Enter the dragon

Energy, vitality, excitement and exhilaration are all, we are told, what we can expect from the Chinese New Year of the dragon, which starts on January 23. And while many people moan about January being a dull month after the excitement of Christmas, foodservice operators look forward to Chinese New Year to add a little colour and profit to their business.

Wing Yip, founder of Chinese and Oriental food distributor Wing Yip, says: “Chinese New Year is a great time for family and friends to get together and celebrate an excellent opportunity for generations to come together to reflect and share plans for the coming year. Towns and cities across the UK celebrate Chinese New Year in style each year with colourful dragon parades, street markets and noisy firecracker displays. Events take place in Birmingham, London, Manchester and Nottingham.”

Suppliers are gearing up for this Chinese New Year with extended ranges. The Authentic Food Company is expanding its range of Oriental cuisine with new dishes including a premium Chow Mein, a king prawn recipe in a Cantonese sauce and a duck-based course from the Hunan province of south-central China.

The move follows a partnership between The Authentic Food Company and award-winning Cantonese restaurant Yu and You. This will see head chef Victor Yu oversee the production and development of the new products.

Sanjay Sighat, head of new product development at The Authentic Food Company, says: “Chinese cuisine always enjoys particular demand during the 15-day Chinese New Year holiday. We want to ensure our wholesale customers remain at the forefront of market trends and have been exploring ways to expand our Oriental range. Our partnership with Yu and You will enable us to capitalise on the increasing influence of regional cultures and appetite for new flavours.”

The Knorr Blue Dragon Create More range of pastes was launched in October but this month is being extended to include Create More concentrated and ready-to-use sauces. The launch is backed by a competition where chefs can win a trip to Thailand.

Sarah Branagan, category manager for sauces at Unilever Food Solutions, says the new concentrated sauces have been specifically developed for chefs who want to add their own signature to a dish, but don’t have the time or resource to create authentic Oriental dishes using a paste.

“With over 575 million Oriental meals served out of home every year (NPD Crest Servings to year-end June 2011), Create More concentrated sauces can help caterers capitalise on this popular cuisine. In independent research, 75% of chefs found the new format ‘appealing’, and this increased to 95% after they had trialled the Create More concentrated sauces.”

The concentrated sauces range comprises: Thai Red Curry; Black Bean; Sweet amp; Sour (smooth); Szechuan; Satay; Hot Sweet Chilli; and Hoi Sin. The ready-to-use sauces are: Thai Red Curry; Thai Green Curry; Sweet amp; Sour (chunky); Black Bean; and Sweet Chilli dipping sauce. The four pastes are: Thai Red Curry; Thai Green Curry; Laksa Curry; and Char Siu.

Knorr used tuk tuks to help launch the initial range in October. These eye-catching vehicles turned up at several Makro stores. Leaflets and product samples were handed out and customers were made aware of a special price promotion.

Neil Roberts, assistant general manager at Makro Charlton in south London, says: “The Knorr Blue Dragon Tuk Tuk was eye-catching and instantly caught customers’ attention encouraging them to find out more.” Mark Johnsen, general store manager at Makro Park Royal in north London, adds: “The Tuk Tuk did a really good job of getting customers’ attention and driving visibility of the new product range in store. Overall, the ‘noise’ created on the day worked well and customers responded positively.”

Christina Hardiman, marketing manager for Mars Foodservice, reckons Uncle Ben’s improved recipe, ready-to-use, Oriental sauce range has a key role to play in wholesale.

“Each sauce has undergone a major reformulation, and we have been doing some key activity in cash and carries to deliver added value to the promotional programme.

“New products such as the 100% extra free pack and promotional deals with high value prizes make selling that much easier for wholesalers. For example, last year we offered a ‘buy so many jars of sauce and get a free camera’ promotion, an ideal way to encourage end users to test drive the products.

“We not only provide support to wholesalers and their customers through effective and different promotional mechanics, but also through advertising, brochure support, added incentives and telesales activities.

“We are doing some promotional activity for Chinese New Year, which will include deals to keep customers happy and engaged.”

In the run-up to Chinese New Year, she says the real challenge is to help wholesalers communicate the message that branded, ready-to-use sauces can be cost-effective.

“Ours are robust and hearty, not runny, and extend to the point that caterers still get a superior yield,” she says. “Coupled with their versatility to be used in a wide range of dishes from soups to sandwiches, this brings the cost right down.”

Foodservice chicken product specialist Love Joes has added a Chinese Sweet and Sour style chicken wrap to its range.

Darren Phillips, national sales manager for Love Joes Foodservice, explains: “The new wrap features traditional Chinese sweet and sour style chicken accompanied with rice wrapped up in a soft tortilla to complement our existing flavours of Mexican Salsa Chicken, Chicken Korma and Chicken Jalfrezi.”

With every 2.5kg bag of chicken-in-sauce purchased, foodservice operators get a free bag of pre-cooked rice that can be heated and mixed in to create the filling.

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