The future of foodservice
Created by a ‘who’s who’ of the UK food service industry, The Menu Partners is a total food sourcing, procurement and distribution partner
When asked to sum up the vision of The Menu Partners, Jason Tanner of the Premier Fruits Group and the co-owner of the business described it simply as ‘to become the leading food sourcing, consolidation and distribution partner to the UK food service market and beyond.’ “As a company led by foodies and food developers at heart, The Menu Partners aim is to supply the best raw ingredients and added value, ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat components to hotels, pubs and restaurants across the UK,” he said.
The brainchild of Jason and other co-owner Nigel Harris of Absolute Taste, the original idea for The Menu Partners was initially conceived in 2018, however, the timing wasn’t right. Nigel and Jason had for some time realized that the future for the customer was going to be looking for a more consolidated delivery solution, with one vehicle arriving at a customer’s door with everything they need. “Fast forward to 2020, and we were faced with a global pandemic and two businesses, that were once thriving, now found themselves in one of the hardest hit industries,” said Jason. Premier Group switched to home deliveries and Absolute Taste created a range of ready meals for a supermarket chain and, alongside a number of partners, launched Salute The NHS, a charity committed to delivering one million meals to frontline NHS workers.
Deciding that now was the time for a new approach, and despite the challenges from coronavirus, the two suppliers proceeded to combine their two businesses into one. While Covid-19 was a major setback for the two businesses, it afforded Nigel and Jason time to follow through with the planned merger, with the combination of logistics expertise and food-making ability creating a foodservice giant that offers customers a new one-stop shop for all their food delivery needs.
The amalgamation of Absolute Taste and Premier Fruits means that The Menu Partners can now buy every category of food from all over the world, direct from the farmers and growers wherever possible. “The whole reason we exist is to provide our customers with complete supply chain integrity for all baskets on their menus,” explained Jason. “Whether it’s fruit and veg, bakery, butchery, fish, frozen, specialist and larder, cooked or prepared, we can supply our customers with whole head, prepped or cooked produce. We make recipes to their specifications, chop their vegetables to suit their requirements and source the best fresh ingredients from across the globe. We live for food, whether we make it or wholesale it, it’s what we do!”
Jason referred to the important role that The Menu Partners envisions it will play within the supply chain and he went on to explain the theory behind the ambition to be ‘fully-integrated’. “Hotels, pubs and restaurants have always received their goods through a number of different wholesale suppliers including fruit and veg, fish, dry goods, bakery, butchery and frozen. In turn, this has led to a huge number of vans and lorries, delivery notes and people turning up to their establishments every day, plus the need for chefs and managers to manage multiple suppliers,” he said.
“Over the past 20 years we have seen the emergence of central distribution hubs where products would be sent into a large warehouse, all treated as a commodity, meaning a box of tomatoes went through the same process as a tin of baked beans. Although, as it has proven, this model is hugely successful, it cannot tick all the boxes for a number of different customers.
“Our approach at The Menu Partners is to not only be a consolidator for artisans and suppliers, some owned and some partners, but also to tailor-make a supply to every customer. The Menu Partners is the delivery vehicle and focuses on a single vehicle turning up on time with all of the food, and in some cases drink, that is required to deliver the customers’ entire menu.”
Thanks to the years of experience of every type of warehouse and logistical operation in most parts of the UK that The Menu Partners can draw upon, and the facilities that it has inherited from its founding partners, the business is able to offer incredible flexibility to clients to meet their needs. “We have taken a very open approach and are ensuring all of our facilities can be used for multi-use picking and packing operations dependent on what our customers need,” Jason confirmed. “Everything is on built on ‘wheels’, so every hour of every day, pick and pack lines can be changed to suit the customer we are working with at that moment.
“Currently, across our business, we have over 237,000 sq ft of warehouse and office space including 520 pallet spaces for frozen foods and over 2500 pallet spaces for chilled and ambient products. We have three kitchens in Bicester and London, with more planned for the future. These kitchens are equipped with the most technologically advanced equipment ensuring our customers receive consistent products each and every time.
“We are continually investing in our facilities and systems to ensure we are at the cutting edge of the foodservice market and, with a national delivery platform, we will be introducing additional facilities across the UK in the coming months.”
Given the extraordinarily wide variety of items that can be supplied by The Menu Partners, and the demands upon it to keep up with new trends and food fashions as they arise, the company has to keep its finger on the pulse of what is coming next. Jason, Nigel and the team see 2021 and 2022 as about stability and people regaining trust in the hospitality industry. “The significant surge in food boxes show that customers are desperate for restaurant, pub and hotel food experiences in their homes, and this is something we expect to see continued growth in,” Nigel added. “Plant-based proteins and healthy foods will remain a top priority, but innovation and international offerings will also be at the forefront, due to the lack of travel possibilities over the coming months.
“We believe people will eat less meat, but better quality. People will explore, experiment and innovate, and the word salad will not be about lettuce but about grains, pulses and vegetables creating nutrient-enriched dishes.”
Keeping up with the demands that this places on their customers means that The Menu Partners has to not only continually look for new suppliers and new and interesting products, but also ensure that they meet its own exacting standards for quality and delivery.
“By combining the strength of the Absolute Taste Group and Premier Fruits, it gave us access to growers and producers around the world and the ability to work with multiple suppliers for the same product, giving choice to our customers,” Jason highlighted.
“Development is key to the future of The Menu Partners, and we look at what our customers are trying to create on their plate, and we work that back to the suppliers, farmers and growers,” Nigel added.
“Technically we have to make sure our food is safe and, in turn, we ensure our produce is coming from safe wholesalers, growers and farmers and that have the required accreditation, and the same values and ethical practices we do.
“We have a number of standards that we like upheld, and of course, wherever possible we like to buy from our own shores. If we have to go for a swim to get the right product at the right time of year, we look as close as possible to the UK. However, if we have to go further we look at ships and lorries before air freight.”
The valuable and close relationships that The Menu Partners has established with its suppliers will also stand it in good stead as the continuing uncertainty around Brexit unfolds and the hospitality industry battles its way out of the coronavirus pandemic. “In terms of Brexit, we have not seen the full effect yet, and it won’t be possible to understand the full impact until the hospitality industry is back,” agreed Jason. “However, we are confident in every category and basket we have long-lasting relationships with the right growers and suppliers so that if an issue does arise, we can find other solutions to offer to our clients.”
With regards to the hospitality sector and how it recovers from the devastating effects of the pandemic, Nigel also thinks that the approach offered by The Menu Partners will help increase efficiency in an industry that had already been facing increasing costs for a significant period of time. “In the last decade, there has been a huge shortage of resource, leading to increasing kitchen costs and unprofitable operations, many of which sadly have disappeared,” he admitted. “The public are not prepared to pay significant increases for the price on the high street, yet costs have been going up, in some cases uncontrollably.
“Our approach is unique, it’s lead by development. So, we ask how we can deliver the end product to our customer through our operation in the most efficient and cost-effective way whilst still maintaining brilliant quality.
“We also have to have an international approach as many of our clients, and in turn their customers, will be looking for innovation, color and breadth of range when they are choosing what they like to eat. The pandemic has led to people trying to understand more about the food they are eating and putting on their tables. In the future, we need to look at eating habits, what our customers want and we are embracing the surge in plant base proteins and the calorific count of the food offered.”
While the scale, experience and resources of The Menu Partners make it a force to be reckoned with in the industry, there is still one area that Jason and Nigel identify that really sets it apart from the competition. “We are a business has been born out of the love of food,” Nigel emphasized. “Our strap line is ‘Live for food’, and it’s what we do. We are surrounded by foodies, we don’t see food as a commodity, all food is exciting, it’s why our people come to work every day, it’s for the products we sell.”
“On 20th March 2020 the UK changed, the hospitality industry was closed and it was time for something new. We had been contemplating The Menu Partners for a couple of years; however, we are now in a new era, a new world and ready with a new offer to revolutionize the food service market,” Jason concluded.