Jerusalem, one of the creators of PiliMili PR, the voice of Boqueria in London, well known in the City, not just because of the good food, but the amazing events. Here she talks with Quality of Spain about Spanish gastronomy and the British perception of quality.
Do you feel that the business has changed over the last few years?
I kind of know about the evolution of the English food culture over the last 28 years. I like to cook a lot and I have been researching all the major products that are available to consumers in supermarkets, and I have seen a big change over the years. At the beginning, you could not find anything Spanish, and this is different now because of influential chefs such as Jamie Oliver. Now, people know much more than before because of new Spanish companies that have arrived here. It is all about educating people about the product, and allowing them to taste it.
The business has totally changed over the last few years. My previous experience of going to Spanish restaurants was completely different than what we have now. Before, the restaurants were disapointing and not approachable at all, and the quality was very poor because they didn’t have the facilities that we have now to import products from Spain. Also, they didn’t take it very seriously. So Spaniards were not going to these restaurants. Now it is a different matter. We have a high Spanish population in London and the demand has increased, as has the knowledge about Spanish cooking.
All the innovation in Spanish cuisine and the new selling points have allowed it to establish an international place in London. Also, Spanish cuisine and the format of tapas is perfect, it is exactly the same that they do with mezzes. British people are not big eaters, they are more social eaters, and so tapas are a perfect combination. Also, people are looking for a quality product, and they now realise that we can deliver that. This is mainly because a lot of them have been to Spain, in good and bad restaurants, and they can differentiate between high and low quality products from the taste.
How has the range of gourmet products changed over the last few years?
It has changed a lot, actually. Before, you couldn’t find anything in supermarkets, but nowadays you can find Spanish olive oil, olives, meats, cheeses and all kind of products there. Spain is playing a key role in providing a range of gourmet products for consumers.
Do you think that cookery programmes have been influential?
Yes, totally. They have allowed British consumers to discover products that were unknown to them before.
What new trends in gourmet Spanish products have you seen?
I think that Spanish jamón is a new trend for British people. Having a carver at a party with a glass of Codorniu, for instance, is a winning combination. It is a small bite to eat, and that is something that British people like. I think that pintxos are also becoming a trend.
What are your customers buying?
The bestseller is cochinillo. You wouldn’t even think that British people would go for a small piglet, but once they try it, they love it. They also like to have some fritos, as that reminds them of Spain and their holidays. At the beginning, they tend to go for more traditional products, and then they explore a bit.
Which channels do you normally use to gather information about new and existing products?
We buy everything from Spain and there are also a lot of providers that contact us directly. To be sure about the providers, we research them and check the levels of quality, the acceptance in Spain, how long have they been in the market, and if it is a reliable product.
Also, we go to a lot of fairs that exhibit the best Spanish products. It can be really difficult to choose sometimes, because the quality is amazing; it really is a difficult process.
Do you supply information to your employees about the products that you sell?
Yes, it is really important to have the right information in order to sell these products. You need to be able to talk about the particularity of the products, and to guide and sell to people that are in a Spanish restaurant for the first time. They need to know about wines, the temperature of servings and the brands. The person in charge of service on the floor is the last link in a chain of different people, where everyone is focussed on offering the best products.
We work with Codorniu and Gonzalez Byass. Once a month, they send an expert from their office and they do a training course all about the product, so the staff are able to try every single product and can advise customers on what goes best with the wine.
What do you think are the key factors that would encourage British consumers to buy more quality Spanish products?
We need to encourage an awareness of Marca España and other quality Spanish products. We need to give these products enough publicity to really give them exposure in the UK market. There is a lot of marketing to be done here.
Do you think that quality is important for your customers?
Totally, you cannot go wrong with quality.
How important is the quality over the price?
If the product is good enough, people will pay the extra price. I think that they will pay a bit more for something good, even if they are not buying another tapas.