Trend Watch: Next level pies

16 February 2023, 14:16 PM
  • Comforting to eat, but time-consuming to make, superior pies are a golden opportunity for indies says Sally-Jayne Wright
Trend Watch: Next level pies

We Brits eat £1billion worth of pies every year. Some 976 creations in 23 categories were entered into the British Pie Awards in 2022, with many more entries expected this year. The organisers define a pie as a filling wholly encased in pastry which is baked not fried.

At Trevilley Farm Shop, Newquay, they sell pies in the store and also supply a sister business delivering food boxes throughout mid-Cornwall. Partner Errol Warman says, “Pies are seeing an upward trend. Pre-Covid, we had just one chef in the kitchen. For the past two years, we’ve had four, including a person dedicated to pie and sausage roll production, plus another whose sole job is to cut up meat for pies and pasties.”

What’s behind the pie trend?
- Comfort eating and nostalgia
- The cost-of-living crisis
- Plant-based eating. Pies are ideal vegan and veggie options for restaurants

What are the trends within the trend?
Matthew O’Callaghan, organiser of the British Pie Awards, reports that, “In recent years, vegan and vegetarian pies have grown substantially with the Vegan Pie category being the most entered in 2021. Development of the gluten-free pie has also been significant. Economy, family-sized pies are trending, also gourmet pies for one.”

What makes a pie an award winner?
Good pastry – it should be crisp, evenly-baked, golden, not over-processed, and well-seasoned with no rancid notes. Soggy bottoms and raw dough are no-nos. While many pastry makers swear by a combination of butter for flavour and lard for texture, pies made with vegan pastry also win accolades. The Bristol-based pie company, Pieminister, supplies indies and supermarkets alike, and uses pastry made with sustainable palm oil in all its products.

What about contents?
Generous, please. Eaters feel cheated if they have to play ‘hunt the meat’ or discover a large gap between contents and lid. Robust fillings such as cheese and onion work well as they’re tasted through pastry layers.

Discerning customers appreciate when a pie is packed with high welfare meat or fresh veg as budget pies contain cheap fillers such as breadcrumbs and sauce to bulk out contents. “Customers trust our beef and turkey from the farm and know they’ll find no nasties,” says Errol.

You can’t beat a pie fresh from the oven and that aroma of freshly risen pastry. That’s why, at Trevilley Farm Shop, as well as cooked products, they sell raw pies and pasties, both fresh and frozen, for baking off at home.

We’re in a vegan hotspot but find making tasty vegan pies is hard.
Helping to judge the vegan category at the British Pie Awards one year, I found common faults were: too watery (spinach not squeezed out); too sweet (root veg and squashes need lifting with savoury ingredients); and confused combinations. Yet there’s huge potential for sales if you can develop a good recipe. How about chestnut, black chickpea, mushroom and stout, an idea from the Vork Pie website.

Will the cost of energy needed to heat ovens affect pie sales?
Pie companies report that while some consumers are resorting to air fryers, many use their microwaves to heat pies topped with gravy or mushy peas, the crispness of pastry apparently not an issue.

Mintel say the future of the category lies in healthier fillings and world cuisines. Is that true?
In the food industry, timing is everything. Pieminister’s head of press, Romany Simon, reports, “We tried an edamame beans, spinach and soy ‘Evergreen’ pie. It won three gold stars in the 2020 Great Taste Awards but didn’t sell that well.

“We think it was too much, too soon for what people want in a pie. Our Mexicow chilli beef pie with melted cheese inside also didn’t sell that well. We received feedback it was too spicy.” They have launched a ‘not too spicy’ chicken Tikka to Ride pie this January. Their bestsellers are still Steak & Ale, and Chicken & Ham.

Which brands do you like?
Ripon-based Yorkshire Handmade Pies scooped a handful of Great Taste Awards last year. Wild and Game’s luxury products include such fillings as venison, beef, red wine and cranberry.

How do we make the most of the trend?
- Upsell ice cream with apple pie; piccalilli with pork pie
- Venison sounds superior to beef, justifying a higher price
- If your meat sells well but your pies aren’t shifting, get professional feedback on your recipes. Under-seasoning of pastry or contents is a common fault
- Sell separate mash, mushy peas and gravy
- Could you make pies in customers’ own dishes for entertaining at home?
- Play to your strengths. Trevilley found game pies too time-consuming
- Celebrate national and regional heroes such as wee Scotch pies and Fidget Pies from Shropshire

Will the pie trend last?
Yes, because quality pies are premium ready meals and more affordable in tough times than eating out and takeaways. With veg, salad or mash alongside, a pie is an easy family dinner. Cheering on winter tables, portable for summer picnics, pies sell well year-round.

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