Knorr Garde d'Or Hollandaise Sauce 2
Have from-scratch gravies, sauces and soups had their day?

The presence of so many readymade products on the market today begs our headline question, which we decided to put to the corporate chefs at the ‘big three’ foodservice suppliers – Mark Baylis of Unilever FoodSolutions, Adam Moore of Cerebos Foodservice and Mark Clayton of Nestlé Professional.

All three were in agreement that while there’s still a place for from-scratch production, the quality of readymade product is more about making life easier for time-pushed chefs and foodservice workers.

“If you ask any self-respecting chef they will say nothing beats my scratch production, and I would never want to offend them by saying our product does,” says Mark Baylis of Unilever FoodSolutions. “To be honest, I like making sauces from scratch myself because I put a lot of time, energy and love into it. Chefs are very proud of their sauces and they’ll always say it’s better than what comes out of a bottle.

“But the cold hard reality is it takes a lot of time and effort to prepare from scratch, so the question is can you afford that time? Maybe in the finer parts of your business – the top-end functions and so on – but the stuff that comes out of the packet is absolutely great for many purposes.

“I’d like to think our Knorr sauces are the next best thing to scratch, and chefs can certainly use them as the base for a sauce and add his own distinctive touches. They might add a bit of red wine reduction, fresh herbs, garlic, some sort of liquor … pepper or mushrooms for a gravy. In fine dining you’re not likely to use something readymade, but for a pub and club chef who wants to concentrate on the other parts of his business, not necessarily the sauces, he’ll want to use products like our Knorr Jus as a base to add the flavours he wants to add.”

Adam Moore of Cerebos Foodservice agrees. “You might have a really good casserole and want a little more depth and flavour in there, so you can use a gravy product to bring out the richness and umami qualities of that prod. The other consideration is that in an institutional facility, for example, you may have workers who are not qualified cooks or chefs so they’re coming from a different angle, but they’re wanting to learn. So they can use readymade products which save them time and they know they can rely on them to work – the product won’t let them down and it will be ready to serve in the time they have available.”

Mark Clayton of Nestlé Professional makes the same point using the example of Maggi Premium Jus Lié sauce. “As a chef it takes about two to three days to make a quality jus from scratch – it’s a very labour-intensive process,” Mark points out. “Your scratch chefs can do that, but that’s not the case for the larger section of the market which doesn’t have the luxury of a whole brigade of chefs. Products like this are designed as problem-solvers for chefs, in that they free them up to spend more time on other areas.”

Adam Moore says that the gap between ‘from scratch’ and ‘readymade’ has reduced over time as formulations have improved. “You’re starting to have real beef notes in readymade gravy, for example, so the gap is closing because as product developers we’re using truer to natural ingredients – the chefs working for these companies are making the products as they would in the kitchen. Whether it’s myself, Mark at Unilever or Mark at Nestlé, we’re making products we know will work and deliver what the end-user expects – products by chefs for chefs.

“In the case of gravies, Cerebos has a big range under the Gravox brand and while the product may still have a traditional flavour profile, as in the case of Gravox Rich Brown Gravy, our focus is all about using authentic ingredients to deliver a truer flavour. So I work closely with the R&D team to say, we’re missing some tomato notes from this recipe, or we need more of the roasted bone note. The aim is to create a truer flavour profile, one that is as close as possible to from-scratch standard.”

Nestlé Food Professional’s Mark Clayton adds that another driver for formulations and flavour profiles moving closer to from-scratch has been a greater supplier focus on customising products to meet specific marketplace needs.

“Maggi Supreme Gravy, for example, is a gluten free gravy that was initially created for a pub group,” Mark explains. “It was developed with that customer and launched with that customer, but is now available to everyone. So that’s an example of how customised product development can bring new products into the marketplace – we work closely with customers to design and test products and then we find there’s a wider market for them.

“I don’t think from-scratch has had its day, but certainly there is more demand for solutions in the modern kitchen – products that will make things easier and more manageable, and that’s mainly driven by the skills and staff shortages that chefs are having to deal with day to day.

“We have a Nutrition, Health and Wellness program within Nestlé, and everything we do is with that in mind. So we’re moving away from MSG, artificial flavours and colours, and that has necessitated a lot of reformulation work over the years. The aim is to match our products to existing flavour profile while improving the nutritional content – we don’t want to mess around with a successful product’s flavour.”

Mark Baylis of Unilever FoodSolutions acknowledges this too, saying the market demand is increasingly for ‘clean label’ readymade products made with minimal artificial ingredients or additives. “Knorr Garde D’Or Hollandaise sauce is a good example – we can’t use raw eggs as it’s a shelf-stable product, but it contain real eggs which have been pasteurized to make the product safe, plus lemon juice and an oil base with lovely buttery tones which is true to the nature of from-scratch hollandaise,” he explains. “It’s particularly popular in cafes, where fresh hollandaise is too time-consuming to make but you still want to offer it on the menu. If the chef wants to use it as a base, he can add chives or more lemon juice and it won’t ever split on him.”

Complementing Unilever’s selection of Knorr sauces and gravies which can be used as a base is Knorr’s range of ready to use sauces in 2 litre bottles which embraces such popular varieties as Bolognese, Napoletana, Morroccan, and Chipotle American Style Barbecue. “These are popular across all foodservice channels from pubs and clubs through to aged care – we’ve probably got the broadest portfolio in the Australian market when it comes to ready to cook sauces,” Mark emphasises. They are all hot-filled, which is a special process to make them shelf-stable for longer.”

When it comes to soups, the quality of readymade product has evolved over time in similar fashion, though in this case demand has been driven by the healthcare market.

“People in healthcare are demanding consistency and easy to use products, and of course the nutritional aspect is very important,” Mark Baylis emphasises. “So our Continental powdered pumpkin soup is made from real pumpkin, which makes up the largest part of the actual mix, as opposed to using artificial colours or ingredients which may be problematic, and we have to watch the salt content as well. We have an ongoing program at Unilever to reduce salt from our products and we have reduced by hundreds of tons globally which is a good thing for people’s diets.

“We have 13 soups under the Continental brand and our focus is on making sure they’re products soups with authentic ingredients while also catering for people with dietary restrictions, whether it’s a higher level of protein or whether they’re gluten intolerant and so on.”

At Nestlé Professional, the current soups focus includes reformulating the Maggi range of soups to be gluten free, without compromising either quality or flavour profile. “It’s an ongoing process over a number of soups,” Mark Clayton confirms, “and we now have a large amount of Maggi soups which are gluten free. We’re very entrenched in the healthcare sector – they gave us the early warnings relating to trends which are relevant to their customers, and we focus on developing products which can provide added benefits, not only in terms of nutrition but in areas such as management of food allergens. Again it goes back to that focus on customised product development and what comes out of that approach.”