Vendor Spotlight: French Comté (and others)
Hailing from a long line of farmers, butchers, and craftsmen in the Franche-Comté region of France, Florent, Sylvain and Fabien are dedicated to bringing these artisanal flavours to the UK by way of their Borough Market stall. There, Londoners will find the finest, highest quality cheeses and charcuteries at reasonable prices.
How did you get started with The French Comté?
French Comté is where I started in London. I’m from a region called Franche-Comté, where Raymond Blanc is also from. He helped us make it a little more famous, but it’s badly located between Alsace, Burgundy, and the Alps, so people just drive through our region to go to the Alps or to the vineyards. It’s a shame because there’s great food in our region, we produce a lot of cheese and cured meat, but what was at the markets representing our region at the time wasn’t great. So, what we decided to do was to fix that – one of my uncles is a butcher and does a lot of cured meat, and my other uncle on the other side of the family makes comté. We decided to focus on foods from our region, to stick to what we know and do it well. We know the people who make what we sell, we know they respect the environment and have a sustainable way of working. The great thing about a lot of the products from our region is that they are subject to appellations, and the rules are very strict. We’re always presenting the best products.
"Our business is providing a lifeline for some of the smaller artisan farmers."
And unfortunately, a lot of farms are being bought up by bigger farms, so our business is providing a lifeline for some of the smaller artisan farmers. A lot of these people have never left the region, so selling their product abroad isn’t something they’d ever consider doing themselves, but it’s provided a lot of them with another revenue stream to keep them going.
You also have a shop called Gourmet Goat?
Then our other business is Gourmet Goat, and you’re probably thinking, why is a French guy getting involved with Greek food? It’s because when we were at Borough Market, we heard that Gourmet Goat was for sale. The people who owned it wanted to move back to Cyprus. I was really interested because there is a big problem with the dairy industry, especially in the UK; there are so many great cheesemakers in the UK, and so the dairy industry in the UK is growing immensely, but that means we want cows that produce milk. When you have veal or kid goats, they’re not going to be producing milk and unfortunately, they become a by-product that really isn’t used in the UK. It’s sad because that means we slaughter animals for nothing.
"When COVID-19 hit, a lot of people lost business and the wholesale business essentially came to a halt"
In France we don’t have many goats, but we do have eat a lot of veal and make sure nothing goes to waste. That’s especially the case where I come from, which is generally quite a poor region. So, what Gourmet Goat did by building a menu based around goat meat and veal is great, because it means those animals are not being killed for nothing and it’s better for the environment. Their food was really good and their business idea was what I think the future is all about. For me, it was one of the best offerings in Borough Market and I thought it would be a shame to see it go, so I decided to invest and buy their business out.
And what’s the relation between London Food at Home and your two businesses?
London Food at Home is a recent one, because I wasn’t busy enough. I think my wife is going to kill me if I start another business. When COVID-19 hit, a lot of people lost business and the wholesale business essentially came to a halt. And we knew people were going to want to buy online, but at the time you couldn’t get a spot with Ocado, and it was very difficult to get food delivered. So I thought, we have some great producers in Borough Market and Spa Terminus, and all we needed was to build a website and gather all these smaller traders who don’t necessarily have the logistics to make the switch to a delivery model. And we just put everything on the website, and we would pack it and delivery it for the producers, and that could compensate their loss of wholesale revenue.
"In order to survive, we need people to shop locally and from independent shops."
So essentially London Food at Home is a way to get your artisanal foods and groceries from Borough Market delivered. Borough Market already had a service we could use, but they only delivered within a really small radius in the city – problem was, there’s no one left in the city! So, it wasn’t doing much really.
What’s next for you?
We need people to use smaller independent vendors. Supermarkets and bigger shops have done well out of the crisis, but a lot of smaller producers are going to struggle in the coming months. At first you could furlough people, and there was a rent freeze, but that’s all coming to an end now. So what we need in order to survive is for people to shop locally and from independent shops.