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Koffmann’s success built on British farming family values

Koffmann’s success built on British farming family values

The British family firm that brought the UK foodservice sector Koffmann’s potatoes has seen business boom since the hospitality sector re-opened post-Covid. Prior to the pandemic, the brand had built a very healthy following for its frozen potato products, but since the country began to rebound, it has increased its sales to 1,000 tonnes of fresh potatoes a week. A rapidly-growing customer base can’t get enough.

The business behind the brand, The Food Heroes, is a specialist British potato supplier with a formidable French-Master-Chef ­flavour.

Established in 2018 by experienced fresh produce industry siblings Simon Martin and sister Claire, together with Claire’s husband, legendary chef Pierre Koffmann, The Food Heroes’ initial objective was to offer UK restaurants the best quality British potatoes. But, buoyed by the almost overnight success of its Koffmann’s Specialty Foods brand, which distinguishes potatoes by usage not variety, the company has added carrots and parsnips to its portfolio and is targeting a much wider clientele with its broader range.

The company has launched a ­flurry of new projects designed to achieve its expansive aims. As well as the carrots and parsnips and two new brands ‘From The Farm’ and ‘Humdinger’, the Koffmann’s, range will further diversify by the end of the year to include asparagus and onions, olive and rapeseed oils, prepared vegetables and condiments. An online ‘shop’ is also on the horizon.

“We have really ambitious plans,” Simon Martin says. “The idea of Food Heroes is to sell diff­erent types of product to diff­erent types of consumers, as long as the product has got the right ethical story – by which I mean the people and the produce is treated right – and tastes great.”

The great debate

What began, he reveals, in childhood as a weekly debate between siblings over which potato variety tasted best with the family Sunday roast, has culminated decades later in Simon and Claire launching a hugely successful brand for foodservice with far-reaching and expansive ambitions.

There’s little doubt that the speed of growth has been helped by the hands-on involvement of Pierre Koffmann, known in culinary circles as a founding father of modern British cuisine. Within two years of concept, the Koffmann Fresh Potato range has established itself as the UK chef’s number-one go-to brand for potatoes. The Food Heroes are already supplying the crême de la crême of the restaurant trade (The likes of Berkeley, The Ivy, Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay) and have also begun to supply some of the country’s largest pub and restaurant chains, with the Koffmann’s brand regularly being used on menus as a symbol of high quality.

“My sister Claire and I just decided to do what we have always loved and believed in,” says Simon, who has worked in the produce trade for the last 30 years. “The two of us and Claire’s husband Pierre all share a passion for great tasting food.”

The Food Heroes sources its potatoes from selected growers with whom Simon has cultivated relationships over his long career in the sector. Earlier this year, it formed a joint venture with potato farming group Pride of Anglia Growers, working with producers in key UK growing areas. “All of our fresh potatoes are grown in this country; the vast majority of them in East Anglia, which we believe has the best climate to produce chipping potatoes,” Simon says.

“We work closely with growers to develop varieties, select the best regional soil variations, maintain strict conditioning and precise storage regimes. State of the art packing and handling facilities in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk enable us to offer the best tasting and fit-for-purpose products available on any given day across the season.

Specialists in their field

“Our growers are all specialists in their field,” says Simon. “They have all invested heavily in production to balance the crop’s sugar and starch to create great tasting products.” Koffmann-branded potatoes are packed and selected according to usage and taste, he explains. “We want to make it really simple for our customers, so, for example, the blue bag delivers the best chips, red is for the best mash, and we now have beautiful orange boxes for salad potatoes and pink ones for new [potatoes].”

The company works with distribution partners across the country. One of the biggest partners is Premier Fruits, based at New Covent Garden Market in London, with which it has forged a very tight relationship. “There’s no denying that New Covent Garden is massive for us,” says Simon, “but we also have great customers and partners in wholesale markets around the country. The markets are a vital artery for us to be able to get the product to the huge numbers of customers who want it.”

Simon and Claire have potatoes in their blood. They were born into a West Midlands potato-growing family and initially worked for the original family business. Reunited professionally once again at The Food Heroes, they are now joined by Simon’s wife, Rachel, who manages the financial and accounts side, and two sons: Tom who delivers samples and potatoes, and James who supports the substantial marketing effort. “In fact, my nephew who farms will soon be growing potatoes for us, so we are all involved!” Simon reveals. Chief trader Stewart Rigby is the only non-family member directly employed at the company.

AS it looks to continue to broaden its range and customer reach, The Food Heroes is continually on the look-out for new British supply partnerships. But it still hasn’t used up all of its family ties. The carrots and parsnips recently added into the portfolio were grown by Simon’s godfather at R&RW Bartlett. “We work with some great businesses, and we’d like to work with more so that we really get our message out there,” Simon says. “To be one of the brands that focused consumers’ minds on taste rather than looks. I want people to buy our products simply because they taste great.”

The man who says “oui”

As well as fronting the Koffmann brand, three-Michelin-starred chef Pierre is The Food Heroes equivalent of the ‘Man from Del Monte’ – the US company’s fictitious juice-tester in the 1980s TV ad campaign, who famously kept orange growers on tenterhooks, says Simon. “During our NPD (new product development) tasting sessions with Pierre, we wait for him to try a new product then declare, “The Man from Koff­mann’s, he says ‘yes’”. Our credibility is everything to us,” he continues. “Pierre is the dad of the chef world – he trained the likes of Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing. His face is on every single box [of our Ko­ffmann range]. Pierre is passionate about his name and reputation. We have to honour that.”

Koffmann’s Potatoes are in stock now at New Covent Garden Market – click here to search a directory of the wholesale traders located in Nine Elms.

This article was written for The Source – the official online newsletter of Love British Food, which organises British Food Fortnight

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