With the popularity for local produce and diner demand for provenance information showing no sign of slowing down, Renaissance Pubs has solved the problem of developing closer links and relationships with suppliers by investing in their own farm.
Since 2009 the six-strong South London pub group has had a financial stake in Jamie Williams' Lock's Drove Farm near Andover in Hampshire.
Williams rears a free range cross-breed chicken which Renaissance now buys 100-140 of a week for its chicken dishes across its portfolio. The farm also supplies Gloucester Old Spot and Saddleback Cross pigs for its pigs head terrine and crispy pork belly dishes.
The farm also rears Cumbrian mules and mule/Suffolk sheep which it supplies to the pub group on an ad-hoc basis.
The relationship allows the pub business to significantly increase its sustainability credentials, ensuring high welfare standards and tap into trends of nose-to-tail cookery and provenance.
But how viable is this kind of relationship for other hospitality operators and are there lessons for suppliers and chefs on developing closer links?
BigHospitality visited the Hampshire farm to talk to Williams and Mark Reynolds, operations director for Renaissance Pubs, to visit the animals, discuss how the relationship works and investigate what the benefits to businesses can be.
Reynolds admits offering rare breed pig may not be unique but argued the close partnership with a farm arguably was. "We really are talking to the farmer, we are not talking to the butcher or the distributor, we are going straight to the farm. Yes people are using the breed name on their menus but I don't think many people actually know 'Jamie Williams at Lock's Drove'," he said.
Top tips for hospitality operators from Williams and Reynolds on developing closer links with food suppliers:
- Use the internet to find local, small suppliers as there may be more nearby than you realise - Hampshire and Berkshire are easily accessible from London
- Call your supplier and arrange a visit to find out where the food comes from.
- Ask your supplier what constraints they face in terms of growing capacity or the time it takes to book an abattoir slot.
- Talk to your suppliers to find out what they can and can't deliver and plan your menu ahead accordingly.
- Take a whole animal from a supplier direct as opposed to buying cuts of meat as this can help you work closer with a supplier, cut out butchery costs and increase the amount of nose-to-tail cookery on your menu.
- Follow up - call your supplier after using a product to ask specific questions and find out why it tasted or looked the way it did to improve your product knowledge.