A saucy gentleman
He’s been an unlikely punk rocker, the face of Masterchef and one of the best-known voices on television. ShelfLife talks sauce with Loyd Grossman
10 November 2008
“Ah, the zaney world of FMCG,” he says to me in recognition of my particular trade mag, as we take a seat in the Shelbourne Hotel on a miserable Tuesday morning. I ask him what brings him to Dublin on this occasion?
“I come over pretty regularly. One of the reasons is to do stuff with Premier, to see what I can do for them or what they can do for me, or what the market is like. I usually try to have a bit of pleasure as well but unfortunately this visit is just the Premier bit.”
I had been informed in advance that my interview would be confined to just 30 minutes, owing to his extremely tight schedule. Our meeting was in fact sandwiched between an appearance on Ireland AM and another on RTÉ radio, before heading for photographs, so packed it was indeed.
This hive of marketing activity surrounding the Loyd Grossman brand follows the launch of its fist ever TV advertising this year, which clocked up a total of €250,000, more than doubling the marketing budget this year. The campaign, featuring various home cooks using Loyd Grossman sauces and imitating the TV presenter’s distinctive accent, marks a new departure for the brand. One some might say was a tad at odds with present belt-tightening conditions. Although, this would be nothing new for Loyd Grossman.
How did you get into the cooking sauces business?
“It all started when I was about 30, I didn’t really get into cooking until about that age,” says Grossman. But when he finally did discover he was a master in the kitchen he felt it was something he had to share (sounds like some other men I know).
“I just thought of making the kinds of products I would like to have in the kitchen, that you couldn’t already get in the supermarket.”
In this case, premium readymade sauces made from real ingredients, to authentic recipes. At this time he was quite up against it, starting with getting the manufacturer to actually produce his recipe the way he wanted it.
“When the first sauce was made I tasted it and it was just awful. They told me it had been made according to my recipe but I soon found out that instead of olive oil they had used water, and where I wanted tomatoes they had used tomato concentrate.”
So it has taken many years of development to make the product that Loyd Grossman had first envisaged, which now encompasses a much expanded range of sauces, soups, pastas and breads.
What inspires the Loyd Grossman range?
“The things that I know well,” he says. Grossman has travelled in India and the Mediterranean, collecting recipes from source. Authenticity is the biggest attraction to the Loyd Grossman range and is the reason it has become so popular. However, it was surprisingly the reason that some supermarkets were reluctant to carry the range at first.
“There’s too many flavours”, I was told by one buyer,” he laughs, explaining that one supermarket felt customers would not appreciate the chilli in his Arabiatta sauce (Tomato & Chilli), or the layer of olive oil covering the sauces. “People won’t want to see that”, he was told.
At the time of launching, Grossman’s sauces were also unique in their price positioning. “I was looking to sell a 250g jar at £1.49, which was unheard of at the time.
“One buyer said to me, “I’ll put it to you this way, if my wife came home with a 500g jar for more than 99p I’d tell her to bring it back.””
But in spite of the obstacles the sauces market presented then, Loyd Grossman persevered, determined that customers wanted more than just homogenous, value end paste. Over time the range has grown to include Thai Curry, Malaysian Rendang, and a host of new Italian and Mediterranean inspired pasta sauces, as well as pour-over sauces such as Burgundy Red Wine.
And now, in the face of advancing recession and discount brands, Loyd Grossman shows no intention of stopping there. “I could spend the rest of my life just travelling and researching different recipes,” he says.
Lucky for some. Off to Goa soon, he informs me. We’ll have to wait and see what he comes up with next. I doubt it will be anything less than Loyd.
Some things you may not have known about Loyd Grossman
- His full title is Loyd Grossman OBE, FSA
- He was actually born in Boston, and didn’t move to the UK until he was 25, in 1975. Once in England he studied at the London School of Economics and became a journalist for Harpers & Queen and the Sunday Times
- Grossman appeared as an extra in the film Grease, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, in 1978, and was the narrator in the British tour of The Rocky Horror Show
- He enjoyed a short career as a singer with a punk band called Jet Bronx and the Forbidden, reaching number 49 in the UK singles chart in 1977 with ‘Ain’t Doin’ Nothin’. The group performed at the Rebellion punk festival in Blackpool this August
- Among his charitable interests, Grossman is/has been chairman of the Churches Conservation Trust (appointed this year by Gordon Brown), the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, the National Museums Liverpool organisation, and Culture Northwest