Tougher times for small food retailers

More than half (55%) of small food retailers in Australia, eg grocers and convenience stores, reported tougher competition affecting their business over the last 12 months, according to Roy Morgan Research.

That is 23% points higher than the average small businesses overall, and 12% points higher than the average small retail businesses.

Business research director Nigel Smith said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC’s) renewed interest in the competitive environment for food retailing was timely as many small retailers, particularly food retailers, were facing difficult conditions in 2013.

The Roy Morgan research showed more than one in two small hardware and gardening (53%) and electronics (52%) retailers also rated competition determining their overall business performance, while it was less fierce among small clothing and footwear (42%) and furniture (37%) retailers.

“Small food retailers and hardware and gardening retailers are almost twice as likely as the average small business … to face increasing competition over the next 12 months,” Smith said.

“Competition only benefits consumers when it’s maintained in the long term. Predatory pricing by larger retailers—and increased take-up by price-conscious consumers—may lead to fewer competitors, an ultimately detrimental situation for both consumers and the retail industry.”

More than half (54%) of small food retailers reported they were underperforming, 7% points more than the small retail average.

In all, 37% expect competition to be a greater influence in the coming year, compared to 26% of small retailers and 21% of small businesses, while only 5% expect it to lessen.

Nevertheless, despite high levels of competition, 45% of small food retailers had a confident outlook for 2013 and expected overall business performance to improve.

Osso Bucco – a perfect winter warmer

Osso Bucco

Osso Bucco is a classical Italian dish from the western Lombard region which includes Milan and the surrounding province. Osso bucco, meaning “open bone”, refers to the big piece of marrow in the middle of the veal shank slice, which is the key part of the dish. Too many serve it without the marrow bone, turning it into an ordinary stew.

The first time I had Osso Bucco was at La Fontana restaurant in the 1980s, later known as Caffe Norton, in Leichardt – Sydney’s Italian quarter. It was a perfect dish on a cold night – heartwarming, rich and flavoursome without being fatty. It had a dusting of gremolate on top – finely chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest – adding zing and excitement, making it one of my most memorable meals. It is still among my favourite dishes.

Apart from good quality veal shank, which you can get vacuum packed at Woolworths, the vital ingredients in Osso Bucco is a strong jellied beef stock, ripe tomatoes and gremolata. I found two recipes for it – a classic Cordon Bleu recipe and a ‘white’ version without tomatoes. I prefer adding tomatoes and some cayenne to make it slightly spicy and I brown the onions to give the dish a richer taste and deeper colour:

1kg veal shanks (or beef) cut 5cm thick slices
flour for dusting
1 tblsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp butter
1 onion, sliced
1 carrot sliced
1 stick celery sliced
1 wine glass white wine
500g tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic
½-¾ cup jellied beef stock
½ cup parsley, finely chopped
Bay leaf
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring the meat to room temperature. Mix the flour and cayenne and place in plastic bag with the meat and shake until the meat is covered. Heat half the oil in a deep frypan to meadium heat and drop in the butter, add the dry oregano, thyme. Turn up heat fry the meat on both sides until brown and caramelised. Remove and keep warm.

2. Meanwhile add more oil to the fry pan, turn up the heat and fry the sliced onion until brown but not burned. Turn down heat, add the carrots and celery and sauté for about five minutes. Deglace the pan with the white wine and reduce. Plunge the tomatoes in a bowl with boiling water for 1 minute. Squeeze out the seeds, remove seeds and chop roughly. Finely chop garlic.

3. Return meat to the pan and place on top of the vegetable mix, add tomatoes and garlic and the jellied stock. Scatter with parsley and place a bay leaf on top. Cover with a lid, turn the heat to very low and simmer for three to four hours.

4. In the meantime, prepare garlic and parmesan potato mash and gremolata:

Garlic & parmesan potato mash
4 medium sized potatoes
1 tblsp butter
½ cup full cream milk
! clove of garlic, crushed
1 tblsp freshly grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

5. Peel the potatoes and boil in salted water until they start falling apart. Drain and mash together with butter until smooth in a microwave dish. Add the garlic, parmesan and enough milk to cover the potato mix. Microwave for one minute stir for a creamy, light mixture – add more milk if necessary.

½ tblsp chopped parsley
1 clove of garlic
grated zest of half a lemon

6. Heat four dinner plates. Chop parsley and garlic finely add grated lemon. Put a good spoonful of potato mash in the middle of each plate. Place one or two pieces of osso busso on top. Turn up the heat and reduce the juices in the pan until caramelized. Pour over the meat, dust with gremolata and serve.

Serves four.

Arctic cuisine – next culinary frontier

New Nordic Cuisine is one of the most exciting culinary developments in Europe right now. Inspired by the quality of the region’s raw materials from beyond the arctic circle, the food is fast gaining recognition in the great restaurants of Europe.

It is not by chance that two-star Michelin graded Noma in Copenhagen is at the top of the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. – up from 3rd place last year and 10th place in 2008. Rene Redzepi, partner and Noma head chef, is food ambassador for the Nordic Council of Ministers’ New Nordic Food program. Last year he won the Chef’s Choice Award, when the head chefs of 50 top restaurants nominated him the best.

Arctic Reaches

New Nordic Food signifies the “purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics” of the Nordic region, according to a manifesto drawn up by some of its top chefs and food professionals, who promote the use raw materials from as far north as the Arctic reaches of Greenland. In a few short years, cold-water fish for instance has taken the gourmet restaurants of France by storm.

The spawning cod, a fish which migrates from the Barents Sea, beyond the Arctic Circle to the coast of Norway is highly prized for its large, easily flaked fillets and is flown to Paris within 24 hours of being caught. Nordic food’s “terroire” is characterized by food of the “wild and the deep” – things that live and grow wild in the region and develop a Nordic taste of its own which is becoming much prized among professional chefs.

Endless Daylight

Because of the cold winters, growth of fruit and vegetables in the Nordic region are concentrated to a short summer season of almost endless daylight, giving these products a much more intense flavor than those grown further south. Food from the ‘wild’ is highly priced. It is customary for people in Nordic countries to forage for wild berries, leaves and mushrooms to add to their meals. Food is very seasonal in this region. Lamb comes on the market in September and strawberries are only sold for a short time during the height of summer when they are juicy and wonderfully sweet.

Once the center of Norway’s now vastly reduced herring and canning industry, Stavanger, Norway’s fourth biggest city with 120,000 residents, has become Norway’s culinary center. Better known internationally as the center of the North Sea oil industry, the town is also the home to 150 different nationalities which this industry attracts, providing a fertile environment for culinary experimentation.

Fine Art

The surrounding area of Rogaland is the home of Atlantic salmon farms, many of them belonging to Marine Harvest, one of the world’s biggest producers of Atlantic salmon, which pioneered salmon farming in the late 1960s in Norway and Scotland and now also has salmon farming operations in Canada, Chile, the Faroes and Ireland. The Norwegians have salmon farming down to a fine art which can determine its taste, texture, color and even the ease of filleting by the way they feed and rear the fish.

Norway is also known for its lamb. Its meat has a unique, mild taste which is hardly recognizable as lamb and comes from animals which are almost wild as they are left to graze all year round in the vast, rich outlying pastures flavored by salt ocean spray at the edge of the North Sea. These are small animals which build muscle and gain weight rapidly without much fat, producing lamb meat which is extraordinarily tender in texture, right down to the shanks, with an almost ethereal flavour “of the ocean”.