Tulip expands product offering, customer base

Tulip expands product offering, customer base

Tulip, the UK arm of pork giant Danish Crown, is most associated closely with its bacon products. However, over the past three years the group has evolved into a more broad-based food company. Jonathan Barbet, commercial manager at Tulip UK, talks to just-food about this development, the benefits that it brings and where Tulip sees future growth.

Tulip is the UK arm of Danish farming cooperative Danish Crown. It is also the largest pork producer in the UK. The meat processor supplies into retailers such as Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury's and Waitrose, alongside foodservice customers including Pizza Express.

While the company is most closely associated with its fresh porkmeat products and bacon, which is sold under its Danepak brand, Tulip has been on something of an evolutionary journey over the past two-to-three years, Barbet tells just-food.

"We are focused very heavily on where consumers see food, food quality and where they want to go in terms of innovation and new ideas... things like slow cooked. In the UK, we have done a lot of work in those areas. It is moving away from being a meat company to being a food company. Everyone knew that Tulip, or Danepak, was a bacon company. But we have moved beyond this," Barbet says.

Speaking at this year's Anuga trade show, Barbet reveals that innovation has been key in Tulip's development as it works to add value to the raw product produced at its farms.

"Without innovation we would have gone nowhere. We would have simply been a bacon company and that would have been it. If you look at the retail relationships we have and the route into the sandwich sector, which has evolved in the UK, its thanks to people wanting more interesting meals," he suggests.

Tulip began to develop the breadth of its product line-up when it hired executive chef David Bates. "For a meat company like us - as we were - taking him on was really radical. Presenting him just to our factories, they thought we were mad. But he is the guy who has come up with lots of great ideas. And he can present them to our customers better than we can. And it has worked," Barbet insists.

Tulip, which owns retail brands including tinned Stagg Chilli and Spam, has upped its focus on quality in order to cash in on new consumer trends.

"It is not more processed, it is different processing. Taking good quality [raw materials] and slow cooking. It is an idea that has come over from the States: street eating. Things you can eat on the hoof, things you can do with sandwiches or pizza - but better quality," Barbet observes. "When you look and you see the standard pizza lines around, there are great pizzas at Waitrose, you've got Pizza Express with a really good product."

The company has also evolved from a group that primarily sells into retail to also focus on foodservice and business-to-business opportunities.

"Over the last two-to-three years its been a bit of a rapid rise. A lot of it has been driven by our customers coming to us. We started to realise that some of our sites were no longer retail focused. They were dealing with food groups who were supplying into retail.

"Two or three sites have became business-to-business rather than straight retail. It has worked very well for us. It is a different skill. When you are dealing with one retailer, which some of our sites do, you learn to deal with just those retailers. But when you are going business-to-business and you might be dealing with people who are looking after all of retail, the pressure is big."

Tulip relaunched its foodservice business last month as part of the drive to diversify its customer base. The group's non-retail products include sliced and shredded cooked meats, pizza toppings, cooked and fresh bacon, meal solutions and deli fillers.

"We supply a lot of sandwich ingredients - that could be rare roast beef to standard cooked beef, from every day right up to Scottish Aberdeen Angus. We produce ham from a very standard square, added water ham as we call it, right up to a very slowly cured Wiltshite ham smoked with whisky barrel oak chippings. We cover the whole scale but we are becoming better known for mid- to top-tier which is good for us."

Tulip expects future growth to be driven by more diverse value-added products and it will continue to focus on growing its customer base, Barbet says.

Even as Tulip diversifies, quality remains key. The company benefited from its status as a trusted supplier as products containing cooked meats came under growing scrutiny in the wake of this year's horsemeat scandal.

"Our customers are manufacturers and retailers. They are concerned about confidence and they want to be confident in what we are supplying. We work very hard to keep that traceability in place. Being vertically integrated helps a lot. And we have material specific only to Waitrose, or products that head directly in to M&S - and only M&S."

Moving forward, Tulip hopes building its customer relationships and broadening the meat products that it offers will enable it to drive continued growth in the UK.