Home: February - March 2006 › Cover Story › Keeping it fresh
Keeping it fresh
31/03/2006 | Channel:
Libbie Hammond spoke to Steven Silvester, MD of IAWS Foods UK, about new product releases and the need for constant innovation in food service
As the dust settles following this year�s Hotelympia exhibition, IAWS Foods UK can now take a moment to celebrate its success at the show. The tour de force at Hotelympia was the Delice de France stand and the products on show, which were met with a brilliant response from both existing and potential customers and clients.
Steven Silvester, the MD of IAWS in the UK, explained that the company has spent the past year researching and developing new products with a focus on Hotelympia,
and as a result over 50 new products were launched by Delice de France including new products from La Brea Bakery and Hiestand, the other exclusive brands to the Group.
Steven explained a bit of company history: "IAWS is an organisation that has been around for well over 100 years," he began. "Its origins are in agriculture - IAWS stands for 'Irish Agricultural Wholesale Society�. In the early 1990s the Group developed a greater interest in food and at the end of 1999 acquired Delice de
France and Cuisine de France, two major players in their sectors. Since then it has acquired Group Hubert in France, and La Brea Bakery in the US, and works with Hiestand, the Swiss fine pastry manufacturer and distributor, as well."
With a year�s planning invested in Hotelympia, clearly the show is of major significance to the company, so I asked Steven to tell me a little about the show and the reasons for attending. "Hotelympia is considered to be the premier exhibition for food service and hospitality in the UK, and we have been working in the last year at Delice de France to make sure that our products are appropriate and relevant to our marketplace. What we wanted to do at the event was to demonstrate the quality of our business and the quality of our products and people to our existing and potential customers, and we have put a huge amount of effort into that and it has been fantastically well received. We have had an overwhelming response to what we have been showing them, and it was more successful than we could have hoped for."
Delice de France used Hotelympia as the springboard to launch its new catalogue, which includes over 50 new products. "We are constantly innovating and developing, and every one of our catalogues is always used to introduce new ranges � we are constantly looking to source and design new products, it is critical in what is a very sophisticated market now," commented Steven. The message is that Delice de France can fulfil any pastry, bakery and dessert requirement and the brochure is the first step to finding what�s on offer.
A man called Philippe Signolet set up Delice De France, and he based the business on bringing the finest, part-baked, frozen bakery products to the UK market. "Since our acquisition of Delice de France in 1999 we have developed it further to a position where it is unquestionably the market leader in part-baked frozen bakery products," said Steven. "We either manufacture ourselves or we procure from dedicated manufacturers, but the products have to be very, very high quality. We then distribute these products in a frozen state throughout the UK and our customers finish them off in an oven, which means they have got fresh products almost instantly, whenever needed. We have also developed the range now beyond just bread and pastry products to include savoury and dessert products as well."
The new products include 22 new varieties of bread, including a delicious range of Italian Foccacia studded with cherry tomatoes, additions to the Thaw & Serve
dessert range ranging from passion fruit bavarois to American style cheesecakes, and also a brand new range of authentic French part baked quiche, made in the traditional way using fresh cream and eggs, generously filled and suitable to be served both hot or cold.
"Delice de France has a huge brand equity, and the name and company is held in very high regard in food service, so what we are really doing is making sure that we are absolutely best in class in everything that we do and then using the vehicle of Hotelympia to present all of those things to both existing and potential clients and customers," Steven commented.
Delice de France is now the leading bakery supplier to the UK food service market and as such is dedicated to offering a total solution. Among the areas spotlighted in the catalogue are new hot food concepts and a range of non-food items available from Delice de France's preferred supplier Continental Chef Supplies.
These state-of-the-art technological innovations have allowed Delice de France to maintain the highest standards of food safety and product quality. A range of bakery equipment, display and total concepts along with marketing support materials are
available to help customers grow and expand their business.
Steven explained the rationale behind this total concept. "Whilst the product is absolutely critical and we are obsessive about the quality side, we also want to work with our clients to enable them to build their business through our products. What we are saying is: 'here are the best products that we can find anywhere in the UK and Europe, how can we work with you to maximise the benefits these products can bring to your business?� For instance, we have three training academies in the UK and we will bring in our clients� staff and train them in a teaching environment - how to use the products, how to handle them, how to bake them off, how to present them, and we can also do that at our clients� premises. We offer help with equipment solutions, whether that is an oven or counters and display materials, and we have a department that is there to support our customers in maximising the opportunity that the product gives.
"It is not just about ordering and delivering boxes of frozen products, which some people do, there is a lot more to it in our world. The product is too precious for us just to deliver it."
Some of the Group�s products are manufactured in the UK, but the home of the plc is Ireland, where there are significant manufacturing facilities. The company also has up to 325,000 square feet of manufacturing operations in the US. Commenting on the manufacturing facilities, Steven said: "All are world class, and we make full use of technology and automation. In all we have over 14 manufacturing operations worldwide, and in terms of the manufacture of part baked frozen bakery products,
IAWS is a world-class player and the organisation has invested huge amounts of money in the technology and quality and so the plants are very efficient."
Alongside the world-class manufacturing centres, IAWS also has a strong focus on research and development, with a dedicated new product development department that engages with all the other layers of the business. "Clearly it is critical to understand consumer and customer research, as well as keep an eye on what is driving new markets and what we need to do to respond to that," said Steven.
"We do a huge amount of research with existing and potential customers as well as suppliers, and we then consider all this data and start to innovate with products. We will design and create products ourselves or will scour Europe and further a field if need be to see if we can find the right products. IAWS has representation in 16 different countries around the world so we will work with those people as well.
"Once we have found a product we consider worthy to be featured in the catalogue, it has to go through a huge evaluation process. In the UK this is dealt with by what we call the 'Innovation Forum�, and this forum basically decides what new products will go into our catalogues and representatives from of all the different functions of IAWS Foods UK sit on it. All products go through the Forum before getting into an IAWS catalogue.
"This means that the investment into a product is huge before it even gets featured in our literature - everything has to be technically evaluated, we have a very high quality
technical function that ensures everything around that product is appropriate, including traceability � all of this is very carefully evaluated."
The ingredients are an important component of this evaluation, and Steven explained IAWS� sourcing policy. "If we are able to buy locally to the point of manufacture we would encourage that, but certain ingredients can only be sourced in certain areas because of the nature of the ingredient. Our approach would be to support local suppliers where possible, but this has to fit into a strategy where we are only interested in the highest quality of products that we can find and while price is important, it doesn�t supersede quality."
An increasingly discerning customer base is driving this requirement for high quality, as Steven highlighted. "If you look at food service now, on the High Street or wherever, and compare it to five years ago, the customer is now far more sophisticated and demanding, and I think that is going to continue," he said. "I think standards have improved enormously, but if we don�t continue to innovate and ensure that we are relevant then we won�t enjoy a piece of the action, and we certainly intend to stay at the top of the market."
He continued: "I think that this sector is buoyant, but the companies that are optimistic and innovative, and are providing high quality customer service will be the most successful, and I would say that IAWS fulfils these criteria."
From speaking to Steven and listening to his enthusiasm, it was clear he very much enjoys the challenges that the food service offers, but would perhaps change one aspect of the marketplace.
"I think that as professionals we should be proud of our industry and I just wish at times people could try and get along a bit better together. There is enough business
there for everyone," he said. "But I love it, it is great," he concluded. "I have spent my life in it and wouldn�t swap it."