How faddy is it for restaurants to quote local sourcing and provenance? With so many bounding on to the proverbial delivery-wagon, the mantra of traceability, quality and slashing food miles can sound old hat. But the recession has proved how blips in the economy can cause a Mexican wave up and down the food chain with everyone from the tiniest artisan baker to megabrands affected.
Nurturing links with local suppliers, is, for many, a case of survival rather than just racking up profit margins. And for these hoteliers and restaurateurs, maintaining healthy, symbiotic relationships with local producers means better-quality food, sharper business and happier people - from source all the way to the menu.
TY MAWR COUNTRY HOTEL, BRECHFA, CARMARTHENSHIRE
Annual turnover £70,000
Average number of covers 16 at dinner
Average spend £40 for dinner, inclusive of drinks
Local products on the menu Penclawdd cockle, chive and laverbread tartlet, organic Fferm Tyllwyd Welsh Black fillet steak with mushroom and red wine sauce
Ty Mawr sources up to 80% of its produce locally. "We're in a very fortunate position that there are all these people doing weird and wonderful things - and you meet suppliers through other suppliers," says owner Annabel Viney whose partner Stephen Thomas is head chef.
Social networking with suppliers in such a close-knit community is a part of life - in fact, Viney's bank manager suggested local producers to the couple.
One of their closest suppliers - both in geography and friendship - is John James from Fferm Tyllwyd, who supplies them with organic Welsh Black fillet of beef. He only puts one beast to slaughter monthly but Ty Mawr gets the two fillets exclusively. "When he takes his family out to a meal, they'll come to our restaurant," Viney says.
Another local is a mother from Ffynnongrech Farm, whose children are allergic to cow dairy - she makes goats' milk fudge which Viney now serves as petit fours.
THE AVENUE AT LAINSTON HOUSE, WINCHESTER, HAMPSHIRE
Annual turnover £1.7m
Average number of covers 40 at dinner
Average spend £40 for dinner, inclusive of drinks
Local products on the menu Warm soused mackerel with fennel apple salad from fish suppliers Coopers of Andover, Stockbridge mushroom ravioli
Executive chef Andy MacKenzie says around 75% of the menu is sourced locally, higher in summer when they source apples, strawberries and other fruit from their kitchen garden.
MacKenzie has long-standing relationships with Hampshire suppliers. For instance, his vegetables come from Ian Nelson, a farmer at Sunnyfields in the New Forest, who he met at the local farmers' market. Nelson's artichokes are currently in the Jerusalem artichoke soup. MacKenzie is also on the board of directors of Hampshire Fare, a membership organisation and marketing vehicle for local producers.
"I've worked at Lainston House for 25 years and you build up those relationships with local people," he says. "You help each other, I promote their good products and they're happy to be associated with Lainston House."
Most food comes from within the county with a few exceptions - for instance, Portland Shellfish, from Dorset over the border, whose seared scallops are served with organic cauliflower purée and crisp bacon. Cheeses include a Winchester, from Lyburn Farm in Hampshire which staff visit. "I take my kitchen and restaurant team to see the whole process so when they're talking to the guests, they've seen it from the farm gate to the dinner plate," he says.
MacKenzie says guaranteeing a market for local producers acts as a lever in negotiating prices down too. "I'm going to get food cheaper from a producer than I am from a central supplier," he says. "Every kitchen makes their relationship with their local producer and it's down to them to make the deals and the right price."
THE THREE CHIMNEYS, COLBOST, SKYE
Annual turnover over £1.5m
Average number of covers 450 per week
Average spend £80 dinner inclusive of drinks
Local products on the menu Skye lochs "Fruits de Mer" with Glendale mesclun, Broadford smoked haddock and hot smoked salmon with Brunigill Farm quails' egg mimosa
Michael Smith, head chef at the 3 AA-rosetted The Three Chimneys on Skye says "as much as possible" of the menu is sourced locally. This means nearly 90 per cent during peak availability depending on the season.
Given the restaurant's geographical isolation both on the island and within Scotland, sourcing for Smith is essential. "It was born out of necessity," he says. it wasn't born out of fashion or trendhopping - it's just a coincidence that the small producers aren't doing it as a commercial venture as such, more out of curiosity and out of love." This passion provides a better-quality product, he adds. "You support the industry around you and pass that positivity on to the customer."
Smith says that as the restaurant has grown over the past 25 years, it has correspondingly grown its suppliers in a mutually beneficial relationship. "For instance, Brigitte Hagmann who does Glendale Salads - a six-mile drive from the restaurant - has been supplying us for the last 25 years. Her business has grown solely on the back of the Three Chimneys." He adds that she was supplying organic hand-picked leaves such as peashoots and microleaves before they became fashionable. "We started to use her because the supermarket was a two-hour round trip so obviously it's much more sensible to use somebody local."
The recession, he believes, has proved the interdependency of everyone in the supply chain, from top to bottom. "It's a symbiotic relationship between us and the suppliers - if half of those people weren't there, the restaurant wouldn't have been able to flourish and vice-versa."
THE MILTON, CRATHES, ABERDEENSHIRE
Annual turnover £850,000-£1m
Average number of covers 40-80 at dinner
Average spend £25-£30 for dinner, inclusive of drinks
Local products on the menu Fillet of Grampian pork stuffed with prunes, Drumloch and Badentoy Blue on the cheeseboard, twice-baked Strathdon Blue soufflé
Executive chef David Littlewood says 80-90% of the menu in their one-AA-rosetted restaurant is sourced locally, which means as close to the Grampian region as possible.
"When we do a dish, we try the best we can to source it locally," he says. "Obviously there are items that we can't - such as olive oil - so we seek local alternatives, such as a cold-pressed rape seed oil [from Ola Oils in Inverurie]."
Some of their cheeses come from Devenick Dairy which, "supplies directly to the restaurant and that goes on to our cheeseboard and into our potato gratin." He looks for other suppliers within Scotland when necessary.
Littlewood says that traceability - for example, fish to the boat or beef to the farm - is important where there may be complaints about food. The Milton belongs to the Scotch Beef Club, which provides ear-tag numbers and kill dates for every piece of beef that comes in. "This means if there's a problem we can go back to the butcher, to the abattoir and from there go back to the farmer," he says. "So if some beef is particularly tough, we know it may have been, for instance, finished indoors when there was a lot of snow and they weren't eating a lot of grass. We can constantly monitor the quality."
Producers, he says, tend to approach him because of the restaurant's reputation for using local suppliers. His pork comes from Ruth Cowell, who breeds slow-reared, rare-breed pigs such as Gloucester Old Spot. "She came to me for advice when she was setting up and I gave her recipes for her sausages and advice on dealing with the butcher." (see below)
The Milton, which holds weddings and other events on its grounds, also promotes its local non-food suppliers such as limousines and cleaners. "It works both ways," says Littlewood. This means local taxi firms might prioritise the Milton's customers on a busy Saturday night, and in turn, people always ask the taxi driver, "where's good to eat?"
The supplier's story… Ruth's Little farm
Ruth Cowell started her eight-acre pig farm, just outside the Aberdeenshire village of Dunecht, with just "two weeners" three years ago. Despite having no agricultural background, she now has up to 80 pedigree pigs, mainly Berkshires, Gloucester Old Spots and British Saddlebacks, and has boosted her turnover tenfold.
"David Littlewood was instrumental in setting up my business," she says of the early days. "I called all the high-end restaurants including the Milton - David said come and see us and I didn't even have samples. He said he would wait for me until I was ready to supply him with any pork, which took nine months." As a small supplier it can be hard, she says, when some establishments demand six tenderloins if only one pig is going for slaughter that week. "The difficulty for me was to run anything with a very small quantity of stuff." So supplying The Milton sausages to Littlewood's specifications made life easier for her small operation because all cuts of the pig could be used. At one point, the business was running its own butchery and farm shop.
BUSINESS BENEFITS OF SOURCING LOCAL FOOD
- Nurturing strong links with suppliers strengthens the local economy and your own business
- Traceability gives staff a story to tell customers
- Food tends to be fresher and there is less wastage
- Word-of-mouth recommendations can flourish in a close-knit community
- Linking with local marketing networks or tourist boards can promote your cuisine
- Customers are increasingly keen on local, artisan foods
BUSINESS EFFICIENCIES WHEN SOURCING LOCAL FOOD
"When we asked consumers to define the most important issues in regard to sustainability, local sourcing came out top," says Giles Gibbons, founder of the Sustainable Restaurant Association. Gibbons adds that employees are often more motivated when working for a restaurant that tackles the issue seriously.
The SRA's own research found that 64% of consumers believe restaurants are not doing enough to tackle their social and environmental impacts. He says that simply mentioning local branded entities such as Gressingham duck, "has worked to a point but it doesn't say much about the restaurant as a whole". This is where he says that using the SRA's sustainability ratings can help build credibility.
Gibbons also believes that restaurants should use hubs to increase purchasing power, especially when using isolated or distant suppliers. The SRA suggests that through aggregating demand with suppliers, restaurants can:
- Reduce costs through fewer delivery drops, cutting energy, waste and transportation costs.
- Improve stock control and reduce waste.
- Increase supplier loyalty and build relationships to get better deals.
- Grow restaurant and ethical market share.
- Engage the trust of stakeholders (customers, local community) and investors.
- Drum up new business from putting money into the local economy.