At his first port of call, Fergus Chambers saw four new products on the Bernard Matthews stand, including a premium turkey burger. The burger was shortlisted in the ScotHot new product awards, but failed to win a medal. Mr Chambers, however, described the burger as one of the best news products on the market for schools in the past year.
The 50g burgers are 23.5p each on the Brake Bros' price list and Mr Chambers expects them to find a place on Catering Direct's menus. They are available in cases of 48 and oven bake in 10 to 12 minutes, or seven to eight minutes on the griddle.
Two new vegetable triangles, Taco and Tikka, also caught Mr Chambers' eye. Weighing 38g and 40g respectively, they can be used as a starter, main course or in a buffet and can either be deep-fried or oven baked. They cost 26.5p each and have a crunchy coating.
The Taco triangles combine mixed vegetables, kidney beans and vegetarian Cheddar cheese with a coating of spiced breadcrumbs and tortilla chips. Tikka triangles are made from vegetables, tikka sauce and cheese, and the spiced breadcrumbs are mixed with chick peas.
Robert Clark, regional sales manager for Bernard Matthews, said the triangles were proving popular as they satisfied both ethnic and vegetarian requirements. Derbyshire schools are already using them.
Turkey Schnitzels did not rate as highly with Mr Chambers. He thought the crumb surround, seasoned with lemon and cracked pepper, smothered the taste of the re-formed turkey meat inside. But he did like the plate coverage of the 142g Schnitzel, which sells for 75p a portion.
On the McCain Food stand, new multi-portion cheese and tomato pizzas went down well. Mr Chambers was particularly impressed with the flexibility of the pizzas. Two 500g slabs fit perfectly into a single gastronorm container.
Each slab costs about £1.26 and can be cut into fingers, squares, triangles or slices to give total portion flexibility, claims McCain's key account manager Ken Main. The pizza has a yeast-raised base and the topping is a spicy tomato sauce and 80% Cheddar, 20% mozzarella cheese mix.
"The generous, spicy topping gives these pizzas an edge that will make them appeal to school children," said Mr Chambers. "We will definitely try them out."
Brake bros meatballs
Catering Direct is a big Brake Bros customer and Mr Chambers wanted to see what new products it had to offer. He was attracted to the cooked meatballs. Costing 5.8p each, they are made from beef, pork, onions and spices, are fully cooked and individually frozen for ease of use, said Sue Sleet of Brake Bros.
They can be microwaved or deep-fat fried. A single portion of 10 balls takes one minute to cook in a 1.3kW microwave. They would need to be served with a sauce or dip and could be used for buffets and kebabs as well as main courses, said Mr Chambers.
Next stop was a stand marketing a complete Herta frankfurters system, introduced into the UK by Nestlé Foodservice. Customers who can sell 200 cases a year (16,000 individual hot dogs) get free loan of a roller grill, complete with sneeze guard and bun warmer.
Individual frankfurters cost 57p each and most caterers source their own buns for about 8p. A range of branded point of sale material, including hot dog holders, serviettes, tent cards and hanging signs, comes as part of the package. And caterers who can sell a minimum of 500 cases a year get a mobile cart worth about £7,500 on free loan.
Mr Chambers decided to explore the possibility of introducing the carts at several sites, although he said he would need to compare the cost of the Herta system with the costs of sourcing hot dogs and the necessary equipment individually. But on one thing he was certain - the taste was first class.
The final visit was to the Tombuie Smokehouse stand, run by Donald and Sally Crystal. Their smoked lamb had just won a gold medal in the ScotHot new product awards and Mr Chambers pronounced the taste excellent. He was equally impressed with the enthusiasm of the Crystals. "They are a company to watch out for."