This has presented itself in a number of different ways. Yes, there has been a severe stock-keeping unit reduction on the ready-meal aisle. Yes, there are more brands creeping into the space that was once occupied by proud own-label innovation. And yes, many of the old guard are still propping up the category. But during this re-set, a great opportunity has been missed or neglected.
When Bingham & Jones first formed, we released a podcast on FoodManufacture.co.uk, and within that we stated that the economy was at a turning point – and that due to the self-preservationist nature of the brands, innovation was clearly being driven by the retailers.
Benchmarking of products
We also stated that the benchmarking of products by the retailers and suppliers was a necessary procedure, and that being aware of the market is essential. But what we also suggested was that retailers should be more assured in their suppliers’ development teams and that matching flavour profiles and increasing protein, under the quantitative ingredients declaration (QUID), was not really innovation. In fact, it can be detrimental to the integrity of the offering.
When we saw the re-set we truly believed that this was the perfect opportunity for retailers and suppliers to be more individual in their cuisine. When a restaurant opens, it does not benchmark the high street and copy. It believes in the ability of the chef, creates the experience for the customer and hones it to be the best that it can be.
It looks at the plates that it is served on, the styling of the dish and the building up of flavours. This doesn’t require more protein, it requires ability and belief.
Supply base of talent
All of the retailers have a fantastic supply base of talent at their disposal. Yet, across the categories, there is a homogenised idea of what a spaghetti Bolognese, a mac cheese or a cottage pie should be – and that is in no way reflective of the true nature of home cooking. Equally, putting everything in the same or similar packaging (plate) is lazy at best.
We understand that market research plays a serious part in the selection of products, but as Henry Ford once said: ‘If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse’.
Why is it that since the inception of Charlie Bigham’s wooden tray, there have been no serious strides to better his packaging by the retailers? Discounters currently look at this differently, but we fear the day when they fall into line.
Jonny Bingham and David Jones (Bingham & Jones ) are contract food innovators for the food industry who, as Michelin restaurant-trained chefs, have a wealth of culinary experience, which they use to assist blue-chip food companies and others with their new product development for sale in supermarkets.