Partnering with artisanal producers all over the world, Classic Fine Foods prides itself on helping food industry operators to connect with their customers and tell their stories
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Lewis Bush
“An important trend that we are seeing is the need to tell a story.
“Consumers are increasingly conscious of where their food comes from. How long ago was the fish caught? How was the fish caught? How far away from the restaurant does it come from? These are all questions we as suppliers and chefs need to answer.”
For Christophe Barret and food sourcing specialist Classic Fine Foods (CFF), provenance is everything.
More than ever consumers are scrutinising the story behind their food and drink purchases, so much so that the journey a product takes before reaching them can carry equal weight to the substance of the item itself.
“Sustainability, for example, is therefore a major requirement for our chefs in today’s restaurant industry as their customers will choose dishes that are produced responsibly,” adds Barret, who is approaching one year as CFF’s Chief Executive Officer.
“I’m French and I love food – two things that often go hand in hand,” he adds. “I started my career in the retail industry 25 years ago and joined Classic Fine Foods in October 2018 after 14 years working in five different markets.”
Although now owned by a leading international wholesale company, Classic Fine Foods has been able to operate with a strong degree of independence which has enabled it to maintain what Barret believes is an organisational hallmark and key point of difference.
“In this industry you absolutely have to engage with people, whether they be your team, your customers or your suppliers,” he says.
“That is the most important lesson I have learned over the past 20 years and is something I believe helps stand CFF out from the crowd. You need to be personal and gain trust in order to develop and deliver the best products in the world – this goes from the producer all the way through to customer service and delivery.”
CFF represents a vital link between food producers and the chefs/operators of restaurants and premium retail outlets, what Barret describes as a triangular network.
“I love speaking to chefs about food, and that is where our relationships start,” he continues. “These people work extremely hard and often spend long hours in the kitchen, which means they need reliable partners they can trust as well as someone they can build strong relations with.
“We put them in front of a mixture of smaller and larger suppliers across our geographies, and the first and foremost requirement of our decision to partner is product quality. We listen to chefs, we are curious about food and we are always looking to innovate and try new things.”
One such partner that has recently joined the CFF family is French stalwart Maison Ponthier in operation since 1946 and described by Barret as one of the finest suppliers of ingredients for pastry.
The collaboration involves the distribution and the marketing of chilled and frozen purees via the CFF network in 10 markets, including the Philippines, Singapore, Japan, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, UAE, Hong Kong, the UK and Macau.
The venue for this landmark event was TheTasteLab, founded in 2016 in London, UK and the first of two hubs for sharing food knowledge, the other opening in 2018 in Singapore, where the company has been present since 2001.
A place for chefs to meet, share their experience and learn in a relaxed, yet highly professional environment, TheTasteLab offers a programme of pastry and cuisine classes and a variety of events including training courses, workshops, demonstrations and culinary journeys.
TheTasteLab represents an exciting nod to the future, both in terms of the ideas and knowledge that can be shared and the way in which consumers and professionals in the food industry interact.
It will no doubt form an important part of CFF’s marketing and communication strategy as the company enters the next chapter of its story, a juncture which for Barret is all about laying the foundations for expansion.
“The priority at the moment is to continue stabilising following the acquisition by METRO,” he says. “This will provide us the platform from which to grow further into new markets. Being part of an international wholesale and food specialist means we have tremendous opportunities to develop.
“Our strategy is a relatively simply one – to make our customers’ lives easier. We can do this by finding ways to digitalise our relations in some areas, and that will develop a capability to better use information about new trends and products.
“This process has started already. We are digitising internally and want to broaden our offer to customers, and this could involve working with new technology startups.”
Barret’s desire is for CFF to transform into a platform to source products and create partnerships with producers, an ambition which will be fast-tracked by the recent creation of a Commercial Director position within the company.
“As well as making life easier for clients, we also need to keep improving the quality of what we offer, both in terms of products and services, delivering on time, every time,” the CEO adds, pointing to the fact that CFF opened new warehousing facilities in Vietnam, Hong Kong and Japan last year to provide increased capacity and more efficient logistics operations.
He concludes by circling back to his opening remarks, expressing why he remains motivated to elevate the company to new heights.
“I love the fact we work with entrepreneurs who have a real passion for their craft and believe in their product. This culture we have of building relationships with suppliers and customers is why I enjoy working with CFF so much. There is a lot still to come.”