There isn’t an interview or guest contribution on Saucy Dressings which I haven’t enjoyed writing or editing – all are fascinating stories, or informative articles. But this one is for me the most exciting of all.
This month we see the launch of Tried and Supplied. This is an industry platform designed to help food and drink producers develop their wholesale business for restaurants and hotels.
It will be a tremendous boon to so many of those producers, from potato farmers to distillers of cassis; from cheese makers to chocolate makers, all of which have featured on Saucy Dressings over the last four years.
It will also be incredibly useful to all those creative chefs who have also appeared in Saucy Dressings posts, enabling them to source the weird and wonderful and devise even more innovative dishes for their customers.
The launch is timely. Against a background of Brexit speculation, it is a powerful marketing tool which puts small British food and drink producers in the spotlight.
It’s particularly exciting for me because Saucy Dressings is going to be a part of this – its resident blog no less. And also because the entrepreneurial founder, Domini Hogg, is my own daughter!
Below she tells us the story of how it all began.
What gave me the idea to set up Tried and Supplied in the first place
I first got the germ of the idea that was to become Tried and Supplied when I was working for a premium loose-leaf tea company managing the accounts of several major hotels and Michelin star restaurants, training their staff and even running tea sommelier courses, when suddenly out of the blue (even for us internally, although we had a little more of an inkling) the company was put into liquidation.
I was left explaining to the hotels and restaurants I managed that, overnight, they no longer had a tea supplier. This was a big blow for many of them because we had spent time pairing the teas to their menus and even creating bespoke blends for them. How were they going to find a supplier to replace us? They were asking me for advice. Naturally enough I knew some of our closest competitors, but I started trying to look for alternatives as well.
That was when I realised that Google doesn’t really help you find the smaller, often more interesting, suppliers. They simply can’t compete with the bigger companies for space on the coveted front page of Google.
I asked the food and beverage directors how they typically went about finding suppliers. Several of them said that they would email round their peers in the industry asking for recommendations. It’s important that a supplier doesn’t just have a good product and range, but can also deliver the high level of service these hotels and restaurants need to train their staff and deliver quickly. Staff training is only increasing in importance as customers demand more and more information about the food and drink they purchase. This was highlighted recently by a survey we completed with Silent Customer and analysed in our Food and Drink Trends for 2019.
I did my best to make suggestions for my customers at the time, but that got me thinking about how I could make this easier for them in the future. It was shortly after that, that I got on a plane to Seville with my foodie mother, blogger of Saucy Dressings. We were flying EasyJet and hadn’t paid the extra to book our seats, so found that we were sitting apart on the flight. I had a lot of time to think on the plane. In fact flights are one of the places I have my best ideas. This was when I had my Eureka moment. My brother had been working for a software business that helped consumers find recommended independent financial advisors. I realised that I could apply a similar model to the suppliers and enable the food and beverage buyers to benefit from industry recommendations outside their own network without disturbing their peers by email.
We arrived late in Seville, but I was desperate to tell my mum about my new idea. Fortunately the hotel we were staying at had laid out some Spanish cured meats and a bottle of wine, so we poured a glass or two and chatted late into the night about the possibilities. That weekend we explored as many foodie places as we could including a wonderful olive oil shop, selling an incredible range, and with a helpful chart on the wall explaining the different taste profiles of various olive types. I thought how useful a range of different premium olive oils might be to my ex-customers.
How the idea developed – what the purchasers were wanting
Back in the UK I set to work researching into what food and beverage buyers were looking for, and developing a prototype I could present to some of my old customers. It was clear that there was a need for a solution to help reduce time spent finding the right suppliers. Several hotels said that they had very specific requirements for suppliers due to their sustainable sourcing policies. They needed a way of quickly knowing whether a supplier would comply with their policies.
By this stage I was working in social media using software that optimised workflows around reporting and community management. I remember my horror at finding, when I started in the role, that the process of reporting on number of comments by whether they had @mentioned us or not was done as a tally on paper! That was quickly automated by making use of the rules engine in the software to automatically tag comments with @mentions.
Made redundant again (twice in three months is quite a shocker!), I was asked by the social media software provider I’d been working with, if I’d like to work with them. This was the start of my software career. I learnt a lot about software businesses and the hard financial value they can deliver through simply optimising processes. Meanwhile I was investing my salary into developing the Tried and Supplied MVP (minimum viable product).
Testing and further research
I wouldn’t say I got it right first time. I had a bad experience with my first developers and was so relieved when I found other developers I felt I could trust. If you don’t control the code, they really do have you by the short and curlies! When I finally migrated the site to the new developers, I made sure that I owned the code and the hosting.
With the MVP finished, I did a first round of testing with friends and family, which highlighted a number of issues that needed fixing; then last year I did a soft-launch with suppliers. One of the key lessons from this was that suppliers typically don’t feel comfortable signing up with LinkedIn, which coming from a social media background, I had simply taken for granted. We had to quickly build email sign up for suppliers and also make it compatible with the oldest possible version of Internet Explorer so that suppliers could sign up.
The increasing need for purchasers to find local suppliers
In the meantime, Saucy Dressings was going from strength to strength and I was pulled into all kinds of delicious tastings and discovered some intriguing new ingredients like black garlic, pear melons and heritage potatoes.
Becoming a regular Saucy Dressings reader, I discovered that there was a lot of demand for local suppliers from hotels and restaurants for these ingredients too. For example, from the interview with Lora Strizic, the manager of The Pig on the Beach, I read about the policy of all The Pig hotel to source within a 25 mile radius. I was intrigued to learn, reading the interview with chef-patron, Giorgio Alessio, how he uses local produce to produce his own version of Yorkshire-Piedmont fusion. From the interview with Rob Broadbent, Ozzie founder of a chain of cafes in Cotswolds, I learnt of the importance of quality of key ingredients – in his case, of the sourdough.
Then I experienced the importance of local sourcing at a restaurant first-hand, when my boyfriend treated me to dinner at James Knappett’s Kitchen Table. They’d even picked the cherry blossom for one of the many courses from London trees themselves!
All of this was happening against a background of Brexit-speculation; and we really started to see the spotlight shining on British produce. Britain now produces hundreds more varieties of cheese than France, and English sparkling wine is also giving the French a run for their money.
But these small specialist suppliers, while burgeoning, also tell me they need help. Their interests are naturally enough in the food or drink they are making. They often don’t have time to spend on marketing, especially to hotels and restaurants, which requires more sophisticated marketing than just to local consumers.
One of the things my experience at the tea company had taught me was that our wholesale business was much more profitable than our retail business. That is what I’d like to help suppliers develop. Even some of the larger producers, large enough to supply supermarkets, have found that they are constantly squeezed on price and are developing more specialised produce for creative chefs.
Tried and Supplied launched!
So this month we launch – we’ll be offering suppliers:
- a full year of free marketing to hotels and restaurants
- opportunities to feature in the Saucy Dressings blog
- opportunities to find new chef-buyers through our Local Chef Challenge
And the beauty of the idea is that it’s mutually beneficial – to purchasers we offer:
- free access to a growing database of specialist suppliers and industry recommendations
- free bespoke sourcing services
- interviews for chefs in the Saucy Dressings blog
For more info, go visit the Tried and Supplied supplier information page.