Bord Bia is an organisation that promotes Irish food and drink. For the past two years it has run an annual speed dating-style event to bring producers and chefs together.
Sourcing new suppliers is an ongoing task for chefs and while most will be familiar with methods of finding them, such as visiting trade exhibitions, there's another that many will not have tried yet.
Speed dating may conjure up images of hordes of singles exchanging likes and dislikes across tables for two in the hope of finding love, but the business version has an altogether different purpose.
It's a type of ‘meet the producer' event, often run by regional food marketing boards as a way of introducing food companies to trade buyers with a view to developing long-term business relationships.
The idea is that each chef and producer have 20 minutes with each other to discuss what the producer offers and whether it could fit into the buyer's business, before a bell rings and the buyer moves on to their next producer.
Bord Bia is an organisation set up to promote Irish food and drink and operates a quality assurance scheme for beef, pork and bacon and egg products. For the past two years Bord Bia has run an annual speed dating-style event to bring producers and chefs together.
The abundance of Irish produce includes fish and seafood such as Dublin Bay Prawns, fished with either trawl nets or pots all around the Irish coast, plus whiting and haddock; beef from cattle that are fully traceable by a computer-based system that tracks the movement of each animal throughout its life; and Irish farmhouse cheeses, all unique to the individual producers who respect the values of traditional cheesemaking.
Beatrice Blake, general manager of Bord Bia London, says: "Today, more than ever, there is less time for caterers to go out and research potential new producers who could add value to their business.
"The speed dating format is designed to introduce chefs in the UK to a high number of Irish food service producers in the most time efficient manner possible - in one visit and under one roof."
Rangeland Foods supplies portion-controlled meats including beefburgers, steak burgers and pork ribs. The company's technologists develop single-portion meat ingredients that can be freshly cooked rapidly, and many Rangeland products can be cooked to order in under three minutes.
Recent new product development has produced several items from the chuck or front shoulder area. The cut known as a flat iron steak is sliced and cut into strips that will pan-fry in one minute and are therefore suitable for wraps, fajitas and stir-fries.
THE POTENTIAL BUYER
Despite having a list of about 60-70 nominated suppliers across all commodity groups, Mark Crowe, strategic development chef for Avenance, still likes to keep up with new products and is in favour of meet-the-producer events.
"I'm always interested to know what's coming on the marketplace, especially if distribution is already set up as I can apply to have a supplier added on if a comparable product is not available from our nominated suppliers," he says.
"I look for products that provide convenience or time saving, or just something great that we've not used previously."
Crowe was impressed with Rangeland's seam butchery cuts. "There were cuts from the forequarter joint that we could use," he says. "The area has tough connecting tissue but it has been stripped out to leave tender, juicy steak ideal for steak wraps. It's a good concept and would work well in our deli operations where turnover is high."
At duck company Silver Hill Foods all aspects of production are owned and controlled by the family-owned business, from breeding, egg production, hatching and selection to processing and cooking.
The company has its own exclusive hybrid duck developed for fullness of flavour, succulence, tenderness and consistency in quality, and all deboning is carried out by hand.
Its three best-selling cooked products are Confit Duck Legs, Boneless Chinese Roast Duck and Honey Roast Half Duck.
THE POTENTIAL BUYER
The Bourne Leisure Group includes the Haven and Butlins brands in addition to Warner Leisure Hotels, a collection of historic hotels in countryside or coastal locations. The group is in the process of developing and rolling out fine dining restaurants throughout the hotels with the aim of achieving a one AA Rosette standard.
Food development manager David Grindrod says: "Most of the time suppliers find us, but if we are trying to source someone different it would usually be for the secondary restaurants in our hotels."
To this end Grindrod employs such methods as attending meet the producer events and visiting trade fairs.
"It's important that they understand what we're about and what our guest profile is, and a major consideration is whether they can deliver within a certain timescale," he says.
"If we were going to buy in a product it's got to be really good quality, better than we could do ourselves or something we can add value to. The duck products would sell on our menus. The seasoning is spot on and that's so often where a product fails."
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