We certainly know our gourmet onions

OSTRICH meat, kangaroo steaks and micro-brewery beers.Once upon a time we might have turned our noses up at a shopping list like this one, but according to new research we're increasingly interested in visiting specialist delicatessens to buy gourmet cuisine for home-cooking.

By Debbie Watson

OSTRICH meat, kangaroo steaks and micro-brewery beers.

Once upon a time we might have turned our noses up at a shopping list like this one, but according to new research we're increasingly interested in visiting specialist delicatessens to buy gourmet cuisine for home-cooking. Debbie Watson reports.

MAYBE it's because we all think we can cook like Jamie Oliver.

Maybe we're convinced that if we ditch our baked beans for haricot verts and Spam for Parma ham – then all of a sudden we'll find ourselves turning into acclaimed culinary legends!

It might sound a little far-fetched, but us Brits are certainly turning into distinctly more confident and experimental cooks than ever before.

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According to new consumer research from Datamonitor no matter how great our actual kitchen-based talent, we're simply fed up with settling for the same bland food products typically seen on most supermarket shelves.

Instead of picking up our budget-buy pork bangers, we'd much rather be hand-picking a selection of leek and watercress sausages, or swapping good old cheddar cheese for a portion of the freshest deli parmesan.

So why the sudden turnaround?

Well, perhaps it's not been such a dramatic shift in consumer thinking after all.

In fact, it's highly likely that the increasing number of TV cooking programmes and, consequently, the increase in Celebrity Chefs, has gradually encouraged us to take a more creative view of our larder's contents.

Couple that with the fact that we've been given more than enough reasons to suspect the quality of mass-produced foods, and it's not all that unusual that we should be turning into self-confessed 'foodies' with higher expectations for what we see on our dinner plates.

"Consumers are becoming more disillusioned and bored with certain aspects of food and drinks," said Dominik Nosalik, consumer markets analyst at Datamonitor.

"Many people have become concerned that the quality and taste of what they are eating is being compromised by manufacturers' focus on mass production."

And that, say the researchers, is why we're increasingly keen to find what we want from a smaller and more attentive deli.

"For the more discerning 'foodie' the speciality retailer is the perfect answer," added Mr Nosalik.

Such delicatessens have been few and far between in Ipswich, but the perfect example of that type of retailer has recently arrived on Norwich Road in Ipswich.

Run by husband and wife team, Reg and Fiona Jacob, The Pasta Place is specifically an Italian deli, and with word-of-mouth quickly spreading compliments about its offerings, it is now deservedly attracting a large clientele.

"As soon as we opened the doors we attracted a lot of Ipswich's Italian families, but in the last two months word has spread to more of the English and things have really taken off.

"We're very busy with people keen to get that one-to-one service that a deli can provide," said 32-year-old Reg.

Reg, whose wife is originally from Naples, believes people are becoming more experimental with cooking.

"I think the town is becoming more cosmopolitan all the time, so I wasn't concerned that this shop would be a risk," he said.

"In fact, I think people are fed up with the mass-market approach at supermarkets. It was a novelty for many years, but now a lot of people want to resort back to smaller specialist retailers where they get a different level of service.

"They want that personal touch that we can provide and they like the fact that we're knowledgeable about the foods we sell."

Doubtless it's this particularly valued approach to shopping that is making people more inclined to seek out individual bakers, butchers and the like. It resorts back to the English shopping habits of old.

"I'm not convinced that the cooking programmes have had much to do with people wanting to go to delis like ourselves," added Reg. "My view is that people are just better travelled, more keen to experiment with continental food and want an individual rapport with a shopkeeper which will make them feel confident in what they buy.

"My customers tell me that they can really taste the difference in what the buy from the deli. They say it's definitely much fresher."

Such is Reg's success to date, that his shop has now become something of a social outing too.

With a coffee machine constantly on the go and available for shoppers to utilise, it's encouraged more customers to take time over their food purchases and to talk over the possible uses for the ingredients.

"This is how a deli should be in my book," said Reg. "It's very specialised and with an environment that makes people feel comfortable about asking for advice on different products.

"No matter how a supermarket tries to capture the deli approach within it, I think it always fall short of the mark literally because of time and money constraints. This gives customers a very special one-to-one relationship that isn't easy to copy outside of a deli."

According to Datamonitor's research, Reg's food-buying concept is certainly a safe bet.

At the same time, it might just help some of our Old English butchers and bakers to claw back some of the trade they must surely have lost from the mainstream supermarkets.

The deli touch might not necessarily give you the immediate talent of a celebrity chef, but it's certainly a good step in the right direction if you want to have fun trying!





The UK market for speciality food and drink was £3.3 billion in 2001

Datamonitor predicts sales will grow by 5.5 per cent over the next five years.

Throughout the EU the market is worth more than £21 billion and accounts for 4.6pc of all food and drink sold. By 2006 the sector is predicted to top £26 billion.

Another indication of the popularity of speciality food and drink is a growth in recent years in the number of farmers markets. The National Association of Farmers Markets says there are 456 markets now operating in the UK — 231 of which are members — from just one in 1997.

Speciality food and drink includes ostrich and kangaroo meat, leek and watercress sausages, marmalade with French brandy, and micro-brewery beers.

It also includes regional specialities such as Wensleydale cheese, kiln-smoked Hampshire trout and Somerset cider as well as Mahon and Manchego cheese from Spain.

According to Datamonitor there is a core type of shopper who makes up 53pc of those who buy speciality products. These are described as well-off professionals, who live in large cities or university towns.

When asked what was the most important about food and drink, 86pc of people in this group of shoppers said taste.

Farmer Markets in Suffolk

Woodbridge: 9.30am – 2pm September 14 at Woodbridge Community Centre.

Call 01379 384593 for more details.

Felixstowe: 9am – 1pm, Trinity Methodist Church Hall, Orwell Road.

Needham Market: 9am – 2pm, Alder Carr Farm. Run on the third Saturday of the month. Call 01449 720820 for more details.

Wickham Market: 9am – 1pm, Easton Farm Park. Run every fourth Saturday of the month. Call 01728 746475 for more details.

Hadliegh: runs every 2nd Sunday of the month. Call 823659 for more details.

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