SIMPLOT AUSTRALIA Sustainability, Quality and Innovation.
In Part Two, WebMag publisher ‘Foodservice Rep’ writes about Simplot Australia – 'Bringing Earth's Resources to Life' for the benefit of foodservice professionals
One of Australia's largest suppliers of foodservice products, Simplot Australia describes itself as in the business of "Bringing Earth's Resources to Life". The home of some of Australia's best-known brands such as Edgell and I&J, Simplot Australia works with more than 300 potato and vegetable growers around the nation, some of whose families have been supplying to them for generations. To find out more about why foodservice is such a core focus for the business, we spoke to Simplot Australia General Manager, Foodservice Sales Suzanne Harman and Executive Chef David White.
With such a strong emphasis on farming and agriculture, it’s no surprise to learn sustainability is a key focus for the business, as Suzanne confirms: “Sustainability is core to everything we do. Farmers are some of the most sustainability-aware people in the world because they have to be: their land is their livelihood so they have to sustain it for the future. It's also important for our foodservice customers, and with the Edgell brand in particular they know they're getting that commitment to sustainability along with quality, expertise, consistency – so they can have confidence putting our Edgell products on the plate.”
“We put a lot of effort into the quality and innovation space, because we know that level of consistency needs to be there - a huge amount of work goes into ensuring it, right back to the seeds and each step along the chain. We even provide our foodservice customers with further education through our Potato and Vegetable Universities, because they need to know how to get the best result for their business from these products. It's not just about selling a product but rather matching the right product with the right customer need and giving them the tools to make sure they're getting the best result – in other words, providing a total solution to meet their needs.”
Simplot Australia Culinary Innovation Manager and Executive Chef David White is heavily involved in new product development and innovation, and says the business works on around 130 projects per year, which are fairly evenly split between retail and foodservice. “We don’t value one channel over the other, we truly are a 50/50 business,” David points out. “We have dedicated product development teams for foodservice, we’re not trying to take a retail product and fit it into foodservice. We go out and do our research, we talk to customers to understand what they’re looking for. As a chef myself, I’m able to put myself in the mindset of other foodservice professionals and capture those insights – then bring them back and talk to our marketing teams and say, this is what the market’s telling us. And because we have that understanding of what challenges our customers are trying to solve, we can tackle it in a way that will work for them.
“What I love about foodservice is it’s such a personable business – a lot is done on trust and a handshake, which is great. That also means if you do the right thing, you’re always remembered for it, but conversely it also means you can’t afford to do the wrong thing. It's a relatively small industry sector and people have long memories, so you have to look after your customers and always do the right thing. We try to give our customers the benefit of our knowledge through our in-house education and training programs – things like our Universities are provided for free, whether you use our products or our competitors. It’s all about investing in the future of the industry..”
David argues that Simplot’s internal processes and teams are second to none in the Australian market. “When you look at a lot of the other big food manufacturers, most of their product development work is done in the US or Europe –and the teams in Australia are really all about implementation, rolling those products out into the market. Whereas we actually do concept development here, we’re completely focused on the local market. That’s a huge advantage for us, backed up by the fact that we’ve got some of the best facilities in the country for product development. We do all aspects from concept design through to in-house sensory testing, food styling, photography – the whole gamut from start to finish is done in-house.”
As examples of Simplot’s ongoing commitment to innovation, Suzanne cites the recent launch of Edgell Supa Crunch Delivery Chip and the company’s move into plant-based proteins with the creation of its 100% NOT brand.
“The Edgell Delivery Chip, which ironically was perfectly timed for beginning of COVID, had been in the works for a long time. We had done a lot of work with Uber Eats and their biggest complaint was soggy chips. The fact is that in foodservice you're no longer just selling products for eat-in, and while chips have always been a popular takeaway item, home delivery is a whole new ball game.
“Of course you don’t want customers to stop ordering chips because they're having a poor experience with them in the delivery market - hence the development of the Delivery Chip which has had great feedback as one of the best quality in the market. Not only did we create a superior Delivery-Style Batter, we also worked with Detpak to create a packaging solution - a fully ventilated box ideal for home delivery. We have also been at work educating the foodservice market that you can’t just put chips into a paper bag and hope they’ll arrive to your customer in good condition 20 minutes later. With the Delivery Chip the customer’s able to put the product in the microwave and reheat to its original quality without losing the famous crunch and that's really revolutionary.”
“Consumer insights and research inspires our new product development. We established our plant based-protein brand 100% NOT knowing consumers were seeking less animal protein and more vegetables in their diets. Our 100% NOT brand has evolved from a meat substitute into a product range in its own right, which our customers are loving. A lot of the products which came into the market early were laden with additives, so we’ve worked hard to make sure 100% NOT is the cleanest label we can make it. We’ve had great feedback from lots of different market segments – the great thing about plant-based proteins is they have such broad application, from health and aged care thru to QSRs, general foodservice and even schools. Our 100% NOT products are designed to be flavour-neutral so they can be used as a base to which you can add your own flavours and create recipes with. You might have always wanted to put a plant-based option on your menu but you didn't know how – now there’s a brand which makes it easy to do just that.”
The 100% NOT brand truly exemplifies Simplot Australia’s focus as a foodservice solutions provider. Suzanne makes the point that the company’s growth opportunities lie in continuing to bring innovation into the foodservice market as its needs continue to evolve.
“COVID has really underscored the importance of working hand-in-hand with our partners and customers,” she says. “Our success in this market is based on those relationships which are built upon mutual respect - we're all working for the greater good. We’re out there trying to make foodservice businesses better, and those businesses in turn get to draw on all the resources we have, including our R&D team and our marketing resources - we open our whole business up to our customers rather than just selling them products. Partnership has never been more important, so we'll continue to focus on that and we hope it will continue to benefit the entire industry.”