Born in Cambridge to an Italian mother, and brought up in Argentina, where food and culture are largely influenced by Italy, Mark Garcia-Oliver grew up surrounded by a feast of freshly prepared food. “I grew up enjoying delicious food influenced by traditional Italian recipes, and fantastic Argentine beef and wine,” he began. “Good food has always been an excuse for family and friends to get together in a very convivial setting.”
Before bringing his own experience to the UK pasta market, Mark followed a family tradition and became an airplane pilot. After finishing high school, he moved to San Francisco to become a helicopter pilot and instructor, and travelled the world. He takes up the story: “In March 1998, on my return to Buenos Aires, I founded The Bacchus Group with five of my closest friends, challenging the most renowned local chefs to create their best dish. Since then my interest in great food and wine became my main passion, and I decided to follow a new career path. I started working in the food industry, but mainly in operations while living in Argentina and UK.”
He continued: “In 2000 I moved to work to the UK. I became quite frustrated by not being able to find good fresh pasta to eat at home, and did not have the time to make it from scratch every time. After a bit of research I became aware of a gap in the market, and by 2003 had already gathered some funds from friends and family to set up The Fresh Pasta Company with a clear objective: to offer fresh pasta free from additives and made only from the finest ingredients. I brought in a chef trained at a three-star Michelin restaurant, and together we set up production in our first premises based in North Wales.
“Today I manage a small and very efficient team. Together we Oliversell our fresh pasta to delis and restaurants around UK and the Republic of Ireland. I come up with new contemporary flavours for the fillings, and our chef develops the recipes and oversees the first production in our BRC certified facilities based in Italy. Meanwhile in London, we make sure all our customers receive not only the finest fresh pasta in the market, but also the best customer service.”
Mark moved the production to Italy four years after the company was founded, after partnering up with the second generation of a family of pasta-makers with over 40-years experience. “Since then, the fresh pasta has been produced strictly following my recipes, and using traditional methods of production to the highest standards,” he added.The British palate
As one might expect, Mark is very personally involved with his products, but has made sure that they suit the British palate. “We only use the finest ingredients, so for example we only use the tips of asparagus and hearts of artichokes instead of processed creams. We create like artisans using traditional methods of production and the ingredients you would find at home, but we think on an industrial scale, providing safe and convenient products that are produced in a BRC certified facility to meet the highest demands.”
The challenge of offering such high quality products is to encourage the consumer to go the extra mile: “Even though fresh pasta is becoming more and more popular, and the consumer is being able to appreciate the different qualities, we still have a market that has been exposed to very cheap pasta products for a long time, and needs to gain confidence to pay a little extra for a much better product,” Mark confirmed. “Nevertheless, we only come up with new products that we know are consistent in quality with the rest of our lines. For example, there are many versions of 10pesto in the market, but when we brought in ours - we won three-star Great Taste Awards every time we submitted it to the Guild Of Fine Foods competition. We try to understand what the consumer is looking for and make sure we come up with the best product we can produce, at the right price.
“In fact,” he added, intriguingly, “we are coming up with a great new product that will raise a smile on many at work during a rainy day, but we can’t talk too much about it yet.”
Ever since the company was founded, Mark and his team have been totally focused on creating perfect products, from the initial ingredients all the way to the most attractive packaging. “We have won over 40 awards since 2004 for product quality, innovation and presentation. In fact, we have won more awards than any other fresh pasta company in the UK,” said Mark. “Now we need to have the product more widely available in stores that carry products aligned to the quality of ours. Today we sell our pasta to many very high-end stores, including Fortnum & Mason, Harrods and Harvey Nichols. Indeed, Fortnum & Mason was one of our first customers, which confirmed to me from the start that we were on the right track.UK exposure
“Being showcased in the fridges of such opinion formers selling the finest food in the UK gives us loads of exposure. We get new customers calling for an order just because they saw us listed at a high-end retailer. I feel very proud to see that I have not only achieved my objective of raising the standards of fresh pasta in UK, but also because we are being recognised by world-known retailers who carry only the very best. In only a few years, I have created a brand that the consumer associates with excellence. It also pleases me that I am able to offer the finest fresh pasta in UK which means I can share a bit of the lifestyle I enjoyed while growing up.”
Mark’s enthusiasm for his company and products is evident, and he freely admits to love working in the food industry:
“I especially enjoy getting to know other small businesses,” he said. “People in general are very helpful, but I would like to see the consumer gain more power
in deciding what they would like to buy.”Beyond pasta
He continued: “I also believe that customer service is as important as having the right product. We always make sure we sell our pasta in joint effort with our customers. We believe in our products, and need our customers to believe in them as much as we do, to make it work.”
Mark’s passion for good food even extends beyond pasta, even though his friends call him ‘Pastaman’! “In fact, my wife Sole and I, we are both very passionate about food in general and love keeping alive the traditions we grew up with,” he said. “Late last year, we decided to bring an Argentine tradition into London that has been going on since the late 1930s. People got together to have gnocchi every 29th of the month, because it is a delicious and inexpensive meal to have at the end of the month during difficult times, when people are struggling to make ends meet. Our Gnocchi Club has taken off and now our guest lists has increased to over 150 guests… but only the first 29 guests to confirm get a place!”