What concepts are hatching from the Black Farmer incubator scheme?

The first takes on the trend for Scandi food, but more brands are being nurtured, according to founder Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, who is also looking at shaking up the meat category.

18 February 2019

A Swedish meat brand called Smorgasbord is the first concept to launch as part of Black Farmer founder Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones’ incubator scheme, The Hatchery.

It was chosen as the debut brand due to a gap in retail for Nordic foods and demand from retailers, Emmanuel-Jones tells Food Spark.

“Originally, there was a Swedish company supplying meatballs into the UK and they decided to pull out because it wasn’t working for them, so that obviously meant there was an immediate gap,” he explains. “And also I think that there is a new trend for that type of cuisine – one of the things that we tend to follow closely is new trends, and Nordic food and open sandwiches are things consumers are becoming interested in at the moment.”

Smorgasbord’s first product is Swedish meatballs, which are available at Asda, Ocado and Sainsbury’s. Made from 55% pork and 15% beef, the meatballs will also be sold in 1kg packs when they roll out in Costco next month.

These will be joined later by vegetarian and vegan meatballs, sauces and cheeses, says Emmanuel-Jones, who wants Smorgasbord to become the brand consumers turn to for premium Nordic foods.

Smorgasbord developed as a collaboration between Emmanuel-Jones and former Kerry Foods executive Chris Monks, after he spent two years working at Nordic meat supplier HKScan. Monks pitched the idea of a range of authentic, Swedish-made Scandinavian food products to Emmanuel-Jones, who invested in the project.

“After spending 33 years in the protected and structured corporate food business world, I challenged Chris to take a leap of faith and jump into a fully hands-on start-up environment where there is no place to hide,” says Emmanuel-Jones.

Now MD of Smorgasbord, Monks described the first product to launch as a local favourite, made in Sweden to a traditional recipe. “They are truly versatile and can be eaten cold, straight out of the pack as a snack, or heated up as a main meal,” he said.

Veganism, halal and wellness

The Hatchery, which was founded in April 2018, is also in the process of bringing other concepts to life.

“The whole premise behind The Hatchery is for brands that are driven and led by real people. I think that we are now living in an era where people are looking for absolute authenticity, so the idea of just creating a tertiary brand – I don’t believe that’s what the future is about. It needs to be about people who are passionate about what they do,” he comments.

There are plans for a plant-based brand called Planet Jason, which will be led by someone who has lived and breathed vegetarian and veganism for the past 40 years, reveals Emmanuel-Jones, along with a fitness-focused concept called The Gym Kitchen.

“We also have another halal brand, which is where we see massive growth, run by three sisters,” he says.

Wellness is another trend that Emmanuel-Jones has his eyes on. “I think people are now more interested in quality of life. What I think we have seen in the last five years is prices being the dominant factor in what foods people buy, but I think wellbeing is going to be more and more important,” he explains.

“As people start to value their time more and more, that will also link into the types of food that they want to eat. Price is going to be important, but where the product comes from, the quality of the product and how it’s going to enrich your wellbeing – I think that is going to be the next big trend.”

Meat still has mileage

Plant-based foods might be gaining a lot of attention at the moment, but Emmanuel-Jones is confident his brand Black Farmer, which largely consists of meat products like pork sausages, chickens and burger patties, will continue to do well.

“All too often people get caught out in thinking that a particular style is going to revolutionise the food industry, only to find out that it is a spike in interest,” he says. “One of the great examples is the organic market. I remember 15 years ago people thought the whole world was going to become organic – a few years after the spike it found its plateau. I would imagine that is what’s going to happen in plant-based. At the moment, we are seeing a spike, but I can’t see it replacing meat for some time yet.”

For Black Farmer, the export market is a big revenue avenue, but the brand is also looking to move into cheese, along with breed-specific beef like Red Devon and Dexter.

“I’m interested in looking at why the meat industry is under attack at the moment. Part of the reason I think is it’s become commoditised,” says Emmanuel-Jones. “I think the category needs some premiumisation rather than Scotch beef being seen to be the ultimate in quality.”

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