Home: Issue 1 2008 › Cover Story › Trusting the sauce
Trusting the sauce
22/01/2008 | Channel:
Although he has retired from television cookery, Loyd Grossman is still very much active in the food world. He spoke to Libbie Hammond about his new range of sauces
Since his first collection of Italian cooking sauces was launched onto the UK market in 1995, Loyd Grossman has witnessed an evolution in the food market, with the creation of a premium sauce sector and ever-increasing competition from supermarket own brands and other sauce manufacturers trying to enter the niche. This hasn’t dampened Loyd’s enthusiasm for the conception of deliciously tasty and convenient store cupboard standbys and the Loyd Grossman range has grown to include a wide range of ethnic sauces, as well as breads, pastas, soups, and nuts. “I have always been interested in eating good food,” he said, speaking to me from Delhi, India, “and that interest led me to learn more about food and then eventually I taught myself to cook, although this wasn’t until I was about 30 really.”
Loyd was born in Boston in the US and graduated from Boston University before coming to Britain in 1975 to study at the London School of Economics. He arrived at a great time for someone interested in food. “The mid-70s was when the food world was beginning to wake up in London and there were some outstanding restaurants,” he enthused. “And what was really exciting was the tremendous range of wonderful Indian and Chinese restaurants in the city, which opened up a world of tastes.
“I loved living in London,” he continued, “and following my Masters I got a job at Harpers and Queen, and then I went to the Sunday Times, and from there I got into television.” He has since presented Masterchef, a competitive cooking programme, and Through the Keyhole, a programme examining the homes of minor celebrities, as well as acting as the narrator on a British tour of The Rocky Horror Show.
Loyd’s products have enjoyed continuous success since their launch, with the brand now enjoying 13.9 per cent year-on-year value growth, and with Loyd Grossman brand recently topping the league for the most successful celebrity brand in the UK. Twelve years after his first foray into the food market, Loyd has branched out from products that are for use in the home, by launching a premium range of quality ready-to-use sauces and soups for the foodservice industry. According to AC Nielsen, the wholesale cooking sauces market is worth £18m, and having identified a gap in the foodservice market for a premium product, Loyd is aiming to exploit growth opportunities for the brand in this new channel. “This is something that I have been working on for quite a long time - certainly over two years,” explained Loyd. “Generally, ever since I started the brand, I never release any product until I think its right, and that I am sure we can do it better than what is already out there. As a result new product development can take a very long time because I am pretty demanding, which causes lots of to-ing and fro-ing of factory samples! The brand
philosophy has always been that we use the most straightforward ingredients possible, without what I call ‘voodoo’ products, or anything artificial, and that means we source all the raw materials quite carefully. I believe that each product is really all about flavour, and therefore I don’t want any junk in my products. Another knock-on result of this methodology is that the products are intrinsically nutritionally sound, because we use such good quality raw materials and don’t add any ‘funny stuff’ such as added starches, MSG, artificial colours or flavours. However, all this attention to detail means that the development process takes longer.”
These particular products also took longer to release because of their totally newly designed packaging. “From the very beginning of the process I wanted to develop very distinctive packaging that had a high degree of practicality for catering businesses, so this was designed from scratch,” confirmed Loyd. All this hard work has resulted in a new, easyto- handle, re-sealable two kg bottle that is perfectly weighted to aid accurate pouring. All bottles feature full and clear nutritional panels and product information. Loyd commented: “I never compromise on taste and with these new soups and sauces, chefs won’t have to either.” In the past, chefs have shied away from using RTUs in a premium offer because of taste and performance issues. However, Premier Foods has developed a new patent pending manufacturing process to deliver the consistently high quality expected by consumers today.
“The relationship with Premier Foods is great, and in many ways I have grown along with Premier,” said Loyd. “Robert Schofield is a very inspiring CEO, and they have got a great senior management team and a terrific enthusiasm which I particularly like, as energy and enthusiasm for projects really appeals to me.”
Loyd has also come up with a range of easy to follow menu cards that use the sauces or soups as a basis for a hearty pub meal or more sophisticated business lunch. These include Baked Lamb Rogan Josh Meatballs with Fragrant Basmati Rice and Roasted Tomato and Garlic Mussels with White Wine and Bacon.
“I am very hands-on in this development process,” Loyd admitted. “You kind of have to be, because that is the difference between endorsing the brand and actually being the brand. This extends to the original range too, which is under a continual process of development. It started off as being an Italian range and we subsequently had really big success with Thai and Indian sauces, and then soups. I am always looking for new ideas to maintain our brand philosophy.”
Loyd was also confident that the British public would welcome his first sauces, despite some initial hesitance in the trade. “The sauces used ingredients that were considered to be ‘new’ such as olive oil, that perhaps consumers weren’t as used to back then,” he said. “Plus we had to deal with some odd comments, such as calling the Tomato and Chilli Sauce ‘spicy’. I said: ‘its supposed to be spicy - it uses chilli!’ and I was told that no one would like it. Well, it went onto be a best seller, and this proved what I have always believed - the British public really know what they want and they are sophisticated, plus they will try new tastes.
“They are very exposed to ethnic food both at home and abroad and they have very adventurous palates. This has enabled the industry to be much more bold than it used to be and the transformation over the last ten years in particular has been very exciting. Now we have to keep up - which is why I travel all the time, I’m always looking for new tastes and new ingredients and further inspiration.”
Although Loyd travels far and wide for his ideas, he is firm on the point that it is important to support local food producers. He has a close relationship with food producers in the North West and was recently in Lancashire at the Taste of Lancashire food festival. “I am always so impressed by the local produce up there, and an amazing coincidence is that the five star hotel I am staying at in Delhi at the moment, served Lancashire Hot Pot for lunch! I found it so interesting that a local dish from Lancashire is being served to very affluent and sophisticated people in Delhi, and it endorsed how good our local and regional produce really is.”
He continued: “However, I think there will be always be a tension between the desire to go global and the need to be local. So that is something that I think will be worked out in a very interesting way over the next few years and is something that I will be watching.” Although Loyd has heard anecdotal stories of his sauces being available in Kabul, in fact the range is concentrated in the UK and Ireland, but expanding to a more global audience is an area where Loyd is keen to focus next year. “We work very hard in the UK and Ireland as this is a big growing market for us,” he concluded, “but we will see what happens next year, as certainly I am interested in more of an international market.”
Loyd also noted that one of his past roles was connected to supporting buying local foods - in 2000 he was appointed to head a £40 million project to improve the quality of food served in British NHS hospitals. He commented: “When I was working with the National Health Service, one of the areas that I was keenest on was that we should support local producers, as the NHS is probably one of the biggest buyers of food in the country and British agriculture has a huge contribution to make, not only because we produce such fantastic stuff, but because it would benefit the economy, the general wellbeing of the countryside and also have major benefits to patient health.”
Although this project never really captured the imagination of the public in the same way as for example, Jamie Oliver’s school dinners campaign, its still an area that Loyd feels passionately about. “I think that improved nutrition in hospitals could bring a huge benefit to patients but in order for that to happen it needs a major political commitment, which we are still waiting to see. So far I haven’t seen the political will to make a really important change in hospital food,” he admitted ruefully.
While no longer part of a campaign directly targeting this area, Loyd is still frequently interviewed about it and keen to be involved in any efforts in this area. His good works don’t end there. Loyd is particularly associated with the work of museums in the UK, being chairman of the Blue Plaques Panel, the Churches Conservation Trust, the Campaign for Museums, the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, National Museums Liverpool, the vice-chair of the Liverpool Culture Company and a trustee of St Deiniol’s Library. In 2007 he was appointed Chairman of the Churches Conservation Trust by the Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He admits that his passion for the arts meshes very well with his love of fine foods.
“I travel a lot anyway because I have this great interest in architecture and museums and art, and so I am often travelling around looking at wonderful buildings or paintings or churches,” he said, “and inevitably I am eating and looking, so I get recipe inspiration while I am there!”