London chefs starved of top class British produce

Soaring demand for British ingredients from top class London chefs is being stifled by a lack of appropriate distribution channels, according to catering experts working in the city.

“Eighty per cent of London’s food is imported, while 13% of the UK’s food is air freighted in,” said Diana Spellman, managing director of Partners in Purchasing, a food procurement company which is encouraging its clients to source more local food.

The capital’s chefs were now looking for ingredients with a strong regional provenance, full traceability and a good story to tell, Ms Spellman said.

It was a market worth 2.9bn a year to producers, she added.

But distribution is proving a major stumbling block.

“For us, packing meat into a polystyrene box and sending it via a courier will not do,” said Dean Tracy, general manager for executive dining at Lehman Brothers, an investment bank based in Canary Wharf.

He is working with Heart of England Fine Foods to source ingredients from successful Midland’s businesses, such as Dukeshill Ham and Tyrrells crisps.

“There is fabulous British food out there, and we are prepared to pay more for it.

When a client says “this is the best ham I have ever eaten”, cost does not come into it.

But we do need new and innovative delivery chains to get it to us in good condition.”

Regional foods are already being marketed by some catering wholesalers, including KFF based in Aylesford, Kent.

Their “Excellence” range includes pies and sausages promoted under premium “Garden of England” branding.

“We see restaurants as a major growth sector – people go out to eat much more these days, and are prepared to pay more for something special,” says KFF’s Nick Froud.

“If farmers don’t have the scale to supply the supermarkets, we offer a viable alternative outlet.”

An initiative by Sustain – the alliance for better food and farming, may help farmers access London’s foodservice market in future.

It is looking at the potential for a local food centre, possibly funded by the London Development Agency, where farmers can bring produce for distribution to customers in the private and public sectors.