W ith increasing consumer awareness about what they are eating, the current trend is the use of natural fresh ingredients. It’s easier for small craft bakers who sell locally to use more fresh fruit pieces in their toppings, as many have a relatively short shelf-life and are made for immediate consumption. "The biggest trend, though, is that people want premium products and they are actually willing to pay for them," says Stuart Allan, operations and development director of Indulgence Patisserie.

The firm, based in Colchester, Essex, supplies premium private-label and branded desserts for the retail, foodservice and travel catering markets. It sources the fruit for its toppings from a supplier based in Kent.

When finding a supplier these days, it’s important to the firm that everything is clean-label, and "not a lot of companies do that", says Allan. Consumers don’t want additives and preservatives in their desserts, so products have a shorter shelf-life and it is therefore important to get them out quickly, he adds.

Similarly The Real Patisserie - a relatively small business with only two outlets in Brighton and Hove, uses a wide variety of fruits for the toppings of its fresh cakes and tarts, which are made on the premises. The majority of the fruit used, including apples, strawberries, lemons and kiwis, is fresh and sourced from Adams Wholesale Ltd, a supplier based in Hove.

It is important to the company to source locally where possible - not to mention the fact that it "makes sense" in terms of cost, delivery and storage - and it has been using the same supplier for over 10 years. One of the downsides to sourcing your products locally would be that there may be some fruits that are harder to get hold of, although The Real Patisserie only uses a couple of tinned products - pears and apricots - and only the raspberries come frozen.

While the demand for seasonal produce, such as strawberries, remains constant, British fruit farmers cannot rely on the nation’s changeable weather for a decent crop each year, so larger suppliers offer more consistent supply.

Unifine Food and Bake Ingredients, for example, produces a number of different fruit-based toppings for use in or on their products, including liquid gels that can be poured onto mousse cakes, fruit fillings for buttercream cakes and pies and concentrated fruit pieces. The company also makes use of a lot of fresh fruit produce suspended in sauces.

"Our apple pie is made using Jonagold apples, which have a crisp, sweet flavour and are grown down the road from our factory in Belgium," says Unifine’s sales and marketing director, Simon Solway, arguing that consumers are often ambivalent about where the product comes from.

"You can find certain fruit, such as strawberries, in supermarkets all year round, and even though you might look at the packet and see it comes from Morocco, it doesn’t weaken demand," says Solway. He believes that, while consumers may consciously think they would rather buy local fruit, people will still buy long-haul goods.


=== Bearing fruit ===

For more info on local sourcing, check these websites:

[http://www.goodfoodpages.co.uk] is an online guide to the UK’s best local producers and retailers. If you’re looking for information on the benefits of going local, try [http://www.localfoodworks.org], which also provides details of networks in your area. Meanwhile, [http://www.foodfrombritain.com] provides a guide to regional food and drink producers. Or you could try local development agencies such as [http://www.distinctlycumbrian.co.uk], which aim to strengthen the rural economy of the county by providing advice and grants to rural businesses.