A thirst for quality and authenticity has seen Spanish fine foods wholesaler Mevalco grow from farmers’ market stall to the home of Iberian cuisine
David Menendez is hunting for the next big thing. And with a network of scouts plugging him in to Spain’s diverse plains, he’s got the right connections in his homeland to find it.
The laidback Spaniard’s sheer commitment to discovering the genius that keeps him ahead of the competition isn’t instantly apparent when Wholesale News first meets Menendez. But as he reminisces about the reasons behind his move to the UK 15 years ago and reveals the sourcing secrets that have made his business a success ever since, it soon becomes clear.
Menendez’s talent-spotting techniques and desire for absolute perfection might draw comparisons to countryman Pep Guardiola’s methods in shaping Manchester City’s all-conquering football team, but Mevalco Fine Food’s Managing Director laughs off the notion. Although it’s not hard to see the similarities.
“I have a network of people I know – chefs, friends and people I’ve met professionally – that keep me informed,” says Menendez, with a husky Spanish accent.
“They tell me who the next guy to watch is and what to look out for. Sometimes they say it’s not someone for now, but in five years’ time you will want to work with him.
“It’s important for me to know why people are doing things and who does what well, so I need to have people on the ground who are living in Spain and can introduce me to the right person.”
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Menendez’s network is key to everything Mevalco does. As a Spanish fine food wholesaler based in Bristol, the former veterinary surgeon relies on insider knowledge to identify the best and most authentic products to stock – a selling point that’s formed the backbone of his business.
When Menendez first started the venture more than a decade ago, he sold his Spanish products on a stall at a farmers’ market in Stroud and as the UK’s interest in continental cuisine grew, so did Mevalco’s customer base. The wholesaler soon needed a bigger site to cater for increased demand, although Menendez credits a big part of the success to the nation’s changing tastes.
“I feel lucky that the nation has become more foodie in the past decade,” he adds. “There has been a change in public appreciation of food and asking where it comes from and how it’s produced – people are spending more time enjoying food.
“When I first moved here 15 years ago, I was shocked to see so many ready-made meals in supermarkets and not a lot of space for fruit and veg, but that’s changed dramatically now. Eating is one of the few pleasures you have in life.”
With the nation’s foodie obsession at an all-time high, it’s not good enough to simply offer a replica product, as consumers will soon sniff out any imposters.
Thankfully, Menendez has a keen eye fo provenance and used his native knowledge to build the contacts that feed him with the information that ensure Mevalco’s offering remains authentic. This approach is then backed up by monthly trips back to Spain to check quality for himself and keep tabs on the latest Iberian trends by visiting suppliers and restaurants around the country.
“The beautiful thing about Spain is that it’s hugely diverse in terms of origin, geography, history and climate – it’s a very diverse country in many aspects, so different areas produce different products,” Menendez explains.
“We source products by studying the food and its history and perceptions. It’s important to know where food is grown and how it’s been produced because there’s a lot of history that suggests what the best way is to do it. There is a reason why lambs come from certain areas, as due to a history of production for hundreds of years, they make perfection.
“For example, we don’t bring hams from the north of Spain because it is wet and rainy there, so if you try to smoke it in that part of the country, you would have to extract a lot of humidity.”
A sure-fire way for Menendez to ensure Mevalco’s products are of the highest quality is to look for the Denominación de origen (DOP), a seal of approval that classifies Spanish food and drink for its authenticity, which is replicated across each of the major European nations.
But with speciality products comes the added complication of transporting stock in the correct way. Most of Mevalco’s 550-plus products travel more than 1,000 miles to reach the UK by road, although some need specific storage conditions, such as red tuna, which needs to be kept at -60°C so it can be eaten raw by the end customers.
When you’re trading in speciality products like this, building a customer base that not only understands but also uses food correctly is important. Otherwise, foodservice operators and consumers will soon be questioning the quality, even it was delivered in the best possible way. For Mevalco, this hasn’t been an issue.
“Spanish cooking is very simple,” Menendez continues. “It’s about respecting the ingredients and making the most of them – it’s not about transforming them. People realise this is important.
“If you bring quality products, it takes you to the right chefs and customers who want to receive them, and that leads you to bring in more interesting products in the future. When you have the right products and the right customers, they will always challenge you to go further.”
It’s a sound philosophy and one that Mevalco’s supply chain is feeding. And with Menendez at the helm, his team may be heading for the top of the table. Just like Guardiola.
- When promising a speciality product, don’t scrimp on authenticity to drive down price
- Create a relationship with your customers that encourages feedback to challenge you further
- Guarantee the provenance of certain products by looking for a seal of authenticity