Shoppers develop taste for Carl’s Chef creative foods for business innovator

Executive chef Carl Johannesson has spearheaded the creation of award-winning restaurant quality dishes for Henderson Wholesale in Newtownabbey which are proving outstandingly successful with shoppers seeking quality and delicious ‘cook at home’ meals.

By Sam Butler
Monday, 11th October 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 11th October 2021, 9:57 am

Executive chef Carl Johannesson has spearheaded the creation of award-winning restaurant quality dishes for Henderson Wholesale in Newtownabbey which are proving outstandingly successful with shoppers seeking quality and delicious ‘cook at home’ meals.

The Chef range that Carl and his team of chefs developed for the wholesaler, part of Northern Ireland’s biggest and most successful food business, from the finest local ingredients and made here recently attracted the attention of a panel of judges in the prestigious UK Great Taste Awards. The food experts acclaimed four dishes now available in many Spar and Eurospar grocery stores here.

In addition to being an imaginative idea by the Henderson Group that’s proving hugely successful, Carl’s range is benefiting many smaller companies here which provide fresh ingredients for the dishes.

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Creative innovator Carl Johannesson has developed The Chef range of quality meals for Henderson Wholesale supermarkets

The Great Taste winners included family favourites such as chicken and broccoli bake, lasagne, Irish beef stew and mango chicken curry; all made by Carl and his 27-strong team at the group’s dedicated kitchen unit in Randalstown.

The ingredients were sourced from local suppliers such as K&G McAtamney in Ballymena, Magherafelt’s Bradmount Country Foods and Henderson Foodservice in Newtownabbey.

Judges said the chicken and broccoli bake, for instance, had a stunning sauce and was “full of chicken flavour”. The dish had “been very well made to give a great tasting Moorish comforting product”. The Irish beef stew was “very tasty, warming and wholesome”, and the lasagne was “great comfort food”.

Justifiably delighted by the comments, Carl says: “Being able to bring together flavours from around the world, using ingredients that we have personally been out to taste and research, and make this experience collaborative with our top farmers, suppliers and growers here is a chef’s dream come true.

“I’m very proud to be the chef behind The Chef meals and credit the whole team with this fantastic recognition from the Great Taste Awards.”

Henderson Group’s Neal Kelly, continues: “Receiving such recognition as Great Taste Awards confirms that local collaboration and sourcing is what makes really great, fresh products for our retailers to offer shoppers.

“We know our shoppers are looking for convenience, value and quality and they get all of that and more in The Chef range, with each recipe created with local tastes in mind.

“Our own brand ranges generated sales of £14 million in 2020, which only serves to boost our local agri-food industry, keeping food miles down and using meat and produce from suppliers and farmers here.

“The Great Taste stars are fantastic recognition for the hard work, research, collaboration and end product that chef Carl has produced with his team and our network of local suppliers.”

The group, furthermore, has listed dozens of artisan and smaller food firms in its stores, providing them with substantial opportunities to reach hundreds of thousands of shoppers every week and thereby boost business and the local economy.

Many of those companies were also included in an agreement between the group and Sainsbury’s supermarkets here to help plug gaps in their shelves due to Brexit and the associated Irish Sea Protocol.

Carl, a graduate of the Glasgow College of Food Technology, brought vast experience as a chef in top kitchens around the world including at the famed Gleneagle’s Hotel in Scotland and as a director of the Bar and Grill at James Street South in Belfast

He was recruited by the Henderson Group for its Chef project in 2019, the first-ever Spar NI Executive Chef.

The market-led and innovation focused food group had pinpointed an opportunity to expand its range of own brand products by developing a gourmet range. A state-of-the-art kitchen was constructed at Randalstown to help Carl create restaurant quality dishes for the group’s supermarkets here. And he’s succeeded with a wide range of premium meals.

The upmarket Chef range is now one of the group’s most popular own-brand ranges, with a £120,000 investment earlier this year to give it a fresh new look and broaden recipe development. The range now comprises of over 40 main meals and sides and is available at 70 Spar, Eurospar and Vivo branded stores here.

The network of modern stores is part of Henderson Retail which has just been named Independent Retail Chain of the Year in the UK in the respected Grocer Gold Awards 2021, regarded as the blue riband event of the £200bn UK grocery retail and wholesale sector.

The influential award is a measure of the quality of the stores and the extensive services they provide for shoppers here. The company was the only winner from Northern Ireland in the annual awards which covered more than 30 separate categories.

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