Tasked with curating and hosting the Group Food and Beverage Forum for the Protea Hotels by Marriott team, Chef Coovashan Pillay decided to do things a little differently. With a supplier exhibition held over the two days of the conference, organised by Bidfood and attended by manufacturers such as RCL Foods, the event was a dynamic one that allowed all Protea’s F&B teams to engage with manufacturers and discover new products.

Held twice a year, the Forum is Protea’s group F&B conference, where teams from properties around the country come together to discuss everything related to food and beverage operations.  While there had always been a small supplier presence at these events before, Chef Coovashan decided to scale that up and make suppliers a focus. “Due to the national footprint of Protea, not all of our associates are able to attend supplier open days, or events such as Hostex or InfoChef, which is a disadvantage to them,” says Chef Coovashan.

After receiving the request from Chef Coovashan, the Bidfood team leapt at the chance to put together a Supplier Day on a larger scale than before. “We relish the opportunity show our customers that we’re a one-stop-shop, offering a full basket of solutions,” says Jane Russill. “For us, this event was about re-affirming our partnership with industry, collaborating with industry as well as suppliers of a range of products, and an opportunity to expose some of the fantastic new products from young entrepreneurs to our customers.”

The brief Chef Coovashan gave them was for products for the F&B space that focused on sustainability or were new, innovative and convenient. “Naturally, sustainability means different things to different people, so it was a great opportunity to showcase the wide range of suppliers we represent. From plant-based convenience items and free-range meats to natural pest repellents and organic produce, it’s all about giving our customers the choice so that they can, in turn, offer their customers a choice,” says Jane.

The supplier’s stands spilled out onto the lush green lawns of the hotel underneath the trees, with suppliers pulling out all the stops to create engaging spaces. Suppliers involved in the day included Pauli’s Foods, showcasing ready-to-eat sauces and relishes made with organic produce from small local farmers, Mark Keefer from The Chef’s Table showed off his conveniently pre-portioned range of cheeses, and Yococo dairy-free ice cream and Sir Juice kept chefs cool in the Joburg heat. Plant-based burger of the moment Beyond Burger had a stand, as well as the team from Unilever Food Solutions and many other suppliers.

RCL Foods’ Involvement

One of the manufacturers there on the day was RCL Foods with their executive chef Brad Kavanagh. “The team at RCL Foods are just phenomenal,” says Chef Coovashan. “They are always willing to go the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction. I chatted to Chef Brad about the forum, and before I knew it I got a call a few days later saying that he will fly up to Joburg for the event.” Chef Coovashan has had a long working history with Chef Brad, spanning 12 years back to the early years of Chef Coovashan’s career in Durban. “We have had such an open relationship since then and would collaborate on many product tastings and trainings. He offered great support when it came to menu engineering and this continues as we collaborate on more ventures with RCL Foods – he is definitely an expert in his field.”

“There has always been a mutual respect between us. Working with Coovashan, as is always the case working with talented chefs, is a privilege,” says Chef Brad, who was thrilled to engage with Chef Coovashan and the visiting Protea teams during the event. “The overall experience was hugely beneficial to us, providing an opportunity to meet the F&B Teams from the different hotels and to find out more about their food offerings. The venue was excellent and allowed us to both present our products and engage with our customer in a more social environment.”

Products showcased during the event included Meadowland Classique, Marvello Margarine, their chicken Freezer to Fryer range and Nola mayonnaise. “The main purpose was to highlight the versatility and great taste of these products. We also wanted to draw attention to the extensive range of strong brands that RCL has to offer,” says Chef Brad. He had the opportunity to expand on the range further with the afternoon tea table, which was exclusively dedicated to RCL Foods.

Collaboration

Speaking on the collaborative nature of the Forum, Chef Coovashan says “I firmly believe in partnerships and every road that is taken is walked together. One party cannot function without the other – we need our suppliers just as much they need us so the synergy between the two has to be there.”

Chef Brad agrees: “Partnerships are the key to success in our industry. We see partnerships as more than a way of working, they are a way of thinking, a shared passion and a common purpose. At the heart of partnerships are relationships. In this fast paced, high tech and uncertain world, face to face engagement still plays a significant role in building and maintaining these relationships, providing an opportunity to truly understand customer needs and unlocking opportunities together.”

When asked about the highlight of the event for him, Chef Coovashan says, “Most definitely the camaraderie between our associates. We hardly get to meet one another, especially those from the outer lying areas. The supplier expo was a huge success for both the suppliers and our associates. It led to product baskets increasing, new trends being discovered and the strengthening of our relationships.”

The Sustainability Trend

“We believe that Bidfood is a solution provider. This means engaging with our customers and having conversations about understanding their needs, as well as anticipating needs in light of changing trends,” says Jane. Naturally this involves keeping an eye on the trends that will be affecting menus, and when earmarking the trends that are going to influence our menus this year, Jane Russill believes that sustainability is going to be a big one.

“Plant-based is big, and it’s triggered by lifestyle choices rather than therapeutic choices – ie, avoiding sugar as a choice rather than a medical need. People want to feel better and look better, and that means they’re looking at what they consume.”

It’s not just about the micro-trends within sustainability, it’s also about the movement as a whole. “Sourcing ingredients that don’t deplete natural resources, paying attention to free-range, grass-fed meat, using and local and seasonal produce – these are all big parts of the sustainability movement, but they can become prohibitively expensive,” says Jane. “As a result, many people are following a flexitarian lifestyle and balancing different food choices. For chefs, this means having options for both free-range and commercial meat on your menu and letting the customer vote with their wallet.”

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