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The Caterer interview: Tony Davison, commerical manager foodservice at Marlow Foods, on the virtues of Quorn

04 February 2016 by
The Caterer interview: Tony Davison, commerical manager foodservice at Marlow Foods, on the virtues of Quorn

Tony Davison, commercial manager foodservice at Menu of the Year Catey sponsor Marlow Foods, tells Lisa Jenkins about the virtues and variety of Quorn, as well as his passion for a sustainable diet

Can you tell me about the current ownership of Marlow Foods?

Marlow Foods was acquired for £550m in September 2015 by Filipino brand Monde Nissin. It is a leading branded consumer goods company in the Philippines and it is building a global business focused on health and sustainability.

We are now part of that. Our previous owner, Exponent, helped transform Quorn into a fast-growing global health brand, and the management team, alongside Kevin Brennan, is now in charge of a rapidly growing international business.

The Quorn brand allows you to promote healthy eating and the concept of sustainable diets. Can you tell us more about this?

Consumers are more health conscious than ever and choose to eat food that is better for them. They may not be vegetarian, but simply individuals looking after their wellbeing. They may have previously lived a life of excess and have chosen to eat food products that they perceive to be part of a healthier lifestyle.

We offer much more choice than we used to, and have a range of products in many varied flavours. This means being healthy doesn't have to be bland or boring. In foodservice we also offer no-salt and low-salt alternatives, that allow caterers to be more creative with a basic ingredient.

Quorn's main ingredient is mycoprotein, grown by fermentation (similar to the process used in the production of bread, yogurt and beer). Mycoprotein is a member of the fungi family, naturally low in fat and high in protein and fibre, and is a meat alternative. It's a flexible ingredient that can be used for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and as a food on-the-go.

To support hospitality businesses, we employ a team of 10 home economists at Marlow Foods, who are available to help our customers with menu planning and advice. This might involve consultancy on how to incorporate meat-free ingredients, why you should have this option and the benefits of a diet that involves eating less, and better-quality, meat. The home economists are all qualified to provide instruction on nutrition, product and menu development.

In terms of a sustainable diet, this to me means producing an ingredient or product that is good to eat, tastes good, has good texture, and is healthy and nutritious. Quorn, in my opinion, ticks all these boxes and is also less environmentally impactful than some other food products. We have life-cycle analysis certification from the Carbon Trust that backs this up, as well as a joint white paper produced with the Carbon Trust on The Case for Protein Diversity.

How do you see Quorn helping to support a growing population?

We like to think of ourselves as influencers at Quorn. To this end we work with the chefs in schools and universities to help them understand their meat-free choices. When we first started working in schools in 1998, a children's favourite lunchtime meal might have been cowboy pie, so we slowly worked our way around the boroughs and showed the cooks that they could achieve the same dish (or an equivalent now in 2016) with Quorn products. Recently, we undertook a three-year corporate social responsibility programme that included demos, sampling, coupons and presentations on scratch cooking techniques.

When I started my role with Quorn in 1995 my goal was to ‘normalise' the brand. And we've done that. It is an acceptable meat alternative that delivers a taste experience with a low food-security risk.

Quorn is a long-term food solution and, as it also helps alleviate a burden on the NHS, it's politically sustainable. We have done and will continue to do lots of research on the health benefits of Quorn, in terms of protein and fibre. We will also, of course, get to the point where meat becomes a cost choice, and cost plays a big part in sustainability.

What industry initiatives is Quorn involved in?

Quorn Foods was recently invited to sit on an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and, as a direct result of the Food in Schools and the Teaching of Food report supported by Quorn Foods and commissioned by the APPG, the group was asked to form a working party to create a framework on tackling obesity. The National Obesity Framework is now under way and will publish its initial findings soon after the government publishes its obesity strategy, promised in the next few months.

The key activity, raised by Floella Benjamin as an oral question in the House of Lords on 12 October, was: "To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to introduce a national strategy for play as part of a holistic approach to child health and fitness."

Further meetings on this subject have included discussions with health minister Jane Ellison to discuss the National Obesity Framework; a full meeting of the APPG, where senior executives from Tesco presented to the group regarding their 10-point plan to tackle obesity, and an address from Dr Alison Tedstone, the Public Health England lead on obesity, regarding their advice to the Government on reducing sugar intakes.

We work closely within the parameters of the school food standards and take a whole-school approach using nutritional ingredients and teaching young children about the benefits.

What is Quorn's relationship with the foodservice industry and where does it fit in?

We help our customers by adding choice to their menus and educating them. You don't have to brand the product on menus, just make sure your customers know they are

eating a meat-free alternative. We also have products that are gluten-free, halal and vegan.

Can you tell us something about your personal background with Quorn?

I originally came across Quorn in the staff canteen when I worked for ICI. In 1992, ICI de-merged its pharmaceutical bio-science businesses and transferred into a new company called Zeneca Group, which subsequently merged with Astra AB to form AstraZeneca.

I started working with Marlow Foods in 1995, which is the same year the company was bought by Premier Foods. We were then sold into private equity with Exponent Private Equity in 2010. Marlow Foods will now be a subsidiary of Monde Nissin and we are all very excited about future opportunities.

Monde Nissin's vision statement is ‘improving the lives of our consumers', and I've spent the last 20 years believing in this sentiment.

What's the plan for 2016?

We have a lot of new product development planned for 2016, including more gluten-free and vegan products. The company reported a £150m turnover at the end of 2014 and we continued to grow in 2015 in figures in excess of 10%. We now need to capitalise on overseas opportunities and that is something I would love to be involved in. I have a fantastic team behind me and we are all ready to step up the pace. The future is bright.

Facts and figures

  • Quorn has operations in 15 countries, including in Frankfurt, Germany and Chicago in the USA. Its UK headquarters are in Stokesley, North Yorkshire.
  • The company employs approximately 620 employees on three UK sites and internationally.
  • Exponent Private Equity sold Quorn Foods to Philippines-based group Monde Nissin in a deal worth £550m in September 2015.
  • Marlow Foods is the maker of Quorn (Quorn Foods is a working name).
  • Quorn was discovered growing in a field in Marlow, North Yorkshire.
  • Carbon Trust on The Case for Protein Diversityhttp://tinyurl.com/hkhembg

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