Yes it’s that time of year again, Christmas decorations have been up since mid November, Black Friday came and went in a torrent of online frenzy leaving department stores out in the cold, and here we are thinking about food; where to get it how to cook it, and most of all how to make sure it’s ethically sourced. Which is where Abel & Cole
come in. For those of you who haven’t stumbled with green eyed envy across your neighbour’s veg box, the company is a market leader in bringing fresh organic produce from farm right to your front door. But that’s not all they’re doing, they are disrupting the food delivery industry with aplomb, shaking up the tired and tested way of sourcing all kinds of other ingredients including, meat and yes, you guessed it turkey.
I have to say I’m more than a little excited to be talking to David Balmer
(I was one of the green eyed neighbours who spied the veg box), the Buying, Development and Technical Director of the brand. He’s new to it too, having previously worked at the bastion of upmarket organic fare Daylesford and before that Marks & Spencer. He's all about the quality you see. So how does he ensure that the supply chain delivers? He travels up, down and around the country several times a week visiting the various suppliers on your behalf, making sure the stock is on target for a bumper harvest, making sure the farmers are happy, and upholding Abel & Cole’s reputation as farm to home delivery pioneers for over twenty-eight years (nothing is air freighted, ever).
‘From visiting our carrot grower in Perth in Scotland to our Beef Farmer in Devon, one thing has impressed me, their complete commitment to organic farming methods, which comes through in the taste of the product. This summer I was in Sicily with Vittoria, one of our main Tomato suppliers and I asked what makes the tomatoes taste so good, he replied ‘sunshine and organic soil’, that was enough for me!’
It is this very close relationship with suppliers that allows the company to break boundaries with the produce it offers, most recently they’ve grown the UK’s first organic sweet potato, part of their mission to put a serious dent in food miles.
‘The immediate priority for us as a business is to serve a more demanding customer base. We will putting additional focus on creating subscription products and solutions based on customers who are more health conscious and into clean eating as well as those looking for great taste and provenance. So you can expect to see a greater array of products from Bone Broths, Cold Press Juices and Kombucha (a fermented tea drink), to the largest online selection of delicious organic cheeses in the UK.’
Abel & Cole have won a number of awards, Great Taste Awards 2015 for their Blackcurrant Jam and sustainable Cod Fillets and in 2014 their Bloody Good Blood Orange Juice and their Guernsey Whole Milk, which brings me to the BOOM 2016 award for their Organic Whole Chicken, yes they’re bringing the finest organic meat to your door now too. Is there nothing they can’t do? Take The Christmas Feast Box for example, everything you’ll need to create 5 crowd-pleasing recipes to feed 6-8 people (just look at the menu at the end of this article and try to stop your mouth watering). Plus we must mention the affordability of the box - £159.00, which feeds 6-8 people at approximately £20/£26.50 per head (even the regular veg boxes are ridiculously affordable at INSERT). Just try and find a more economical way of eating Christmas dinner, whilst also eschewing all the hassle of sourcing, shlepping to the shops and lugging it all home. Admin claxon: The last chance to order your Christmas Feast Box is Thursday 22ndDecember, subject to your delivery area! You have been warned.
So how long did it take Balmer to put this all together?
‘This was put together by our wonderful team who look after recipe boxes. We rested it last year but felt this was a perfect time to re-introduce it. Our only concern will be making sure we can keep up with the demand, as our customers are loving it.’
It’s clear Balmer is quite the pro when it comes to food. He talks with verve and passion. You can tell he is a man dedicated to detail, to consistently honing the 5% between good and excellent. Was he always like this? What I wonder in his own personal journey has ensured his success? A mentor? A teacher who fired him up from a young age? Or just his personal dedication to the cause?
‘Growing up in a rural farming community in Northern Ireland I always had a close connection with food and farming. My Biology (and careers) teacher encouraged me into following a path in studying Food Science, as I had a natural interest in Science, Health, Sport and Food and how the they interact. After a successful placement year with Marks and Spencer, where I got exposed to many different food factories/producers I knew it was the career for me. Following on from M&S I was very fortunate to spend 3 ½ years working for Daylesford under the direction of Lady Carole Bamford. It was there that my real passion for artisan, organic food production was truly ignited, and this combined with an attention to detail on quality and branding that is admired not only in the UK but globally. Working on the beautiful 2,500 acre Daylesford estate, under her watchful eye I developed a true love for food and came to believe that why we produce organically is that it is better for the animals, the soil and the environment.’As the organic food industry mushrooms, more and more young people are hoping to follow in Balmer’s footsteps. Christmas is not just a time of consumption but also a time to consider the goals that will soon make it onto New Years Resolutions lists. What would he advise young people hoping to become the pioneers of the future in food production?
‘Get your sleeves rolled up and be prepared to work hard. The food industry gives you a real sense of connection with people’s everyday lives and your ability to enhance that through the food they eat is a real privilege. The pleasure I get from doing something I love doesn’t make it feel like a job at times. Life’s too short to do something you don’t enjoy!’
Which brings us circuitously to the issue of Brexit, Balmer is certainly in two minds about the knock on effects of leaving the EU, given that a seriously high percentage of the UK’s work force in this industry come via the migrant work force. ‘It will be interesting times ahead,’ he says.
‘We are faced with challenges on many fronts, whether it be the workforce within our supply and grower base or the foreign exchange rate impacting on the cost of crops we buy from our growers in Europe. However, we have long standing partners both in the UK and Europe, some we have dealt with for over 20 years, and who we will continue to work with and remain committed to providing our customers with the best organic produce from the UK and Europe. We will do everything we can to ensure that there is a minimal impact on our customers and our workforce.’
Which brings me to his favourite books, which say a lot about the man:
The book, Swallow This by Joanna Blythman and the film Food Inc by Robert Kenner have both had a profound on my view on how food should be produced. Both give an insight, albeit through a slightly different lens, of the impact of mass food production has on what people eat and their health, but also on the longer term side effects and social impact of these production systems. Both have given me even greater conviction in the belief that an organic food system is a much more sustainable way of producing food with a significantly lighter impact on the environment.
No, it’s certainly not doom and gloom at Abel and Cole, Brexit or no Brexit, with Balmer at the helm, you can be sure your veg or meat box will be instilling green eyed envy for some time to come. Now for that feast box…
THE CHRISTMAS FEAST BOX
Butter Roast Turkey with Cider Gravy
Your Kelly Bronze centrepiece is the star of the show. Paul Kelly rears exceptional, rare bronze breed turkeys, for three generations they’ve slow grown and hand-plucked with care on their farm in Danbury, Essex. They come to full maturity naturally, developing a layer of fat which gives birds amazing flavour.
Crisp Roast Spuds & Snips
Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without some truly marvellous tubers, our potatoes are from Andrew Hayter in East Anglia and make incredible roast spuds.
Honeyed Red Cabbage with Bramley Apples
Farmer James Brown grows our red cabbage on Pollybell Farm in Doncaster. It’ll taste fantastic thanks to the fertile, rich peat soil on the farm.
Lemon & Cumin Carrots
Our carrots come from Andrew Skea’s farm in East Mains farm near Dundeee. Beautiful in flavour and colour.
Brussel Sprouts with Chestnuts & Lardons
Brussels from Dan Geity is a self-declared King of Brussels from his kingdom on Home Farm in Ormskirk.
Magnum of Prosecco
The family estate at San Polo di Piave have been making wines since 1427. The vineyards are in a natural depression, four metres below the rest of the surrounding flat lands, giving their Prosecco a simple, clean and uplifting character.