The changing landscape of pubs throughout Ireland has seen ever more watering holes going down the food route. Either by going all gastro, or simply altering a few things behind the scenes to accommodate the hungry drinker, food offerings are almost becoming a must.
Casual dining has become one of the primary avenues for people wishing to eat out nowadays. As the recession has curtailed consumer spend at the high end of the industry, more easy going eateries and pubs have surged forward as relevant and key operators.Only last October, the Wild Honey Inn took home the National Hospitality Award for Best Pub With Food shortly before picking up a Michelin Bib Gourmand – elsewhere venues like Rosata’s in Donegal, Matt The Tresher and Fitzpatrick’s Bar & Restaurant have become widely known for their dining standards. Food opens up avenues to new customers, people who would not necessarily frequent a pub on an average day – women, children, families etc. Only last year I was in a great spot in Waterford called Jack Meades pub. I popped in to watch a match around midday on a Sunday. In days past there would be the one demographic watching sport, however in Jack Meades, due to high standard of food on offer, the bar was full with every demographic or Irish life. This, in turn, opens up further drivers like soft drinks to the revenue streams.
However, as evident walking into pubs all across the country, no venue is truly the same. Some pubs have plenty of space to dedicate to their dining area, some pride themselves on the smaller, intimate approach. Either way, there are options out there to aid in your food offerings, however small. Sausage and chips remains, despite our nation’s drive towards healthier options, one of our favourite snacks. As simple as adding some flavouring to the chips can appeal to your customers and increase your margin. Spanish style tapas are slowly making their way into our pubs too, but the standard fare is where the margins look healthiest.
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There are a number of products available to help publicans better serve their customers, and better aid their margins. Paul Ivory, operations director at Excellence Ltd, which supplies the Schwartz range to publicans around the country, knows what it takes to satisfy your customers and your mark-up. “What many publicans want is something simple, quick and trustworthy, which can create something exciting on their menu,” explains Ivory. Schwartz products are synonymous with quality, choice and value and their reputation is something that people can rely on. “What is great about the range is that there are probably over 70 lines in our extensive range of herbs, spices and seasonings, which can be used with all fish, meat and poultry dishes to add great flavour and helps to turn ordinary food into great tasting dishes.” They also have a great range of ready-to-use Schwartz Sauces such as Horseradish, Mint Tartare, Cranberry, Barbeque and Hickory Barbeque to mention but a few. There is also a full range of Mustards and the ever popular Bick’s Relishes.“You don’t want a chef working for more hours than is needed preparing sauces, toppings and marinades, because there is obviously a cost there. What we can offer is products that offer a superior level of taste and quality for a fraction of the cost, offering a larger mark up. Sprinkle five cents worth of Schwartz Blackened Cajun Seasoning onto a plate of chips and you make the chips more vibrant, more exciting, tastier, and there can be a 50 cent mark up.”
One obvious area of worry for landlords is food safety, however, Excellence only works with manufacturers of the highest standard. “With all of our products, you can be rest assured that everything is thoroughly manufactured and produced to a BRC Global Standard. Not every company can offer products that can be added to food both before and after cooking. We can do that as our products are freeze dried and heat treated, which makes them more versatile. This is hugely important for pubs, knowing that the product is safe to use at all times.”
Excellence Ltd are importers and one of the leading suppliers of ambient catering and foodservice products to the wholesale, cash and carry and the Irish food industry. With forty years experience in the business, they have built up a reputation synonymous with quality, choice and value. Sourcing and packing for private labels is an Excellence speciality, and they supply many of Ireland’s major food businesses with their customised requirements. Excellence has redesigned its popular Bick’s range of sauces and relishes, with two new exciting flavours now available in Ireland. Both Zingy Onion and Fiery Jalapeño relishes join the full range, which includes Hot Mexican Chilli salsa, Crunchy Sweetcorn relish, Mild Mexican Chilli salsa and Classic Hamburger relish. This renowned brand includes accompaniments perfect for a wide variety of dishes-from barbecued specialities through to grilled favourites. The full range of relishes and salsas offers an authentic taste of Americana. Excellence’s extensive product range includes many leading brands, and along with Bick’s and Schwartz, Excellence also supply Hammonds, Noel’s, Newforge, Gourmet Cooking Wines, Harrisons Sauce Sachets, Simply Syrups , Rowse Honey, Pidy ready to fill Pastries, Napolina, Margetts Jams, Jumel Portion Jams, Garofalo Pasta and Basso Oils and Vinegars.
Clearly there are a multitude of products available to the trade to help out in the kitchen. But what, exactly, do customers want? Mark McCarthy, business development chef at Unilever Food Solutions Ireland, feels that Irish consumers’ eating habits have changed significantly in recent years. But, it’s not all about the food. “For me great pub food is about more than just the quality of the food served,” says Mark. It’s about atmosphere, value and exceptional customer service and attention – it’s the whole package.
“We know that people are still eating out,” claims Mark. “According to research, 70 per cent of Irish people eat out of home at least once a week. More and more, we find that Irish chefs and operators are looking for foods to add interest and excitement to their menus. They are looking for new meal occasions, new product innovation, being proactive about their customer’s health and nutrition and using local and seasonal produce in their menus.”
There are obviously plenty of ways for publicans to operate a kitchen in a more profitable way. For Irish chefs today, value for money is key. “If we at Unilever Food Solutions are to remain relevant and continue to help and support chefs and operators, we need to add value to their food offering. We are continuously looking to develop innovative products and ingredients and offer exciting new product lines. As part of our second global World Menu Report, for example, we found that food waste was costing the Irish foodservice industry an incredible €125 million a year. For pubs, this means that every tonne of waste produced could cost up to €2,000 per annum. We launched a free-to-download waste reduction toolkit that we believe can help foodservice businesses reduce their food waste, by at least 20 per cent if implemented. I am also excited to reveal that we have just launched two new sauces as part of our Knorr Create More Concentrated Sauces range: Knorr Create More Spicy Tomato Concentrated Sauce and Knorr Create More Tomato & Basil Concentrated Sauce.”
Despite the world appearing to become 'more health conscious', the likes of chips, wedges and sandwiches remain a key addition to hundreds of pubs around Ireland. Mark claims there are many ways to improve margins, but also to add a healthier offering. “We carried out some really interesting consumer research last year to coincide with the launch of our third World Menu Report. This research investigated the attitudes and behaviours of consumers when eating out of home, specifically our attitudes towards healthy eating. Our research showed that, while 80 per cent of Irish consumers said that they prefer to treat themselves when they eat out, two-thirds of consumers said that they would prefer ‘slightly’ healthier options. More than half of those surveyed also said that they often look for the healthy option on menus. Using this research report, we created a service toolkit to help and support the foodservice industry in meeting their customers’ needs.”
What is Unilever's plans for the pub industry in 2013? “We are really excited about our new range of Knorr Create More Concentrated Sauces: Knorr Create More Spicy Tomato Concentrated Sauce and Knorr Create More Tomato & Basil Concentrated Sauce. Before we launched the sauces, we were keen to get some insight from chefs. We were blown away by the feedback! 97 per cent of chefs found the new range appealing after cooking with a sample for a week. 90 per cent of chefs said that the new product is an improvement on the Ready to Use sauces and an incredible 100 per cent of chefs who cooked with the new Tomato & Basil sample felt it was versatile, easy to use and that the flavour was ‘just right’. As part of the new product launch, we have a limited number of full-size Knorr Create More Concentrated Tomato & Basil Sauce samples to give away. If you would like to request a sample, simply log on to the Create More website (www.Knorrcreatemore.ie) and follow the onscreen instructions.”