly on serving the retail market, however this would begin to evolve after Adam came into the business in 2005 after finishing school. “It was at this point that we gradually began to say yes to more and more hospitality and restaurant customers who were seeking high quality meats and appreciated first-class service; customers such as the Michelin-Starred River Café, Philip Howard’s The Square, and the Patty&Bun chain,” Adam confirms.

Game-changing facility
This was another key turning point for HG Walter, and as the next decade saw business go from strength-to-strength a further extension of the shop was required in 2015. Then, in 2017, the decision was taken to purchase its own 24,000-square-foot warehouse. Operating across two levels, the building features separate areas for the company’s two Himalayan salt walls, its burger making facility, its poultry products, bacon department, sausage room, cooked meats room, its dry-aging and maturing zone, and even office space for its sales and administrative staff.

“This was really a game-changer for us as a company,” Adam enthuses. “The space this new, purpose-built facility gave us meant that we could service even more customers, yet still retain the hands-on approach needed to ensure that our strict quality standards remained unblemished. This really helped to put HG Walter on another level, and has allowed us to serve all manner of clients, from the Harrods Food Halls and the Savoy, to chefs including Nigella Lawson and Heston Blumenthal.”

Consistency & quality
For Adam, the word that best summarizes the reason behind HG Walter’s long-term success is consistency. “I strongly believe in the idea that you are only as good as your last performance, and therefore maintaining the consistent quality of both our products and our service is absolutely vital if we are to continue to prosper,” he states. “When it comes to our meat, we have never – and will never – compromise on quality. Meanwhile, as far as service goes, as a family we have been brought up to understand the importance that every customer we deal leaves us happy, no matter what it takes. This passion for our work run throughout the DNA of HG Walter.”

As a business that has come to be a valued supplier to London’s hospitality industry, it will come as little surprise that the Covid-19 pandemic, and the lockdown of non-essential businesses that occurred in the UK in the spring of 2020, has had a profound effect on HG Walter. “It is not an exaggeration to say that Covid-19 literally changed our business model overnight,” Adam details. “Prior to lockdown, the hospitality sector represented approximately 90-to-95 per cent of our HG 165 ctotal turnover, and to see this drop away suddenly was a source of worry for us. What we did not envision, however, was the amazing reaction and response we received from the retail sector and the unprecedented demand we had for home deliveries.”

Change & diversification
What followed was a big shift away from HG Walter’s business-to-business activities, to a more direct-to-consumer approach. Utilizing the company’s website and online presence, its employees worked diligently to quickly transition it towards a new category of end user. “The direct-to-customer and home deliveries markets have absolutely kept us going during the 2020, to such an extent that we have had to bring in new drivers and packers to handle the volume of orders we have received. We have not had to furlough a single member of staff, and we have also opened up a pop-up shop in Notting Hill to serve customers,” Adam says.

“I would say, however, that perhaps the biggest lesson that we have taken away from the experiences of the last six months is – having been so reliant on the hospitality sector – of the need to diversify and draw business from other markets,” Adam declares. “For that reason, we are now investing considerably in marketing direct to customers. At the same time, we plan to continue to strengthen our ecommerce offering, and will look to extend our reach nationally where until now we have been very much London focused. What we have experienced in recent months has also accelerated our plans to invest in a second shop, which we hope to have in place in 2021, or 2022 at the latest. While the high street in general is weaker at present, I still believe that people want to be able to go somewhere where they know they will receive excellent quality products and service, and that is what the new shop will be geared to delivering in the future.”

Prior to 2020, HG Walter had enjoyed substantial year-on-year growth for at least the two years prior, yet – as one can only imagine – the rollercoaster that has been the first half of this year has seen its pre-existing plans disrupted to a degree. “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on not only ourselves but the entire hospitality sector has given us pause to almost take a few steps back and take a look at how we operate as a business,” Adam adds. “We fully appreciate the successes that we have had over the years, but we now realize that it is time to dig in, embrace change and diversify ourselves so as to not be so heavily reliant on one specific sector. By doing so, we can ensure that should the company ever go through a period such as the one we have just experienced, it will be in an even stronger position to support all of its staff and the mouths it feeds.

“Looking ahead, I anticipate continued growth in our direct-to-consumer activities, and for this reason we will look to increase our marketing to this sector, as we do all that we can to grab hold and retain any customers that we can. I also expect that, in the longer-term – perhaps the next five years or so – our ecommerce activities will have the potential to become as big, if not bigger than the wholesale arm of the business. There is a lot of work still to be done there, but the potential exists, so we will endeavour to give both areas 100 per cent of our love and attention as we move into the next phase of our journey.”



The choice of change

Famous for its delicious, market-leading range of meat-free ingredients and dishes, Quorn Foods is committing to some bold sustainability goals for the decade ahead

As a leading meat alternative brand in the world, Quorn has always believed that the planet needs a more sustainable diet; one that is healthier for its people and kinder to the Earth.

In 2020, the company reaffirmed its commitment to this belief through the announcement that it would be introducing a new ‘Director of People & Planet’ role, created to accelerate Quorn’s status as a business of the future with an Quorn 165 benvironmental mission at its core. Tongwen Zhao, a former Director for The Dairy Farm Group in Hong Kong, was chosen by the company to be the first person to tackle the role. Alongside a Master’s degree in Environment, Politics, and Society, Tongwen brings nearly 20 years of HR experience to the business.

“I am super excited to welcome Tongwen to the Quorn team as she brings such a wealth of global experience and passion for our sustainability purpose,” Quorn CEO Marco Bertacca declared at the time of Tongwen’s appointment. “The products we make at Quorn are all made with the clear purpose to provide healthy food for people and the planet, and our purpose must run through everything we do. We have created this new role to build an integrated culture, across our global operations and within our people, that will drive progress towards Quorn’s goals across the next decade and beyond.”

Understandably, Tongwen was delighted about the appointment and excited about her new company’s potential to bring about lasting change. “It is an honor to join Quorn Foods and become the first person to undertake this new role,” she remarked. “Living in Asia for much of my life, I have seen the damaging impacts of the climate crisis first-hand and, by encouraging more people to eat sustainable protein, we can help improve their lives.” “My HR experience has taught me that people are inspired by a shared purpose, and to achieve true, sustainable progress we must prioritize the engagement of our team. The Covid-19 pandemic poses serious challenges to the Quorn family, but the way our people are tackling the situation with bravery and dedication has shown me that I have arrived at a special company that is well set to make a difference to the future of our planet.”

At the same time as announcing the new role, Quorn set itself a number of targets against which it will measure its future progress in HR and sustainability. These included: <ul

  • To become a net positive company by 2030
  • To achieve net zero emissions within its own operations by 2030
  • To achieve net zero emissions across its whole supply chain by 2050
  • To serve eight billion meals a year worldwide by 2030 – one for every person on the planet


Carbon footprint
The targets aim to help Quorn build on its history of sustainability achievements. Over a six-year period, the company has reduced its carbon emissions by 38 per cent and its water usage by 16 per cent. Additionally, all electricity used at the company’s Stokesley and Methwold factories is 100 per cent renewable and as much as 80 per cent of Quorn packaging is recyclable. In 2018 alone, Quorn products enabled savings of 200,000 tons of CO2e compared to meat equivalents, with the greenhouse gas impact of mycoprotein, the unique protein in all Quorn products, being 90 per cent lower than beef.

Always looking for ways to increase customer awareness surrounding the environmental impact of the foods they buy - and what the company is doing to help - Quorn recently introduced carbon footprint data on packaging for 60 per cent of its product offering. The ‘Farm to Shop’ data, certified by the Carbon Trust, marked the start of a trailblazing new campaign concentrating on how food choices can impact our climate. With a focus on how products such as Quorn Mince are a ‘step in the right direction’ when it comes to climate change, due to its low carbon footprint, the campaign arrived in a year when studies have suggested that more than 50 per cent of consumers have stated that they eat meat free for environmental reasons.Quorn 165 c

Peter Harrison, CCO of Quorn Foods, commented on the pioneering development as the company became the first meat free food manufacturer to introduce third party carbon footprint accreditation via the Carbon Trust. “For over 30 years, we have been proudly delivering Healthy Protein for a Healthy Planet. Quorn is proven to provide significant health and environmental benefits and today we’re delighted to offer carbon footprint data to our customers, whom we know are actively trying to find ways to reduce their impact on the planet.

“This is about giving people the information needed to make informed decisions about the food they eat and the effect it has on our planet’s climate – in the same way that nutrition information is clearly labelled to help inform decisions on health – and we’re asking other brands to get on board with us. Currently no RDAs exist for carbon emissions, but we hope that if other food brands follow suit, we will be able to make better comparisons in our shopping baskets.”

Following successful collaboration with Greggs on its sell-out vegan sausage rolls, and KFC on its popular vegan burger, Quorn turned its attentions to football in June, announcing a global partnership with Liverpool FC. The multi-year deal will see Quorn become the club’s Official Sustainable Protein Partner, helping Liverpool contribute to greater food sustainability as part of its Reds Go Green initiative.

During the last two seasons, the Reds Go Green program has had a significant effect on improving the club’s environmental impact, with positive steps made to eliminate the use of single-use plastics and reduce the club’s carbon footprint through sustainable waste management. Quorn will now work in collaboration with the club to provide new opportunities for supporters to choose from vegetarian and vegan foods on matchdays, while also working with the club’s nutrition team to extend the range of healthy protein choices available to its playing staff.

“Our partnership with Liverpool FC is very important to our Quorn vision, which is to provide food that is healthy for our families and the planet,” explained Quorn’s Marketing Director Gill Riley as the deal was confirmed. “We also want to understand the positive impact Quorn’s super-protein can have on elite sports performers, so working with LFC and its world-renowned nutritional experts will be fundamental in the next phase of our sports science research.”

Health benefits
Not only is Quorn leading the way on sustainability, but the brand continues to discover new health benefits offered by its products. Most recently, data published in the British Journal of Nutrition (BJN) has shown that Quorn protein can lower cholesterol levels in healthy adults. The data was drawn from a study at the University of Exeter, which found that mycoprotein, the protein-rich food source that is unique to Quorn products, lowers the post absorptive levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) - commonly known as ‘bad’ cholesterol - more than meat and fish.

Funded by Quorn, the week-long study was conducted with 20 healthy adults, each given a fully controlled diet containing twice daily meals with either meat and fish or mycoprotein as the main dietary protein. Participants’ glucose levels were monitored continuously, and blood plasma samples were taken before and after the diets, in order to track the effects of the different protein sources.

Diet choices
The results showed that there was no significant change in blood sugar levels when eating meat and fish or mycoprotein, suggesting that a diet based on mycoprotein does not increase the risk of diabetes compared to animal proteins. The beneficial effects of consuming mycoprotein came as a result of an increased fiber intake against the meals containing meat or fish. Providing 6g per 100g, mycoprotein provides more fibre than baked beans and brown bread. Previous research has found that the inclusion of fiber-rich foods in a healthy balanced diet can contribute to better health and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

The landmark study builds on the University of Exeter’s body of research into the wider health benefits of mycoprotein, after earlier this year finding that the ingredient stimulated post-exercise muscle building to a greater extent than milk protein. This expanding knowledge provides vital support for mycoprotein as a healthy and sustainable alternative protein and encouragement to people looking to incorporate Quorn products into their diets. As an ingredient high in protein, a complete source of amino acids, high in fiber, low in total and saturated fat, and containing no cholesterol, mycoprotein represents a meat free option that can improve the health of both people and our planet.

“We’re excited to see further scientific evidence of mycoprotein as a healthy alternative protein, and proud that this research has been published in the British Journal of Nutrition,” said Tim Finnigan - Chief Scientific Adviser for Quorn Foods - on hearing the news. “At a time when more people are considering their diet choices, for environmental or health reasons, Quorn is proud to offer a nutritious, meat-free protein that gives people the choice of change.”



Balancing profit with purpose

With Vita Coco and its great-tasting coconut water, consumers can easily reach out for their very own taste of the tropics, and there need not be a ladder, machete or palm tree in sight

One of the fastest growing beverage categories in Western Europe, the United States, South America and South East Asia, the global coconut water market is today estimated to be a $2.3 billion industry, and one that is expected to reach over $5.8 billion in value by the end of 2025. Boasting natural hydrating qualities and being a great source of nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, it has transformed itself from being a niche product to one with mass appeal, 164 sparticularly for ethical and health conscious consumers.

The world’s leading brand of coconut water belongs to Vita Coco. Founded in New York in 2004, the company today has sales in more than 30 countries and boasts a global market share of over 25 per cent. “As of 2020, Vita Coco is very much the brand name that has become synonymous with the coconut water category,” begins Giles Brook, the company’s Chief Executive for the EMEA region. “Working with farmers in countries such as Brazil, the Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka, we use only the finest coconuts in terms of type and age to give our customers around the world a consistent experience with Vita Coco products. At the same time, our relationships with our farmers and with production sites has allowed us to build an unrivalled supply chain – one with direct access to coconut harvests – which has become a huge differentiator for us.”

Having recently celebrated the company’s tenth year in the UK – which coincided with Vita Coco’s fifteenth birthday in 2019 – it is currently enjoying its highest market share ever in the country, recording a figure of 61 per cent in its last 52-week review at time of press. Needless to say, therefore, that the journey from being seen as a speciality health beverage to becoming a mainstream brand has been an inspirational one. “In the early days of our presence in the market, Vita Coco coconut water would typically be sold by the likes of Holland & Barrett and other health-focused stores,” Giles details. “What we could see almost immediately was that people were purchasing the product in significant volumes. So, we knew that the demand was there, it was just a matter of working out how we could expose Vita Coco to a wider audience.

“At first, we invested a great deal of time into driving quality PR in order to better educate consumers of the wide range of benefits possessed by coconut water. It was around this time as well that our Co-Founder and CEO, Mike Kirban struck up a business relationship with Madonna, and it was her investment in the business that really helped to promote the brand in ways unseen previously. In subsequent years, Vita Coco signed up Rihanna as an ambassador, and that too gave us the opportunity to accelerate our market reach and expansion. As the aforementioned supply chain went on to be strengthened, we would also continue to build up the necessary infrastructure and teams needed to prosper in our core markets of not only the UK or the United States, but also in rapidly developing hotspots such as China and Western Europe. The result has been that, in an industry segment where competitors have come and gone, Vita Coco remains as the leading name in a field that is now about to ride a whole new wave of growth.”

While the heritage of the brand – and main core of its business – has, and will continue to be centred around coconut water, one of the things that Vita Coco is more excited about doing at this time is building out what it calls a ‘Better for You’ beverage platform. To achieve this goal, the company has identified a three-pronged approach which will see its efforts split into either developing new products under the Vita Coco name, making targeted acquisitions of existing, complementary businesses, or launching entirely new brands themselves.

“Under the Vita Coco name, products we have launched include our Vita Coco Cold Brew coffee blend, our Sparkling range, our Coconut Milks and our Coconut Oil goods,” Giles explains. “We have also recently brought to market our CBD infused sparkling coconut water. These products very much speak to the laid back, relaxed characteristics of the brand and thus fit excellently within the Vita Coco family.”

Outside of the coconut water spectrum – but very much in line with its idea of building a ‘Better for You’ beverage platform – in June 2018, the parent company of Vita Coco, All Market Inc. (AMI) announced the acquisition of Runa, an organic energy drink brand made with the guayusa leaf. “In Runa, we identified a fantastic US-based brand that would provide great access into the natural energy space,” Giles continues. “In my opinion, this is a perfect example of us acquiring an existing business, which we then work with to align with the market reach of our own brand.”164 t

Last, but not least, the third string of the bow being used to build the company’s wider beverage platform, is the creation of entirely new brands or ranges. In 2019, one such development saw the introduction of its Ever & Ever range of aluminium canned, still and sparkling waters into the US market. Launched as a ‘catalyst for change in the water aisle’, it offers consumers the chance to purchase single-use waters that won’t harm the environment in the way that plastic packaging can do. “One of the things we have always strived to do as a business is find the right balance between profits and purpose, and Ever & Ever encapsulates this down to a tee.”

New consumers
It was this approach to business that helped inspire the launch of the Vita Coco Project. Created in order for the company to reinvest in its farming communities, the mission of the project is to raise one million people in coconut farming areas out of poverty. It is working to achieve this by – among other things – helping farmers to increase their annual yields and grow sustainably, and enhancing and empowering communities by giving back a portion of its profits, or by building classrooms and awarding scholarships. Meanwhile, in Europe, Vita Coco’s business has just been accredited with Certified B Corporation status, recognising its status as a business that meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance.

As of March 2020, Vita Coco estimates that it is cracking and opening some 2.5 million coconuts per day. Despite this incredible figure, it still sees huge room for expansion in the years to come. “In the UK alone, despite our success, we currently have only 3.5 per cent household penetration, so the opportunities to increase this through not only our coconut water but also our other product ranges are massive. That is what really excites us,” Giles enthuses.

With market data suggesting a new wave of consumers turning their attention to coconut water, now is definitely the optimum time to capitalise on this increased interest. Vita Coco is making every effort to do so, in one part by carrying out a rebranding exercise, which saw its logos and website updated in order to catch the eye of both existing and new consumers, and in another by continuing to innovate with its core products. “We are pleased to have developed a range of drinks we call Pressed, which include a slightly higher concentrate of coconut puree in order to deliver a richer, coconut taste,” Giles adds. “We launched this range into the UK in 2019, and within nine months it is carrying a retail value of approximately £5 million. What is most intriguing, however, is that over 85 per cent of sales are coming from new customers.”

These figures certainly suggest that there is much more of a market out there for Vita Coco to reach, and explains precisely why more coconut water-based innovations are on the horizon. As for what exactly this will be, as Giles concludes, watch this space!


Deep roots

Unafraid to adapt to modern ways of working, Michael Farms Inc is a family company that uses sustainable methods to grow, pack and distribute fresh local produce

Located in Urbana, Ohio, the farming operation has been passed down through generations. Starting there with various traditional crops and livestock, in 1958, Doug Michael made the decision to specialise in growing potatoes. Branded 164 p‘Buckeye potatoes’, they were first sold locally, then regionally, before finally being picked up by national retailers. Doug’s success was the beginning of what, today, is known as Michael Farms Inc.

Over 60 years later, Michael Farms still produces potatoes, but after gauging local demand, the company has also added sweet corn, green beans and cabbage to its crop. The farm, which sits on almost 3000 acres of land, making it one of the largest vegetable farms in the state, is now run by Doug’s sons, Kurt and Scott. Despite the company’s sustained and continuing growth, it’s clear that Michael Farms has not lost touch with its roots.

“We’re a family operation,” the company’s CEO Scott asserts. “My brother, Kurt, is our COO, and my son, Josh, helps with today’s extra demands like communication, information, and logistics. We have a number of special connections with other family members too.”

In keeping with this approach, the company’s in-built family ethos extends beyond blood relatives. During the harvest season, Michael Farms’ staff grows to around 100 employees, many of whom return to the company year after year. “The 90 people that come to us, they’re seasonal, but they’re not irregular. These are long-term relationships we have built,” Scott says. “It’s the same people every year. Some of them have been coming for three decades. They range from general labourers to supervisors with significant responsibility. They are part of our family business and that means treating them like family, whether they are related to us or not.”

Local demand
Michael Farms’ ability to stay true to its core values, while adapting to contemporary demands, is a balancing act that continues to drive the company’s longevity and growth. “I don’t know that we’re driving what’s preferred in the market, but we’re reacting to it,” Scott explains. “Every time we’ve seen a new trend, we’ve embraced it, and sure enough, we’ve got more business than we used to as a result.”

Reacting to recent trends, Michael Farms has started growing sweet corn specifically for tray pack, selling green beans in open-top bags stamped with the company logo, and producing smaller, more manageable heads of cabbage. We’ve found that people don’t want to buy cabbage as big as a basketball,” Scott adds. “Not anymore.”

Perhaps the trend that has most benefited Michael Farms in the last few years is the surge in public demand for local produce. “It started to pick up about ten years ago and now it’s got to the point that even national retailers are sourcing and selling items that people can relate to. Honey from a local area is a lot more popular than honey shipped in from somewhere else,” Scott reports. “People want to know where a product comes from and they want to associate it with somebody - particularly a family or a company or a person. It’s not entirely different from somebody saying, well I’d rather have Heinz Ketchup or Hunt’s Ketchup. Produce wasn’t like this in the past, but now people have started to feel like there’s a difference.”

Public recognition
The seismic shift in the market means that, along with selling its produce in a farm store onsite, Michael Farms’ products are now stocked regionally by large retailers such as Kroger, Meijer and Marc’s, as well as distributed to smaller stores 164 rby Caito Foods, Crosset Company and Indianapolis Fruit. “We also have long-standing partnerships with a lot of urban farm markets in cities,” Scott points out. “People might try our food because it’s local, but we know that if we put a really good product out there, they’ll think they’ve got to have it again because they had a good experience with it. There’s always somebody else that will produce something if you don’t do your very best.”

The family’s determination to make Michael Farms a leader in its field is reflected in the public recognition earned by the company in recent years. Presented with the National Grower Achievement Award in 2004, Michael Farms has also received an Environmental Stewardship Award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The distinction is granted to farms that work to make sure their operations are sustainable, with a focus on the

“Our mission statement has always been to produce healthy, fresh, products, grown using methods that preserve the quality of the soil and the environment while doing so,” Scott insists. “We pay serious attention to long-term soil health and the impact of our practices on the land. Crops are rotated into a different field every year, we plant rye and oats in the winter to protect our soil against the weather, and we package and deliver our products 41in reusable containers known as RPC’s. It’s all about resource management for efficiency and sustainability. Most of our employees live onsite too, so they are not driving to work. Wasting energy has always bothered me.”

As the company carries these modern farming methods into the future, Scott is positive about the outlook for Michael Farms in the years ahead. Ready as always to adjust to the next market trends, Scott suggests that further demand for local produce could help to lower prices and improve the variety of vegetables on offer to consumers. “We don’t want to break what seems to be working, but we know things are not always going to stay the same,” Scott states. “I think the interest in fresh produce will continue to be strong, and the more people want it, the more retailers will respond with better stocked, more competitive, produce departments.”

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