Speciality Food & Drink for a Mediterranean Summer
Despite the growing importance of home-grown food and drink products, especially within the farm shop sector, there are many items which cannot be grown here, including citrus fruit and olives, for which consumer demand remains strong. Indeed, between 2012 and 2015, 15% of fruit and vegetable product introductions in the UK were described as Mediterranean, matched only by Italy among countries worldwide (Mintel). Local provenance is extremely relevant, but in addition to knowing from where the products are sourced, consumers will also want assurance that these are of high quality and differ from typical supermarket offerings.
Increased popularity of home cooking, the growing prevalence of pop-up bars and street food stalls, plus a greater awareness of tapas and other Mediterranean dishes mean consumers are more aware of food styles, ingredients and health benefits. For example, Mintel analysts report that 22% of Brits used hummus at home between September and November 2013. Furthermore, they also note new research supporting "the adoption of the ‘MIND’ diet, a hybrid of the Mediterranean and ‘DASH’ diets, which claims to be effective in lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease". So which type of products should form part of a successful portfolio of Mediterranean food for the summer?
Simon Bell, CEO of Lupetta, believes that it is important for deli and farm shops to stock Mediterranean foods as they will always be sought after by consumers. "A brand that provides staple, high quality, cupboard ingredients is well-suited to this consumer clientele. Niche products, such as our Amaretti biscuits or cherry tomato sauce range, will stand out on the shelves. British consumers associate Italian food with quality, great taste and authenticity and Lupetta is a direct response to current culinary interest in provenance and regionality. We use authentic Italian ingredients that meet the desire for quality and great taste, sourcing only from accredited suppliers who meet our exacting standards."
The Greek Larder is another business for whom attention to detail when sourcing products is vital. The company opened in London last year alongside its sister restaurant, using a style and offering based on the Greek 'Bakalico', a grocery and eatery. The deli shelves are stocked with traditional and innovative foods, often obtained from small, independent and lesser-known producers. These include bottarga (a fish roe appetiser), traditional Cretan biscuits and the deli's own home-made dips. "Customers are very conscious of food quality", reports co-founder and chef, Theodore Kyriakou. "They can taste before they buy and there is also a growing understanding of the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, especially for fresh, simple foods sourced seasonally. Many products are offered loose so that customers can buy the exact amount they need by weight, thus providing a more flexible service."
The concept of providing fresh, seasonal, carefully-selected foods of good quality is particularly important for fruit and vegetables. FESA UK Ltd. is part of Anecoop, the largest fresh produce cooperative in Spain. The company works directly with farmers and customers to ensure that it imports only the finest fruit and vegetables from around the world. By investing in long-term relationships with growers, this helps improve the quality and taste of its products, rather than relying on poorer quality and discounted prices, according to Commercial Director, Sisco Tello. "We are committed to supplying good quality, as opposed to cheap produce, always abiding by social and ethical principles. For example, our fresh watermelons from Almería in southern Spain have been ripened on the plant to improve flavour and freshness, before being transported by road to the UK."
Fratelli Camisa is a family-run concern that opened its first store in London's Soho in 1929 and continues to import fine Italian deli products into the UK. The company sells to independent outlets, as well as national retailers and has a successful online business selling an extensive range of speciality gourmet foods delivered directly to the home. General Manager, David Rogers explains: "Some of our best selling items, essential for any summer portfolio, include our range of grilled and roasted vegetables and mini salami in five great flavours, perfect for antipasto dishes and picnics. Additionally, our new artisan cheeses from Pier Luigi Rosso make perfect additions to the cheese board, including Cravot, a firm and tangy pure goats' cheese."
Snacks, especially baked products, are crucial components too of a Mediterranean portfolio and Crosta & Mollica, the top Italian bakery brand in the UK, supplies both national and independent retailers. Sourcing each product from the area in which it would traditionally have been produced, the company makes unique artisan foods produced through traditional methods without artificial preservatives or additives. Their range of savoury biscuits includes several that appeal to the speciality food market, including fennel-infused Tarallini and black olive Grissini.
The appeal of Spain among British tourists has given the country's food a strong association with summer and Spanish food company Delicioso provides a full range of paella ingredients, which can be bought individually or as part of a kit. The company, which supplies many specialist outlets, has around 475 products, incorporating authentic gourmet Spanish foods, drinks, gift items and kitchenware, sourced from artisan, family-run businesses throughout Spain. Co-founder, Kate Shirley-Quirk, also believes that Delicioso's range of salsas, made to the company's own recipes, are particularly good for a portfolio of summer Mediterranean food, as they complement barbeques, fish, seafood, grilled meats and vegetables.
Charcuterie is an important part of any Mediterranean food offering. Spanish food specialist, Brindisa, sells a wide range, including Jamón Ibérico and Cecina, a delicately smoked beef product ideal for a portfolio of summer Mediterranean food. Nevertheless, there is such variety among meat products, that it can be hard to retain a point of difference.
Iberian Deli was created in 2013 to bring top quality acorn-fed ham to the UK. Director Antonio Hernandez details what makes his award-winning Cárdeno ham special and why it appeals to speciality food consumers. "Our Cárdeno Ibérico products come from a Spanish family that has been exclusively breeding free-roaming Ibérico pigs for four generations, traditionally producing and curing the meats. The pigs enjoy a minimum of five acres of land densely populated with acorn trees and the ham is naturally cured for at least 40 months. Good Spanish Ibérico acorn-fed products are like night and day when compared to other charcuterie and should not be considered the same when putting together a varied range."
Olives are a staple ingredient of the Mediterranean diet and Olives Et Al buy directly from growers, cooperatives and agents. Managing Director, Simon Hurley, describes their approach: "We regularly visit our growers, working very closely with them to ensure we get the first pick of the crop. To produce the best food, you have to start with the best raw ingredients. We have selected very carefully, over the last 21 years, the growers and suppliers who care about quality as much as we do." Simon sees merit in farm shops and delis stocking Mediterranean food alongside home-grown produce. "British food is a reflection of the multi-cultural society that we live in and has been influenced over the years by many nations' appetites. The key for any retailer is to get the product mix right, focus on quality and get products into your customers' mouths. Nothing helps great products sell better than tasting them."
Cumbria's Silver & Green also sources traditional antipasti, particularly olives, from artisan producers. Rachel Hannaford describes her company's ethos: "Being a small business supplying other small businesses, we're able to offer hands-on product advice, support and knowledge to help the indie retailers we work with create a wonderful shopping experience." Rachel recommends her crunchy, nut-like pickled garlic, sweet, bite-sized balsamic onions and early-harvested Sicilian Nocellara del Belice olives, commenting that many customers are now asking for olives using their varietal name."
Olive oil is another essential store item and Olive Branch, launched in 2011, boasts the top selling oil brand of 2013, as voted by the Guild of Fine Foods. The company produces a vast range of Greek products with top quality ingredients, unique recipes and fresh packaging, appealing to speciality retailers and chefs. Examples include Chunky Olive Tapenade, a fresh approach to the traditional style, available in four original flavours and Dakos, the traditional dried bread of Crete, double-baked and used as a base for tomato salads dressed in olive oil and vinegar.
No portfolio of Mediterranean products would be complete without wine and there is a wide choice available. However, specialist knowledge is vital in matching wine with food and Simone Botti of Moreno Wines recommends Sorbet 2014, a pale rosé made from white and red Garnacha grapes. "This is ideal for the UK market and goes brilliantly with light cuisine, spicy food, pasta, salads and fish-based tapas."
However, one of the biggest growth areas in wine consumption has been Prosecco and Alessandra Zambonin of Italian wine producer, Casa Vinicola Zonin, believes that Prosecco Ca' Bolani, made entirely from the premium Ca' Bolani estate-grown grapes in Italy's top white wine region of Friuli, would suit speciality food stockists. "It is excellent as an everyday apéritif, but can also accompany the whole meal, from traditional Italian gastronomy to the sophisticated modern kitchen. It goes perfectly with light summer food - canapés, buffalo mozzarella, risotto, delicate fish dishes and salads."
There is an ever-increasing range of good quality Mediterranean food and drink available and since specialist retailers endeavour to retain a point of difference from the major multiples, a careful choice and knowledge of Spanish, Italian and Greek products remain essential. As Rachel Hannaford of Silver & Green explains: "The multiples may stock olives, artisan cheeses and charcuterie. However, as the staff working there don't have the same direct link to the producer as we have, they are missing out on the knowledge, story and product understanding to pass on to the end consumer."
This article was originally published in the June edition of Speciality Food Magazine.
All images provided by the individual companies specified.