We often talk about stalwarts of the foodservice industry, chefs that have been working for twenty-plus years at institutions that they’ve built from the ground up. Or sommeliers who touch a wine list and it turns to gold. Our thoughts may not naturally turn to our suppliers. But they should. Many suppliers have been long-standing partners of the hospitality and foodservice industries and working with them, true stalwarts of the industry themselves.

One such personality, is Darren O’Brien who is a familiar face for many. He has been in the food industry for over 35 years and is now the new Bakery Innovation Manager at Tip Top Foodservice. Darren started out a baker – working in small artisan bakeries and patisseries, then as a production foreman in a large croissant and pastry factory. So, he knows the ins and outs of great baked goods.

He is now passing that knowledge on to the full Tip Top Foodservice team, so they are equipped with knowledge that is usually reserved for professional bakers.

We sat down with Darren to pick his brain about the industry (and to cajole a few hints about products that might be on the horizon for venues in the coming months).

Hospitality: It’s been a tough 18 months with COVID-19 for hospitality businesses, what have you seen that has given you hope for the industry?

Darren: It may be a bit of a cliché, but the sheer determination of people to never give up. I have seen an amazing ability from foodservice operators to, not only manage the different consumer conditions but also, push forward with new ideas and menu offerings in such difficult times.

What is the most surprising trend you’ve seen come up in the past 18 months?

18 months ago it seemed many quickly turned to menu items that already worked for take away and delivery (like pizzas and burgers). However, as diners got more accustomed to our new world the demand for more typical menu items re-emerged and what was traditionally a plated meal is now being found in a cardboard tray … with a side of bread of course.

Any other trends you think might stick around? And if so, how can venues capitalise on that?

Premiumisation continues to be a key driver of new products. Over the past 18 months Tip Top Foodservice have launched a number of new products in the premium space that have gained strong momentum amongst cafés and restaurants. Our premium buns, sourdough loaves and Turkish breads are growing in popularity showing that the Australian consumers’ taste is evolving and they are looking for a more premium experience whether it be dine-in (when possible) or take-away and delivery.

How is Tip Top Foodservice working with venues to make sure they can, not just survive but, thrive in these tough times?

A lot of our venues are facing difficulties with snap lockdowns – they have ordered all their stock for a big weekend, then they have to figure out what to do with it when they are forced to close. We’ve been working with customers to transition to products that can be managed more easily, such as frozen products so chefs can thaw and use what they need without the fear of under or over ordering stock and creating waste.

I also work with some clients to make sure they are using the most cost effective products, that are also meeting diners’ demand. The past year has seen a lot of chat about takeaway and delivery using products like our Turkish rolls and burger buns.

What would be your top tips for venues?

Unfortunately, at the moment, venues need to have a persistent readiness to switch menus to adjust for restricted dining, and even the growth in home delivery. This usually means designing multiple menus incorporating ingredients and products that can be switched to capture opportunities in all conditions. We’re working with many venues to help with this.

Any particular menu items that you’re just loving right now? And why?

I have always had a taste for Asian cuisine and spice, and of course have a long passion for bread. So right now, I am enjoying the growth in popularity and availability for Vietnamese Banh Mi. Crusty, light textured rolls filled with clean fresh ingredients and a kick of chilli. When in lockdown I take a few of our frozen Speedibake Vietnamese rolls home so they are on hand to get creative and try a few variations.

Can you hint at what new products you might be creating for the Australian hospitality industry?

We are always watching the trends internationally and locally to makes sure we are bringing the right products to the market, and for our customers. We are currently looking at a variety of new flavours, shapes and formats for existing bread styles and new toppings such as glazing. We’re also making on-trend foodservice products more available to the market, which may be in the form of providing a fresh delivered product from our traditionally frozen range, to help open up the opportunities for our customers who have limited freezer space.

Let’s talk about your new role, what are you most excited about?

The great thing for me is being exposed to a lot of local and international food trends and research, and now being able to pass that through to our customers either via our field team or through the media like you guys. We want to bring products to the Australian foodservice Industry that are both on trend and work in supply chain.

To check out Tip Top Foodservice’s product range made specifically for hospitality businesses click here.