GREAT BRITAIN: Great British Bake Off winner Jo Wheatley highlighted cannoli, lobster tails, mini cupcakes and hybrid pastries as the next big things in catering for 2014. Speaking at the sell-out HTA Catering Conference in Coventry last week Wheatley spoke about how she keeps up with the latest foodie trends on social media.
The conference, sponsored by Vision Commercial Kitchens, attracted 250 people involved in garden centre catering and provided a great forum for lively debate and discussion. With garden centre catering now providing 15-20% of the turnover in many garden retail businesses it is an extremely important aspect of the modern day garden centre that has grown significantly over the last 5 years.
Lauren Cocks from the Oasis Café at Coletta and Tyson and Elly Yates from the Colonial Cafe at the Plantation Garden Company both provided candid accounts of how they have developed their operations including the lessons learned and the challenges along the way. Further inspiration was provided by Sue Allen from the Millbrook Garden Company who used images from the International Garden Centre Association tour of Australia to take a look at how Australian garden centres are ‘on top rather than down under’ when it comes to catering.
Workshops sessions on Sourcing Locally, Coping with Peaks in Demand, Recruiting the Right Staff and Improving Service Speeds provided great top tips and takeaway ideas to put into practice. Using examples from his previous roles at M&S Jason Danciger, Food and Beverage Director at The Garden Centre Group showed how by creating theatre people can be enticed to buy. People don’t shop to go shopping anymore – they can do that online. They go for the experience. He spoke of creating real wow factors such as ‘Alice in wonderland’ style cake table to really capture the imagination and get people talking.
This point was also picked up by Alan Roper, Managing Director of the Blue Diamond Group, who in the development of their Redfield site have provided a food theatre with an open plan kitchen. Customers can see all the food being prepared and this helps them to develop trust which in turn helps to upgrade and spend more.
The panel debate on Waitress Service versus Self Service provided interesting discussion and in conclusion there was no right or wrong you just need to know your customers. Waitress service helps create atmosphere and more of an experience. Different approaches are required for different customers and so this means you need to provide several offerings to suit. As Neil Grant from Ferndale Garden Centre said, ‘Everyone is an expert in eating so you need to keep your customers happy’.
Continuing the theme of creating theatre Jemma Swallow from The Tea Box in Richmond provided an insight into how tea and the many different high end quality loose leaf tea varieties can provide added interest. Not only do they provide a health benefit but they can also be used as a cooking ingredient in ice-cream, cakes, soups and salad. With worldwide sales of tea having grown rapidly over the last ten years Jemma spoke of the huge potential for tea in the UK and how it is not just for winter.
Concluding the conference Jo Wheatley shared her experience of winning the Great British Bake Off in 2011 along with the ongoing development of her cookery school. She spoke about the development of hybrid pastries such as the Townie (Tart/Brownie), Cragel (Croissant/Bagel) and Crookie (Croissant/Cookie) and the importance of trying something new and keeping up with foodie trends.
Running alongside the conference this year was an exhibition area which allowed delegates to meet with a range of key catering suppliers including Ice Cream World, Mars, Bon Bons, Catering Design Group, Carford Group, Cawston Press, Country Choice and Patchwork Pate.