Sunday, June 26, 2005

Dick Smith Foods - in the soup

Dick Smith is a well known personality in Australian society and his valiant efforts to make us think about our food supply have been enshrined in his Dick Smith Foods operation. It is unfortunate that Dick Smith himself, had to learn about Australian consumers and that while they were willing to try his alternate foods made by local companies instead of the multi-nationals, quality still had an important part to play.

It is now obvious, that the foods of comparable or superior quality under the Dick Smith Foods brand have proven to be preferred alternatives and his peanut butter, asparagus, biscuits (including Temptins) and his breakfast cereal have stood the test of trial and time.

It so happens that I provide the Australian ingredients for the fruit pieces in the Bushfood breakfast cereal even though I, along with most consumers who have written in about the product, think that the resultant taste should be more intense and definitive. It would even be possible to improve the fruit pieces so that they have a low glycaemic index, or contribute an anti-oxidant or an immune-stimulant activity or simply have more distinctive and interesting flavours.

My ingredients are highly functional but I am still waiting for an Australian company to recognise their true worth as food additives and flavorants. It will probably fall to a foreign company to take advantage from the use of my ingredients as there are much bigger markets than ours. An innovative edge is just what most food manufacturers need outside of the closed offering now being shrunk to a choice of two by Australian supermarkets.

Have you heard this news? One supermarket has decided to reduce the number of brands on its shelves and replace them with in-house brands. However, should a company really want the shelf space, they can offer to pay a fee simply for the right to compete with other companies for the same limited space. The only winner is the supermarket which pockets even more money for their real estate while pushing up prices on all but their own brands. Read more about this disasterous development driven by our grocers here.

Wouldn't it be great if we could move back to more of a village strip retail precinct where you get to know your butcher, baker, gourmet food outlet and perhaps we might even get fruits and vegetables which are not engineered for maximum shelf-life irrespective of how they taste. What if this village strip was virtual and the stores could benefit from bulk buying and effective distribution? Maybe there's an on-line business for someone. I know my own virtual store is growing rapidly as discerning consumers demand supply of quality products wherever they live. And with the security of on-line trading these days, who doesn't shop via the Internet when they want that difficult to find, prestige or special something?

Personally, I'd love to see Walmart come to Australia. Their policy is never to charge shelf or line fees, they don't insist on an advertising and promotional contribution and they change their buyers regularly so that relationships do not extend to extra-curricular activities. Sure, everytime a Walmart opens in a town or suburb, dozens of strip shops find it hard if not impossible to compete but if we have to have supermarkets (and I'm not saying we do), then at least we can support the more ethical amongst them (even if they are foreign-owned). I know quite a few Australian manufacturers which have made the decision not to play with the big guys because the supermarkets dictate such unreasonable terms as to make businesses difficult if not impossible to run, borderline financially and therefore high risk but with no commensurate high return.

Consider the struggles of another Dick Smith Foods product in the supermarkets: There has been a very quiet launch of four new soups onto the shelves. The manufacturer, Windsor Farm Foods and I developed a delicious range including Cream of green pea with Australian mint; Tomato with basil and Wildfire spice; Butternut pumpkin also with Wildfire spice; and Minestrone with Alpine pepper.
The range comes in generous 500ml tins as heat and serve, low fat recipes and would be ideal with a dollop of lite sour cream or some home-made bread flavoured with Alpine pepper or Wattleseed. As a meal or snack in the depths of Winter, my choice is to add a sprinkle of Oz lemon to any of the soups or bake a bread using some as an immune stimulant. And as the weather warms up in Spring, I'll go for these soups chilled for a delicious starter. Give them a go yourself and let us have your feedback on these new products.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

King Island yoghurt - a right Royal flavour

I had my wife, Clare tell me on the phone that other day "I hope you are supplying King Island because I've just tasted the best yoghurt ever!"

Luckily she was referring to their new Lemon myrtle and Maple variety for which I do provide the maple and Oz lemon extracts as flavouring. And I have to agree that the product is hard to put down and leave some for later.

King Island tested their yoghurt in food service for many months before getting the thumbs up from chefs and their clients and only then did they expand production to retail. The product is only available in specialty and gourmet food stores but if it proves popular it might make it to the supermarkets. Try some for yourself and let me know what you think.

Another product with the chefs at the moment is my Belgian white chocolate mousse in three flavours - Oz lemon (again), Forest peppermint and Wattleseed. The mousse comes as a powder to which you add an equal weight of water. This mixture then gets added to twice its weight of whipped cream and left to set overnight. I am planning to re-pack it into retail sizes so keep an eye on this blog for notification on its availability through our on-line shop.

The formulation is such that the finished product will keep chilled for 10 days or it can be frozen (even for months) and later thawed with no loss of quality.

My favourite would have to be
as this nutty, coffee, chocolate, hazelnut taste is really good with dairy products. I must admit, since inventing it as a flavouring way back in the 1980s (September of 1984 to be precise) I have always known that it will one day be a world flavour. Sure. It's taking some time but from bread mixes in Switzerland, chocolates and ice cream in New York and added to risotto in menus in Russia and marinated mushrooms in Nagoya, it has come a long way.

My next aim is to market a Wattle beer which I make regularly as a home brew but I just need an innovative beverage company. Anyone listening?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

I'll never clam up about this win!

Who would have thought that a couple of larrikin Aussies (Benjamin Christie and I) could fly into Rhode Island and Newport's 24th Annual Schweppes Clam Chowder cook-off and walk away with a 2nd place in the creative chowder category? Sure. We brought with us some Wildfire spice to add those delectable pungent notes and of course, a goodly amount of Oz lemon for the aromatics.

These ingredients took the clams, clam juice, bacon, potato and cream to new heights of taste and generated hundreds of compliments on the day, followed by emails for weeks as to how our chowder should have taken first place.

For anyone wanting to compete in this chowder competition or any of the others held around the world, there's a strategy to recognise in order to have any hope of winning: Because it is the publc who votes for the grading, you have to get your chowder samples out to as many of the attendees as possible. This means not just handing out tastings over your stall table but serving the 7 and 8 deep mass of 'chowderheads' but getting out amongst it and attacking the multitudes from all sides with tray service. Your judges have to taste to adjudicate.

There's another clue to a prize too. Be the furthest travelled. It seems that the Newport pilgrimage was too daunting for anyone further away than Sydney so we picked up that prize as well.

Anyway. We apparently worked miracles in pulling off 2nd place in the chowder grading as New Englanders are rightly chauvinistic about their regional culinary specialty. I think it urked a few locals to lose, judging by the low scoring red (Manhattan) chowders and next to no scored meat soup which was entered as a means of avoiding the manufacture and service of the vast volumes of soup we tackled - 140 gallons of it! That's 532 litres, give or take some for evaporation. We were certainly chuffed in taking out our award and look forward to next year when we will cook .... on second thoughts, I think we'll keep our winning recipe for 2006 a secret for at least a short while.

To tell you about the rest of our Rhode Island visit I'd need to remind you that the US is the home of hospitality and our hosts wined and dined us until we were approaching blimp dimensions. One highlight was a brunch at the spectacular, Castle Inn function centre which sits on a grassy ridge over-looking the Sydney-harbour-like waters of Newport.

We'd seen this majestic venue from the sea a few days before from on-board the Andirondeck, a 50 foot yacht which we sailed for a few hours before sun-down.

I'd like to thank Rich Hopkins and his energetic, charming and endearing wife, Ania for their hard work and friendship and 'Hutch' Hutchinson for his guided tour of the homes of the rich and famous (as well as those poor souls who had to donate their estates to the State in lieu of paying the taxes on them) and then on to the pubs and restaurants which make Newport the place to visit in their summertime. I know I'll be heading there again come the cold wintery days of a Sydney June.

Back Links
Aussies Battle Yanks Over Chowder