EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW – Grace Foods

Once only to be found in local community shops, Caribbean food and drink products are coming of age in 2014, highlighted by their growing presence on mainstream fixtures in major UK grocery stores under the stewardship of Grace Foods UK, whose Encona Sauces, Grace Aloe Refresh soft drinks and Nurishment flavoured milk are recognised as flagship brands for their respective categories, not just in the world foods market.

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Firmly established as the market leaders in terms of authenticity, Grace Foods supplies a tasty 37% by value of all Caribbean food and drink sold in the UK, and continues to innovate with new products, such as the new Limited Edition Encona Brazilian BBQ Sauce, designed to capitalise on the BBQ season and this summer’s feast of football.

Grace Foods are also committed to stimulating the market with exciting promotions and initiatives. Among these high profile activities, in the run up to this summer’s Notting Hill Carnival, Grace Foods is once again staging Caribbean Food Week, the UK’s biggest celebration of Caribbean food and drink, which runs from Monday 18th August to Monday 25th August. Now in its third year the 2014 Caribbean Food Week promises to be even bigger than ever.

Ryan Mack, Grace Foods UK Managing Director, and Nyree Chambers, Grace Foods UK Head of Marketing, spoke to The Grocery Trader at the launch of Caribbean Food Week 2014.

The Grocery Trader – Ryan and Nyree, we last spoke at the launch of last year’s Food Week. What’s been happening since then, both for Grace Foods as a business and in the world of Caribbean food and drink as a whole?

Ryan – We’re seeing major market growth in all our product categories, feeding into growth in our business across the UK market and our core markets in Europe, namely France, Holland and Germany.

Nyree – Sales of beverages and sauces are exploding here and across Europe. Grace Aloe Refresh drink is a typical example. Coconut water, which we’re also in, is fast emerging as a category. In sauces, our Brazilian sauce is a new product specially launched for this summer, which will bring in new consumers, and is likely to lead to widening our range across the ethnic groups to include more South American products, to be launched possibly as soon as next year.

GT – I gather you’re both also actively involved in furthering Grace’s business outside the UK. What have you been up to?

Ryan – My focus is on building our sales in the European and African markets. In West Africa we’re mainly in Nigeria and Ghana, where we have established a registered subsidiary of the UK company.

Nyree – I concentrate on Europe. I was recently in Holland at the Libelle Zomerweek show, sampling to 85,000 Dutch consumers with the chef Caspar Bürgi on our stand cooking with Encona sauces.

GT – How much time do you spend here?

Ryan – I usually spend half my time in the UK, but often it’s less.

Nyree – I’m in the UK 70% of the time.

GT – Is ‘Caribbean’ cooking, as you define it, changing?

Ryan – What we’re seeing is a change in the way Caribbean food is presented. There’s a new appreciation of its culinary potential, but the essential taste is staying the same.

Nyree – As the leading supplier in the market, we recognise the increasing need to adapt to meet the needs of mainstream consumers who enjoy using the products in different ways. Hence we’re now presenting it in a recognisable, more mainstream way. Celebrity chefs are trying it out in new ways too – on Saturday Kitchen recently they cooked jerk ribs, which was very successful!

GRACE_ALOE_BOTTLE_LINEUPGT – Your products are now on the mainstream fixtures in major UK grocery stores. Just how far has Caribbean food and drink spread into the UK mainstream?  

Nyree – Sauces have seen the most growth into the mainstream, with Encona and Grace hot sauces now in the main sauces aisles. Our other products still have some way to go, but we are getting there. Grace Aloe Vera drinks went straight to the chilled soft drinks section, where they enjoy good representation, reflecting their wide appeal. Nurishment Active has also gone straight into the mainstream. Sports recovery drinks are booming in the multiples as a category.

GT – Do you carry out consumer research to track the crossover of your products?

Nyree – Yes we do. We’re embarking on a study into the acceptance of Caribbean food in the mainstream, as a basis for our next wave of strategic NPD.

GT – Where would you rather your products were merchandised – the world foods section or the main sauces, soft drinks and flavoured milk sections?

Ryan – Ideally we’d like siting in both – the Caribbean community still shops the world foods aisles, but as we’ve discussed there’s a lot of growth in the mainstream market which we need to capitalise on, working in conjunction with the retailers.

Nyree – Mainstream consumers tend to use these ingredients in specific dishes as opposed to using them in everyday cooking as happens in the Caribbean community, so as part of the process of marketing these products to the mainstream there need to be different pack sizes for this audience.

GT – What popular recipe dishes characterise Caribbean cooking?

Ryan – The classic dishes are still jerk chicken, rice and peas and curried goat, but European consumers are now also using jerk seasonings on lamb and fish, and coconut milk is now being served with fruit and coulis. Consumers are experimenting with flavours and gaining confidence in trying new things, and we need to cater to that and encourage it.

GT – Can you talk us through the Caribbean food and drink products in your UK range?

Nyree – We have spices and seasonings, beverages, sauces, tinned vegetables, tinned fish and meats, dried powders and pulses, cordials, snacks and soup mixes, including one called Cock Soup, a Caribbean staple, which seems to fascinate certain British consumers for some reason!

Ryan – We have the broadest range of any Caribbean brand in the UK market, reflected in our 37% share by value.

GT – Which other cuisines do you supply food and drink for?

Ryan – Our sister companies Funnybones Foodservice and Chadha supply Tex-Mex and Asian/Oriental, Chinese and Malaysian respectively.

GT – Can people buy your products online?

Nyree – Yes, consumers can buy them online from supermarkets such as Tesco, and via our own online Caribbean Food Centre, which has no minimum order requirement.

GT – How big a market is Caribbean food and drink in the UK now, compared to other ethnic cuisines?  

Nyree – According to the latest IRI data, Caribbean is a £100 million business in the UK. That’s just in the multiples: if you include the market through independents and cash & carries, at a conservative estimate the total figure is roughly double that. Caribbean is probably the UK’s fourth biggest ethnic cuisine behind Indian, Chinese and Thai.

420ml_VANILLAGT – Last year you launched some exciting ready to use Caribbean products, Grace Jerk Seasoning Hot & Spicy and Dunn’s River spice mixes and coatings, to encourage scratch cooks to try their hand at Caribbean dishes. How have they been doing?

Nyree – They’re doing very well, especially the spice mixes, which have good listings and offer a convenient way for consumers to coat and bake.

GT – The Limited Edition Encona Brazilian BBQ Sauce sounds fun. What uptake has it had so far?

Ryan – As of the beginning of June, it’s early days but we’re expecting big volumes over the summer in the supermarkets. They are committed to supporting barbecue sales, which in turn will be dominated by the World Cup. We’re sampling in store and running price promotions over the next two months in Tesco and other major supermarkets.

GT – We’re talking at the launch of the 2014 Caribbean Food Week, now in its third year. What events are happening during the Week?

Nyree – We’re carrying out supermarket samplings and targeting over 100 sampling points. We’re sampling at the annual Jamaica Basic Schools Foundation family fun day in Crystal Palace in early August. Caribbean Food Week is of course the lead up to the Notting Hill Carnival, for which many UK supermarkets put on samplings and seasonal displays. We’re also running atrium events in supermarket head offices and cash & carry samplings. We’re doing a lot of work with Rhythm Kitchen in Westfield Stratford, and running online giveaways and recipes through Facebook. In short, this year’s Caribbean Food Week campaign will hit as many touch points as possible, and generate plenty of publicity, with the support of the UK’s food writers and bloggers.

GT – What kinds of sales uplifts can retailers expect during Caribbean Food Week?

Ryan – If the sun is shining and retailers support the Week, they could well see sales uplifts of up to 30% over the period.

GT – Are you involved in the Notting Hill Carnival at all?

Nyree – We work with a lot of the carnival floats. We supply drinks and t-shirts to a number of the bands, but we aren’t major Carnival sponsors as yet.

CARIBBEAN-FOOD-WEEK-LOGO-2014GT – Any plans to widen and extend the Encona brand to include scratch cooking products?

Nyree – Scratch cooking is already very much part of the Encona brand, like it is for Dunn’s River. As I mentioned earlier we’re embarking on a major piece of market research to underpin our plans for NPD and brand extension for Encona, keeping the Caribbean sector as our main focus.

GT – Are you doing any advertising or sponsorship in the UK?

Nyree – We’ve been running TV commercials for Encona from February to mid June on Channel 4, More 4 and 4OD, and we have a seven-month sponsorship of some of the most popular shows on The Good Food Channel running until September. We have also been advertising Nurishment Active with an outdoor campaign and tube car panels on London Underground. We’re also promoting Nurishment at the NEC Cycle Show in September, having had great success at this year’s London Bike Show and Manchester Bike & Triathlon Show.

142ml-Orig-Hot-PepperGT – Finally, it’s crystal ball time. Looking ahead, where do you see Grace Foods and Enco Products going from here?

Ryan – We’re confident of continuing our growth to date into the mainstream market. We want to build a bigger presence in the mainstream, particularly in beverages, and ramp up our presence overall. We will continue to build Grace Foods’ representation in other European markets. Encona will remain our flagship sauce in most markets, and stay alongside Nurishment as our lead brand, backed by further heavy investment. We are committed to driving Caribbean food forward, particularly in the UK, and establish it firmly in mainstream consumers’ weekly meal repertoire as something everyone can enjoy both cooking and eating.

Grace Foods UK

Tel: 01707 322332

www.gracefoods.co.uk

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