Menu solutions in the Premier league

Until recently the involvement of Premier in catering was primarily as an own label producer, but all that is changing. After rapid growth including the acquisition of Campbell’s and RHM, Premier Foods has grown to be the largest food producer in the UK with a host of well known retail brands, and some of these brands also have substantial sales in foodservice, with McDougalls, at pound;33.3m, and Bisto, at pound;14.4m, contributing to total sales in foodservice of more than pound;150m.

The changes in the company have also led to a re-evaluation of the foodservice business and a move towards developing menu solutions for caterers, backed by substantial investment and NPD. The investment has included new development kitchens, which have just been opened at the St Albans headquarters at a cost of pound;600,000, with four of its chefs dedicated to the foodservice business. The new facilities include glass walls and a 60-seat room where customers can watch products being developed. The investment has also extended into the production facilities with the development of the new Genesis pack, which enables premium sauces to be cooked without losing their texture.

Premier has also shown its commitment to the foodservice sector with the appointment of Mat Baker, formerly head of P G Professional in the UK, as foodservice director. He reports to Ian York, group sales director of Premier Foods, who comments: “Premier Foods has successfully made the progression from commodity seller to provider of full menu solutions for caterers – achieved through innovation and investment in sector expertise including chefs, marketing, research, insight and sales.

“In addition, key Premier Foods’ brands have responded to the clear opportunity within foodservice by extending their offering. Premier Foods now needs an experienced head to lead its foodservice division and Mat Baker fits the profile.”

Baker says: “Having gained considerable foodservice experience at P G Professional, I was keen to take on a new challenge. As the UK’s number one food manufacturer, Premier’s commitment to development and innovation in this area made the company a natural choice.”

He says the foodservice unit is already showing its potential with strong growth last year and is ahead of the retail business this year. “There is a solid traditional Features > Business, but there is a lot more we can add to that,” he says.

The most recent extension in the foodservice arena is the re-launch of Sharwood’s ethnic range, consisting of Indian, South East Asian and Chinese varieties.

Premier has identified Sharwood’s as one of its “drive brands” for growth and is aiming to change its image from one of providing sauces to offering full meal solutions. In addition, in the foodservice sector it has been viewed as predominantly a product for the education sector, and it is aiming to raise its profile in profit areas such as pubs and restaurants.

As part of the re-launch all sauces in the range can now be purchased in more convenient 2kg bottles. The Indian range is the largest and best known part of the Sharwood’s range and the aim has been to refresh the recipes with changes such as new spice blends, and to introduce the Genesis manufacturing process.

It has also extended its South East Asian range with two new sauces, and new accompaniments. All the changes to the range will be backed up by a strong communications package to inform chefs.

Baker says in the coming months he will be looking to introduce more sector focus, working with customers in areas such as pubs and healthcare to develop full meal solutions for them.

In addition the company will be using its new facilities to continue to build on its private and own label business.

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