Fruit Logistica 2015

In the search for the perfect ingredients, James and some of the Wellocks’ team visit the Fruit Logistica Show for the second year running, to see the latest from the world of fruit and veg.

Bringing key producers together from around the world is a massive effort but that’s what makes Fruit Logistica a great meeting place for old and hopefully new partners. It’s a great event to kick start this year’s Search for the Perfect Ingredient. With this in mind, our team of four set off to a sub zero, snowy Berlin full of anticipation.

The sheer scale of this show never ceases to amaze me! Getting around 25 halls in three days is no mean feat, and doing justice to all of the producers is a team effort. Wellocks’ team this year comprised of Michael, Head of Purchasing, Joel who has just joined straight from university, and Jean, former head gardener for several high profile families in France. He brings a wealth of growing experience to our team, as well as speaking five languages. Joel is fluent in French and Italian, so we had all bases covered.

We got straight to it at 9am, with the guys all diving into meetings, all with endless possibilities and potential. From Italy, we found new herbs and amazing packing options that ensure peak freshness. We also met year round citrus growers – Jonny, one of our development chefs, will love this! He calls it dusty, but for me no pesticides and treatments has to be the future. For these growers, old techniques and values are important – they create flavours to be cherished.

We progress to stands from Holland, and the development of new varieties by the Dutch always intrigues me. It’s a stark contrast to the Italian produce, but you have to take your hat off to them – they’ve produced tomatoes so sweet you think you are eating sweets. The growers here are visionaries and always aim to be one step ahead of the game.

Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia are emerging countries for produce, and I had the pleasure of meeting two great growers from these areas. My show highlight was Hassan from Morocco. He had one of the smallest booths – but I had never seen what he had before. Exotic tropical fruits that were amazing to eat – and look at! – and two new fruits from the cucumber family that I am sure will become favourites in the UK soon. A trip was arranged to go to see his farm and put a growing programme in place that will be exclusive to Wellocks. This really underlined what we have been doing with some local growers in the UK –  explaining our needs and specs, and negotiating fixed prices. This became a theme as we moved through the show.

Next up, we visited a stand from Tunisia, where again we discussed setting up the same sort of growing programmes to ensure that we can have them all winter, grown to our specifications. I could feel my belated gap year taking shape – it’ll be a chance to go all around the world working with growers to get the best crops for us!

Day two was another early start, but this time to meet our lime grower from Mexico, Carlos at Citricola. We first met at last year’s show, and I’m very proud of this relationship. Since last year, we have put in place a deal to air freight limes to us here in the UK. These have a wonderful take up with our chefs, who are getting four-day-old limes of sensational quality. After meeting at the show last year, we visited Mexico to see his processes in action and to better understand more about his operation. And whilst there, we put a growing programme in place.

As we went through the American section of the show, we met more growers, and always had the same message: no problem getting to the UK by air or ship. Now we have proved this with our lime grower we will push even more boundaries: for us, the world is becoming such a small place!

Next, we then headed nearer to home, to France. The linguists started to up the ante, leading their own meetings as we searched for unique growers who could give us something different or better. Again, numerous discoveries here, and I have arranged to see the best one in April to get in place – you’ve guessed it – another growing programme.

The mantra for Wellocks as we move through the show is that we are not using markets anymore. Five years ago, Rungis Market in France was massive for us – we even had a buyer working there full time. Not not anymore though. Over the last few years we have worked with more and more growers, and I now feel that only working directly with growers will be 100% achievable. It was exactly the same as we moved through the show to stands from the rest of Europe – with Spain and Portugal throwing up many opportunities. We were also meeting existing suppliers, who always want you to sit and have a drink with them (and we’re not usually talking about water). Once again, it’s a full-on day and by the time we walk out after 6pm, everyone is exhausted. Meetings 80 growers in two days is no mean feat – well done chaps!

On the third evening, pizza and beer seemed the only safe option, followed by an early night…

To sum up: for me, the only way to work is directly with the grower and have growing programmes in place. Only a few years ago, this was a pipe dream. I know now that our goal to source all of our products directly from growers can become a reality.

It’s going to be another exciting year and the Search for the Perfect Ingredient has indeed gone to a new level!