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The pie’s the limit! Neil Court-Johnston talks pies, pastry and Peter’s…

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

The pie’s the limit! Neil Court-Johnston talks pies, pastry and Peter’s…

Related tags Pie

“Did you know that most of the pies we sell at Peter’s have fewer calories than a supermarket sandwich with mayo?” says Peter’s new pie meister Neil Court-Johnston. “I wonder how many people realise that?”

Court-Johnston, for one, has had the best part of five months to ponder such philosophical questions after his unceremonious exit from rival Holland’s Pies in May in the wake of allegations that he had talked with third parties about selling the business without the consent of bosses at parent Northern Foods.

For legal reasons, however, he cannot talk about the circumstances of his departure, ​and is instead concentrating on the task at hand – selling more pies – this time for savoury pastry specialist Peter’s.

Bigger slice of the pie

As the new md of Peter’s £38m foodservice division, Court-Johnston has set his sights on gaining an even bigger slice of the savoury pastry market for Peter’s, which manufactures its pies, pastries and sausage rolls at two state-of-the-art facilities in Bedwas, South Wales.

With 10 distribution depots throughout the UK, Peter’s is already in the enviable position of being able to supply up to 1,000 stock keeping units to fast food outlets, fish bars, restaurants, cafes, sandwich shops, independent retailers, schools, hospitals and hotels around the country on an order today, deliver tomorrow basis, he says.

“How many of our competitors can do that with no minimum order quantity? And our range is unrivalled. But we need to do more to raise awareness of what we do beyond our heartland in Wales and London and explore new channels to market. We're also launching an online catalogue for foodservice customers across the UK to make it even easier for people to work with us.

"I am confident that we can grow the foodservice business by 15-20% over the next two to three years."

Should the right opportunity arise, money is also available to fund acquisitions, he says. "I think this industry is going to consolidate further and we are in a good position to benefit."

Unlike some manufacturers, which have sidestepped the white van man and tried to appeal to a new audience by trading on provenance or heritage, however, Peter's is going squarely for the mass market, insists Court-Johnston, whose commitment to flogging more savoury pastry is bordering on the messianic.

"We had a lot of success with our premier premium range when we launched it a couple of years ago, and we want to broaden our appeal, but the products are still affordable. We're not a regional brand, our USP is innovation and ideas."

Stadium rock

Driving sales in sports stadiums will be key to this plan, believes Court-Johnston, who is convinced that finding more creative ways to encourage punters to eat more pies as they watch others engage in rigourous exercise could significantly boost his bottom line.

"We're not quite up there with the Americans when it comes to catering at sporting events, but we have got a very clear and coherent strategy for developing this market, where I think there has been a real vacuum of leadership. Two years ago we had four customers in stadia, today we have 38. But I believe we can double that in the next two years."

The key to success in this market, he says, is logistics: working with clients to develop more efficient means of feeding a lot of people in a short space of time, whether that means targeting them in their seats, feeding them as they queue, or even plying them with pies on the supporters bus as they travel to an away game.

"In many stadia, one in 10 people eat. I know we can get that up to one in three, or at least one in four if we get the model right. I think football fans have been shortchanged for too long and I would urge every stadium in the country to give me a call."

To boldly go where savoury pastry has never gone before…

New product development will also be key to driving sales at Peter's, which recently launched pepperoni pizza and all-day breakfast slices (complete with beans, bacon, egg and brown sauce), a first for the market, says Court-Johnston.

"We want to be seen as at the forefront of innovation in the savoury pastry category that appeals to the British flavour pallet of today, which is actually pretty eclectic and cosmopolitan​.

"Look at the high street today and people are eating Indian, Mexican, Spanish, you name it, and our products should reflect this. Pies and slices should be fun and exciting. We want to delight our customers."

Women and pies

Court-Johnston, who scored a first for the sector at Holland's when he introduced GDAs on the front of branded packs and reformulated selected own-label lines to help customers move from red to amber traffic lights, is also keen to dispel the notion that pies and pasties are only fodder for truckers.

Men might eat more pies, he says, but that doesn't mean they don't care what's in them. So salt, saturated fat, additives and calories do matter.

Women, meanwhile, might consume pastry products more often if they realised that the calorie count in many of them compared very favourably to some sandwiches and salads, especially those laced with cheese or mayonnaise, he points out.

"It's not that easy to find a sandwich that has fewer than 500 calories, whereas a lot of our products are in the 400-500 calorie range. We should really have a debate about this. I want to broaden the appeal of savoury pastry to attract more women and younger people, to get away from this idea that they are just what you eat if you stop at the motorway services.

"In other countries there is a very different perception of pastry and a broader customer base, so I believe there is everything to play for."

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1 comment

Ex Holland's Pies Boss

Posted by Martin Ashworth,

His ideas sound so right. Serving seated spectators sounds the way to go. Take the Pito to the People ! All success and Good Luck.

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