Regional food and drink group Taste North East is working with supermarket multiple Waitrose to search out local producers.
Around half of the regional food producers who attended a Taste North East-organised Meet the Producer event for Waitrose are a step closer to making it on to the supermarket’s shelves.
Taste North East, which supports businesses who grow, make, sell, prepare or serve food and drink in the region, selected 18 suppliers to showcase their products to Waitrose’s local and regional product sourcing team, Tracey Marshall and Oliver O’Mara.
"Local sourcing is incredibly important to Waitrose", said Oliver O’Mara. "We currently stock more than 2,500 locally-sourced products and we find Taste North East’s expertise is invaluable when building upon this."
"We work hard to ensure our stores have a fantastic selection of local produce and, especially with our plans to increase the number of branches, we are always looking to uncover local gems that our customers will love."
Taste North East, which provides a raft of services for businesses, from accreditation, product testing and development to training and marketing, works with every section of the region’s food and drink industry from artisan bakers to hotels and restaurants.
A core role of Taste North East is working with businesses keen to place their products with buyers like Waitrose.
General manager Sandy Duncan said: "We spend a lot of time with businesses in the food and drink industry whether they grow, make, sell, prepare or serve produce.
"It means we are able to match suppliers to the right buyers, like Waitrose. It is through our depth of knowledge and understanding of local and regional producers and their products that we are able to put forward suitable suppliers to appropriate buyers.
"Not only do they have to meet rigorous demands for quality, safety, quantity and consistency, a key aspect of supplying to Waitrose is, of course, provenance and traceability. For Waitrose, we help them seek out producers for whom provenance is melded into a recipe and product with ingredients that are local and unique.
"A product is not necessarily local just because it is made in a region. This is what Waitrose are looking for and this is where we’re able to help by putting forward like-minded suppliers whose products might not necessarily be found on other supermarket shelves.
"Waitrose were looking for products containing local ingredients, made to traditional recipes by people with strong ties to their local communities. This criteria was certainly reflected in the quality and breadth of products presented to them at the Meet the Buyer event."
Producers through to the next round include Taste North East member, Embleton Hall Dairies, based in Wingate, County Durham.
The business brought a probiotic yoghurt to the event, which caught the eye of the Waitrose team.
Waitrose’s Tracey Marshall said: "We really liked their unique products so we’ll be speaking with our colleagues at head office about a potential listing."
Paul Thompson, owner of Embleton Hall Dairies, said: "We are extremely grateful to Taste North East for organising the Meet the Producer event with Waitrose, and giving local producers like us the opportunity to showcase our products.
"There were some fantastic products put forward, and we are delighted and excited that our products are amongst those chosen to go through to the next stage of evaluation."
Other producers celebrating making it through to the next round include Border Homebake, which makes flapjacks and traybakes, Wagu and Black Angus beef from Northumbrian Quality Meats, cakes from Jenkins and Hustwit, honey and mustard from Chainbridge Honey Farm, Gilchester Organics’ home-milled flour, pies from the New Zealand Gourmet Pie company and chocolate brownies made by Munch Co.
Tracey Marshall from Waitrose said: "It is important that we are honest and realistic about their product and we find that the supplier really appreciates this. No agreement is made at the event but if we like the product, we will take it to the next stage and start working with them.
"Of the nine products I saw, four will probably make it on to out shelves with just a little help to make them supermarket ready."
Taste North East’s Sandy Duncan says the whole experience is "overwhelmingly positive" for the local producers – even if they don’t make it through to the next stage.
She said: "Every producer who goes in front of Waitrose buyers benefits from really constructive and positive feedback as to what they, as a buyer, are looking for. It could be feedback about labelling, the name of the product as well as technical advice or suggestions.
"For producers whose products are taken on by Waitrose they benefit from the kudos of getting their product into a prestigious supermarket known for prioritising provenance, traceability and responsible sourcing and one which is extremely ethical and respectful towards its suppliers."
Suppliers will discover if their product will be stocked by Waitrose early next month.
Suppliers chosen to go forward to the next phase of the selection process are as follows: