In the run up to this summer’s Notting Hill Carnival, Grace Foods UK, which supplies a massive 37% by value of all Caribbean food and drink sold in the UK, is staging Caribbean Food Week, the UK’s biggest celebration of Caribbean food and drink, which runs from Monday 19 August to Sunday 25 August.
And this year it’s also implementing the most sustained NPD drive the Caribbean fixture has ever seen.
Caribbean cuisine is on an exciting growth path. Now Grace Foods is committed to help Britain’s supermarkets, Co-ops and convenience store chains share in this growing opportunity and offer their shoppers a sunny Caribbean welcome and a mouth-watering mix of Caribbean food and drink this summer, in the build-up to this year’s Caribbean Food Week and afterwards.
Ryan Mack, Grace Foods UK Managing Director, spoke to The Grocery Trader at the launch of Caribbean Food Week 2013.
The Grocery Trader – Ryan, as MD of Grace Foods UK, how much time do you spend here in the UK? Where do you work the rest of the time?
I spend 60% of my time here but also travel to West Africa, specifically Ghana and Nigeria; the rest of Europe, mainly France, Germany, Holland and Scandinavia; and to our head office in Jamaica, where much of our planning takes place.
GT – What constitutes ‘Caribbean’ cooking, as you define it?
Caribbean cuisine is a flavour, which is defined by the spices used in it. The foods in the various recipes such as fish, chicken and goat are eaten round the world in different cultures, but the distinctive Caribbean flavour comes from ingredients such as thyme, pimento and peppers.
GT – What popular recipe dishes characterise Caribbean cooking?
There’s a long list, including Jerk chicken, curried goat, grilled fish and rice and peas.
GT – Which places do these recipes come from?
The recipes I’ve mentioned are largely Jamaican, such as Jerk, but other popular Caribbean dishes come from such places as Grenada, Barbados and Trinidad.
GT – Which of these recipes do you supply ingredients for?
We supply ingredients for all of them in our Grace, Dunn’s River and Encona ranges.
GT – Can you talk us through the Caribbean food and drink products in your UK range?
We supply spices, sauces and canned foods. We also make beverages, such as Tropical Rhythms coconut water and aloe vera drinks, Nurishment, the nutritionally enriched milk drink, and Dunn’s River Coconut Milk. We’re currently focusing a lot of our activities on the world of coconut products with major focus on coconut water and coconut milk which is available in big cans, small cans and Tetrapak. Coconut milk is doing well in Europe, particularly in France.
GT – Which other cuisines do you supply food and drink for?
Potentially all of them! We supply ingredients for everyone – in these days of fusion cookery people are free to use our products as they wish. Our coconut milk can be used in Asian and Thai dishes as well as Caribbean cookery, and our spices can be used across other cuisines too.
GT – Do you have any other operations in the UK?
Grace Foods UK has two other trading divisions, Chadha Oriental Foods and Funnybones Foodservice. Chadha Oriental is one of the UK’s largest importers and distributors of Asian and Oriental foods. Funnybones Foodservice is one of the leading importer and distributor of innovative, multi-temperature Mexican and American foods in the UK food and catering sectors. Since being part of GraceKennedy, Funnybones has expanded its business and widened the offering to include other new ethnic and global influences.
GT – That’s a pretty broad spread. How do you position yourselves as a business?
Here in the UK, we position Grace Foods as a world foods company.
GT – Do you supply your products to restaurants and caterers as well, or only retail?
We supply them directly to restaurants such as Rhythm Kitchen in Westfield Stratford, one of the sponsors of the Caribbean Food Week, and Turtle Bay and Caribbean Scene, all growing Caribbean restaurant groups. We supply other restaurants, takeaways and caterers through cash ‘n’ carry depots and delivered wholesalers.
GT – How authentic are the Caribbean products you sell here? Do they feature ingredients grown in the Caribbean?
Our products are as authentic as they can be, given that we make them on an industrial scale.
GT – Where do you make the products you sell here?
Our spices and sauces are either made in Jamaica or brought as ingredients to our factory at Corwen in North Wales to be processed and packed. We make Grace sauces in Jamaica but bring peppers from the Caribbean to make Encona sauces. We import some of our beverages such as Tropical Rhythms from Jamaica, and source other ingredients on world markets.
GT – Can people buy your products from you on line?
Yes, they can, on our Caribbean Food Centre website www.caribbeanfoodcentre.com, which carries a wide range of products. It’s doing so well that we’re now looking to outsource it to a fulfillment house rather than handle it ourselves, as we have been doing.
GT – How big a market is Caribbean food and drink in the UK, compared to other ethnic cuisines? How do your sales here compare with other European countries?
The UK is our best market in terms of sales, distribution and consumer taste and awareness. It’s still our largest base in Europe, but sales in France and Holland are growing significantly and we’re undertaking marketing and promotion in both places and have web sites for different countries. To promote Encona sauces in Holland, we have engaged a Dutch chef to give our products a Dutch spin. Holland celebrates a national “orange day,” and we join in the fun with orange dishes, which liven up traditional Dutch recipes by adding Caribbean spices.
GT – How fast is Caribbean food growing here?
IRI scan data picks up about £83m of sales which would suggest the total Caribbean food category is about £200m, and growing in double digits. It’s relatively small compared to Chinese and Indian, which are much more established, and you have to bear in mind the figures quoted for those include rice, a massive category in its own right.
GT – How far has Caribbean food spread into the UK mainstream?
Nurishment is settled in the mainstream as a nutritionally enriched milk drink: Dunn’s River coconut milk is finding its way into mainstream cookery: and Encona sauces are in the mainstream sauces aisles in a lot of stores.
GT – Let’s talk about the Caribbean Food Week. What events are happening during the Week?
We’ve lined up a big package of activity under the theme ‘Do something Caribbean.’ We’re sampling Chicken with Encona sauces in supermarkets’ and head offices and branches and also in cash ‘n’ carry depots, using a mobile Caribbean sampling vehicle. We’re engaging consumers in consumer press and on line, and our chef Hasan De Four will be involved in local radio interviews. We’re also looking at putting on a ‘Jerk fest’ in London with various celebrities as part of the Food Week – that’s to be confirmed.
GT – Are you also involved in the Notting Hill Carnival?
Not directly, but we are supporting various bands and floats.
GT – Are you sponsoring similar Caribbean Food Weeks in any other countries in Europe or North America?
We’re not staging any other Caribbean Food Weeks, but we do have an annual Grace Jerk Festival in New York in August and Florida in November.
GT – What new products are you launching in time for the Week? When are they available?
We’re launching our new Aloe Vera drinks, our Scotch Bonnet Hot Pepper sauces and a range of three Dunn’s River branded spice mixes and coatings. They’re all available now, through our usual distribution channels.
GT – What kinds of sales uplifts do retailers see during Caribbean Food Week?
We usually see a sales uplift of 15-20%.
GT – Your new products are branded Grace Foods and Dunn’s River. Are you planning to re-brand your Encona Sauces as Grace Foods products? Will you keep the Encona brand?
Encona has considerable brand equity and will continue to be developed in the UK and Europe: it has its own following and a distinct product profile, and we will continue to keep it separate.
GT – What are you doing to encourage scratch cooks to try their hand at Caribbean dishes? Will you be bringing out more ready-to-use Caribbean products?
We’re aiming to bring in scratch cooks by simplifying our ingredients. We’ve currently got Grace Jerk Seasoning Hot & Spicy, which you just rub on meat, and the new Dunn’s River spice mixes and coatings, which are equally easy to use. We plan to launch more spices and later on to bring out some scratch cooking sauces. We have some big pieces of NPD coming up on Encona for July – watch this space!
GT – You’re working with Chef Hasan De Four as part of Caribbean Food Week. What was he doing before this? What was he doing with ‘The Hairy Bikers’ in their TV series?
Hasan was involved in ‘Rhodes to the Caribbean’ with Gary Rhodes a few years ago. He comes from Trinidad and knows the islands well. Recently he did a show with the Hairy Bikers, showing them how to cook Caribbean food, and has been on GMTV several times.
GT – Are you planning to do anything after this to promote Caribbean cooking, with any other TV chefs or cookery programmes? What about cookery books?
We’re going to stick with Hasan for the moment. His work promoting our brands doesn’t stop! We’re tying everything into the Caribbean Food Week over the next few months, including filming cooking demos with Hasan to go live on the web site in July, and developing new recipes, which will also go online soon. As we’re the UK’s strongest Caribbean brand, food shows tend to use Grace or Dunn’s by default when they need Caribbean products.
GT – I understand this is your biggest ever NPD drive. What advertising are you doing in the UK to promote your products?
We do a lot of advertising outside supermarkets, give away free products in national newspapers, and advertise on buses and taxis with Nurishment. We carry out extensive consumer PR in the mainstream women’s press too, taking in recipes and competitions to “win a Caribbean chef.”
GT – Are you involved with sport sponsorships and other activities here?
We aren’t involved in sports sponsorship here in the UK, but in Jamaica we sponsor track and field stars Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the double Olympic champion, and Hansle Parchment, the Olympic hurdles bronze medalist. Our parent company also sponsors the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Championships, an inter-school competition that the talent scouts watch, which produces Jamaica’s future sprint champions – Usain Bolt came up through it. We also sponsor the Jamaican High School Cricket Competition, which has an equally important role in nurturing Jamaica’s young cricket talent.
GT – Looking ahead, what are your predictions for the growth in popularity of Caribbean food and drink? Where do you see Grace Foods and Enco Products going from here?
Caribbean food and drink’s popularity will continue to grow here and in Europe. We’re looking for sustained double-digit annual growth in the UK over the next five years, and to the multiples expanding their coverage and adding Caribbean fixtures in more stores. Add in expansion in Europe as more consumers there discover our products, and it’s an exciting time all round.
Grace Foods UK
Tel: 01707 322332