Customers of New Covent Garden Market come from near and far and in all shapes and sizes. Master Pâtissier Eric Lanlard has been buying fruit, vegetables and flowers from the Market for more than 30 years and tells us how his relationship with the trade has evolved with his business
Eric arrived in London in 1989 to work as a pastry chef with Roux Brothers, who at the time had a business called Roux Lamartine in the Market. “I ran the production kitchen for Michel on Wandsworth Road and as well as the Roux restaurants, we supplied other high-end restaurants and Harrods amongst many others,” he says. “I would go into the Market on my way to work every day and pick up the fruit and vegetables.”
When the Roux empire restructured in 1995, Eric opened up a cake wholesaling business called Lab 2000 on the outskirts of New Covent Garden Market. “The business [model] was very similar to what I had been doing with the Roux brothers; in fact one of my first customers was Michel Roux Jr, who bought birthday cakes from me for Le Gavroche, which I thought represented a good endorsement.”
Lab 2000 traded from just outside the Market for several years and when that unit became too small, moved to a unit twice the size at the back of Wandsworth Town train station. A few years on and it was time to move again, says Eric. “The landlord there decided to take advantage of the property market surge and didn’t renew our lease, but we’d been thinking about a move in a different direction and moved to a recently constructed area in Battersea Reach, near Wandsworth Bridge, 15 years ago. Rather than wholesaling from our production kitchen, we began retailing from an outlet in Juniper Drive.”
The front-end of the business is a glamorous lounge-café, under the name Cake Boy, but there is more to it than would immediately meet the eye. “Now we’re a multi-faceted business,” Eric explains. “We have the retail side, which includes the café, with plenty of seating space inside and outside. We also run classes from a kitchen that can be seen from the café – I wanted it to be visible and for people to be able to see and smell what we’re doing and hear the fun and laughter. It works really well and we’re generating our own publicity.
“People can also rent that space for private functions, team building exercises or hands-on professional demos and that has proved very popular.
“We make everything fresh, every day in our kitchen here and we still do plenty of wedding and birthday cakes for people. A lot of our customers are regulars. Some come as often as three times a day,” Eric says. “We need to give them something different and change things so they don’t start looking elsewhere.”
Stand out offer
The seasonality of the Market plays a huge part in the search for differentials, of course. “I used to use the Market in the traditional way – turning up with a bundle of cash in my pocket, going from one trader to the next negotiating prices. I used to buy a lot – it was normal for me to have at least a pallet of strawberries each weekend for example. When the business started doing a lot of wedding cakes, flowers became a big part of things and I have been a regular at New Covent Garden Flower Market for many years too,” Eric explains.
“I love the mix of generations at New Covent Garden – from the older guys who’ve been working there for decades, through the 30s and 40s generation and down into the younger guys who are making their way. It really makes for an interesting environment. I really miss the buzz and banter I used to enjoy when I was a regular at the fruit and vegetable market, but I still get that in the flower market, and as the business evolved, the volume of fruit and vegetables that we bought on a daily basis was reduced so I started to buy from less people before eventually deciding to work through one company, DDP Ltd.
“I’m nostalgic and I like the fact that Paul shops the Market for me. He has always looked after me very well – I only go to the Market to see him now. He knows what we need, both in terms of product and information. We have a few key products and we are pretty good with the seasons, but sometimes you can forget and we can rely on Paul to always be there with up-to-date details on what’s happening with Yorkshire rhubarb, for example. He’s very dynamic and sometimes just adds a product into our order because he knows we’ll like them. He sent me some ‘Chocolate’ oranges the other day, which were fantastic.
“Paul’s always looking for a challenge too. Most people who come to our classes have no idea where chocolate comes from and I asked Paul if he could get me some cocoa pods. It wasn’t straightforward and they are pretty expensive, but he found them and every time we do a chocolate class now he gets me a couple of boxes. I also wanted white strawberries, which are far more widely used on the continent, because there are certain products that just work so well on our Instagram. He got them for me, even though we were only looking for a small volume, then I told him I’d heard there were some great black strawberries out there… Paul’s commitment and support is really important to us – if we forget things, which does sometimes happen, we know he’ll pop down with a delivery for us. He’s our link to the Market – it’s great to know some of the cheeky things that are going on!”
“The other side of my business is that I’m a consultant to Virgin Atlantic – on any flight leaving the UK you’ll get an Eric Lanlard Afternoon Tea wherever you’re sitting,” Eric says. “Pre-Covid, that amounted to five million afternoon teas a year, which include a large volume of fruit and vegetables. I also work with lots of London hotels creating their afternoon tea menus and with several clients out in the Middle East, as well as P&O Cruises, which serves the signature Eric Lanlard Afternoon Tea on all of their ships, including the flagship Britannia.
“My work at Royal Ascot also took a bit of a hit during the pandemic. In the last year we worked there, more than 30,000 of our teas were served there over the five days. We’ll be back this year, with the Eric Lanlard Platinum Jubilee Afternoon Tea, which will be served in all of the corporate hospitality boxes and the Royal Enclosure, so the Queen will hopefully enjoy one herself.”
Trevor is married, with three grown up boys and six grandchildren, and that golf handicap needs tending to. All the best for a long and happy retirement, from everyone at New Covent Garden Market.