Meet the people behind Winter Wonderland – Martyn, Food and Drink Buyer
Christmas at Center Parcs is a big deal. Throughout Winter Wonderland, which runs this year from Friday 6 November, 2015 until Sunday 3 January, 2016, our guests will go through:
- 33,500 mince pies
- 3,453 litres of mulled wine
- 2,500 British turkeys.
As Acting Head of Procurement, Martyn Smith is responsible for finding every festive morsel for our Villages, from the right soup to start your Christmas Day lunch to the perfect canapés for New Year’s Eve. It’s a journey that starts thirteen months ahead in the previous November.
“At this time of year I’m just starting to think about Christmas 2016. I’ll be going to trade shows and looking at hundreds of slightly varying gingerbread men and pigs in blankets. The catalogues of Christmas foods will start to pile up on my desk and I’ll be leafing through them to see what jumps out as being unique or exciting.”
The proof of the pudding is in the tasting
From there, Martyn and his colleagues draw up a long list of products they’re interested in ahead of a colossal food tasting in February.
“For two days, myself, Group Executive Head Chef James Haywood and our other Executive Chefs get together at one of the Villages and try over 400 different Christmassy products. It sounds great but by the end of the two days you never want to see another mince pie again.”
Deciding which products make in onto the Center Parcs shelves and tables is a fine-tuned skill Martyn has developed over his five years with the business. “We look for quality first and foremost. It has to be good enough for our guests – they’ve booked a premium short break, they’ll expect premium products at every turn. Then we look for products with the right appeal, the right look. We’re after those special items that people see and are desperate to try.”
If you want something done right, do it yourself.
“If we can’t find the right item from our suppliers, we’ll sometimes develop bespoke products just for our guests. We’ve been through four different development stages to get this year’s Christmas cupcakes just right. Nothing ‘off the shelf’ would do.”
Next, it’s to the spreadsheets, working out quantities to make sure every Village has enough of each item to feed all our guests and ensure we don’t run out, while minimising waste. It’s a fine balancing act.
Martyn then heads to the factories himself to see the first run come off the production line. “That way I can see them, test them, taste them; make sure the quality is just right before they’re mass produced, at which point it would be too late to change.”
The harshest critics
When in doubt, Martyn has a pretty thorough testing process waiting for him at home. “I have three small children and I’ll bring products home to see if they light up that sparkle in their eyes that you see when you know they’re onto something. You get a unique point of view from children. They’ll say, “No Daddy, the nose on the snowman cupcake is wrong. It’s supposed to be orange like a carrot.”
So after working on Christmas pretty much all year round, does Martyn find himself feeling like a scrooge when the big day arrives? “I try not to be! I keep my own Christmas very separate, so I’m not eyeing up the turkey and the stuffing on the day, deciding whether it would work at Center Parcs! And I love going out to the Villages during Winter Wonderland and seeing the products I picked in situ. It’s very different from the pages of a catalogue or on a factory conveyor belt.”
Martyn’s pick for the hottest product at Winter Wonderland this year is that exclusive snowman cupcake that took so long to get right. “I think it’ll fly off the shelves and children will love it.”
As he starts gearing up to Christmas 2016, I couldn’t resist asking for a sneaky prediction for the trends and fashions for next year. “From the murmurs I’ve heard so far, I think retro-classic is going to be the feeling for 2016. I think we’ll see really nostalgic recipes inspired by the 1970s and ‘80s. Dishes that could have come out of the pages of your grandma’s Be-Ro recipe book, but brought up to date.” You heard it here first.
Anything else? “Oh, and salted caramel. That will still be big next year.”
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