Helping hand

17/10/2013 - 11:52
Speed is of the essence for busy cost sector caterers, and ready-to-use cooking sauces and gravies can help facilitate and alleviate time and budgetary pressures. Sheila Eggleston reports

The instant fix by way of ready-to-use stocks and sauces has become increasingly accepted by caterers and consumers with more discerning palates, and a good example of their popularity comes from market analyst Mintel, which says the sauces sector alone is forecast to grow by 23% to reach £751m by 2016.

Roy Shortland, development chef for Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s at Mars Foodservice, says sauces can make an enormous impact and are often the difference between a great meal and a substandard one.

“The problem is that caterers do not always have the time or the resources to make sauces completely from scratch, which is where our ready-to-use ranges are becoming more indispensable. It’s not about taking away chefs’ creativity, but allowing them to lean on the two brands to save time and guarantee consistency when making sauce bases – key considerations when serving a high volume of covers as the cost sector often does.

“We know there are negative perceptions of cooking sauces, but by further improving our recipes we are on the road to getting rid of any preconceptions completely, with the guarantee that only the best ingredients are used with the promise of no rubbish extras.

“In the current climate when food prices are rising, the challenge is getting across the fact that while you might pay a few pence more, the yield you get from each jar balances this out,” says Shortland.

In terms of getting the most out of them, caterers should look beyond the stereotype and explore different ways of using a bought-in sauce to reflect different trends, he says.

“For example, Cajun cuisine, with its Latin American influence, is becoming more popular, with much of its appeal coming down to its perceived healthiness and freshness,” he explains.

“Dolmio is seen solely as an Italian sauce range, but it can also be used to create sauce bases for Cajun food, the four tangy sauces in the range being as much as 93% tomato-based.”

Susan Gregory, head of food at Nestlé Professional, adds that just because a sauce is readymade it doesn’t mean you can’t add your own ingredients.

“Increasingly we’re seeing operators taking ready-to-use sauces and using them as a base for their own creations in line with current food trends, and packaging them in an authentic way to give the impression of homemade,” she says.

“Take, for example, Maggi Rich & Rustic – operators whose core business is burgers are adding spices, herbs and chillies with red wine vinegar to our tomato sauce to create zingy relishes. Similarly, it’s perfect for Mexican sauces by adding kidney, black-eyed or pinto beans, fresh vegetables like peppers, extra onions and chillies.

“What this shows is that ready-to-use sauces will always have their place in kitchens as they can be easily adapted to current food trends. There’s a cost implication to consider too, as pre-prepared products tend to be significantly cheaper than scratch-made.

“While basic canned tomatoes may appear cheaper, when you add in the costs of additional ingredients such as tomato purée, onion, garlic, herbs and other seasonings coupled with the cost of labour and energy usage, reducing these down to create a sauce can cost up to 50% more.”

Research undertaken by Technomic for its UK Flavour Consumer Trend Report last year showed that 24% of out-of-home diners now look for new flavours to try on a regular basis – higher than the previous year. In addition, 39% preferred to go to venues offering unique or original flavours, particularly among 25-34-year olds.

Heinz has taken this information on board for the flavour profiles of its spicy sauce range, which includes lager and lime BBQ, fiery Marrakesh, flamin’ Cajun, Rocky Mountain maple and steakhouse supreme variants, which have been specifically developed to satisfy the more adventurous consumers’ palate.

“Whether it’s managing budgets, looking after the nutritional requirements of diners or simply keeping menus fresh and interesting, catering in the cost sector is not without its challenges,” says Nigel Crane, managing director of Essential Cuisine. “As a result, products that give valuable time back to the caterer are highly desirable.

“Convenience is one thing, but if quality and consistency aren’t also safeguarded – especially when creating sauces – you could end up with a disappointing result and run the risk of wasting time, ingredients and money.”

The company’s stocks, gravies and sauces are British-made and provide caterers with confidence that their dishes will always shine, he says. For instance, the 12-strong range of stocks offers outstanding taste and performance in minutes and cover most dietary needs, being gluten-free and low in fat, with no hydrogenated oils, MSG, artificial colours or preservatives. In addition, a halal-accredited range is available.

“We’re acutely aware of the budgetary and time constraints of some kitchens, which is why our stocks make perfect sense for caterers who want a five-star finish without the associated hassle and labour,” says Crane. “From universities and schools, to hospitals and care homes, right through to B&I and leisure, the range is trusted by kitchens to deliver every time.”

In the run-up to the winter months Major International has just added a poultry variant to its Ultimate gravy range that’s available in 1kg and 3kg buckets.

“We could see there was a gap in the market and our NPD team in our innovation centre in Northamptonshire have once again excelled,” says managing director David Bryant.

The company has also changed the packaging of the Ultimate range to an eye-catching red square pot.

“The benefits to customers are huge; not only are they easy to stack and handle, they are more space efficient, dishwasher safe and fully recyclable. Use Major and go green, or should I say go red,” says Bryant.

Independent education caterers Alliance in Partnership (AiP) still prefers to make its stocks and sauces from scratch, saying that while readymade supplied ingredients can be time-saving for a busy catering kitchen, making its own stocks and sauces gave the company far better value for money.

“We also have control of what goes into our meals, which is paramount, given the guidelines of the School Food Plan and its nutritional guidelines over ‘invisible’ ingredients such as salt, sugar and other additives,” says managing director David Weller.

“We also strive to use fresh organic, where possible, base ingredients, as required by the Soil Association Catering Mark.

“A good stock or sauce can carry you through a variety of dishes, and this is no different throughout the kitchens preparing AiP menus every day. A batch of a tomato-based sauce can be used as a base across dishes such as lasagne, meatballs and even curries, giving us a better economy of scale with our suppliers too.

“Our homemade tomato ketchup is a firm favourite among the pupils in the schools serving AiP meals. We are also seeing a shift away from traditional gravy-based stocks towards stocks and sauces supporting oriental cuisine such as black bean and sweet and sour.

“It’s our mission to make all our own stocks and sauces from scratch using the freshest ingredients and giving maximum nutritional value at all times. By making our own we can control the amount of salt, fat and sugar used – something that is not possible when using readymade products.”

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