Tracey Rogers worked on the retail side of Unilever's business for many years before taking on the role of managing director of Unilever Foodsolutions UK and Ireland a year ago.
Q What can hospitality industry operators learn from the retail market?
A Retail invests huge amounts in consumer insight and unlocking the latest trends - it also shares a lot of information. It's much tougher in hospitality, as we need to collate not only customer insight but also consumer insight and what they want from their overall meal experience.
As a global company, it's easier for us to do this, as we have the resource, but even smaller manufacturers, suppliers, chefs and caterers can gather insight by keeping an eye on the market, looking at retail trends and, most importantly, talking to their customers.
Q Where do you stand on the health versus taste debate?
A In food service a healthy dish has to offer the kind of taste sensation you would get from a dish that is rich in all those unhealthier ingredients like butter, salt and sugar. We believe this is possible, but it really stretches the creativity of the chef. Our culinary services team has worked hard with customers to replace unhealthy ingredients like salt with flavour alternatives such as herbs and spices.
Q Do you think caterers and food manufacturers have a responsibility to get on board with Government initiatives to improve the nation's health?
A Yes, caterers and food manufacturers should join with Government in promoting healthy-eating initiatives. We know obesity levels have trebled in the past 20 years, and with the average person eating one in every six meals out of home [Food Standards Agency figures], we can't sit back and do nothing.
However, it's not about being a nanny state, it's about passing on the messages and providing healthier alternatives so consumers can make an informed choice. It's ultimately down to the consumers what they choose to eat, but as an industry, we can make it easier for them by providing the right information and healthier options.
Q What are your views on the likelihood of legislation on food/menu labelling, and what will this mean for the catering industry?
A We see this coming. It's not a question of whether, but when. We're not convinced that the catering industry has truly understood the implications and imminence of food labelling and the onus this will place on chefs and their teams to produce menus that are appealing to the senses and also to the dietary requirements of the diners.
We talk with our customers about the importance of getting behind the specifics of the rules and regulations, to understand the intent of the legislation. By adopting a more instinctive approach it's likely that the outcome will be ahead of the law, not behind it.
Q Tell us about your plans to work with catering colleges.
A Our ambition is to help colleges turn out graduates who are comfortable in the workplace and confident about their skill base. We will put our industry insight at the disposal of PACE [the Professional Association for Catering Education] and we will support the organisation in its endeavours to develop a curriculum to suit the changing needs of catering employers.
Q What are the biggest challenges chefs face today, and how can you help them?
A The global financial crisis has put the squeeze on every kind of operation - and that means that chefs across the industry have had to look at ingredient and staffing costs. This has created additional demand for our products, because chefs can feel confident of the quality without having to produce it from scratch in their own kitchen.
Q What are the main things you would like the business to achieve under your leadership?
A I would like to see Unilever Foodsolutions continue to evolve to meet the changing demands of the marketplace. Our mainstay products - soup, bouillons, mayonnaise, tea - are unlikely to change, but our customer insight shows us that people have different expectations, and we will be developing our product range to reflect this.
Company name Unilever Foodsolutions
Tel 0800 783 3728
Area of operation Nationwide
Products: Bouillons, stocks, seasonings, dairy cream alternatives, gravy, jus, mayonnaise, dressings, condiments, sauces, pasta, snacks, soups, spreads, cooking fats, tea and vending.
Brands: Knorr, Hellmann's, Colman's, PG Tips, Scottish Blend, Lipton, Flora, Phase, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, Stork, Summer County, Meadow Land, Marmite, Pot Noodle, Peperami
Market sectors Restaurants; pubs, clubs and bars; travel and leisure; hotels; schools, colleges and universities; hospitals; business and industry; prisons
MORE SUPPLIER PROFILES ON CATERERSEARCH