After revealing plans for two new sites, a strengthened management team a potential fundraising campaign, Sourced Market founder Ben O’Brien talked to MCA about the art of curating different formats and championing producers.
Living above Borough Market in the early 2000s and working in the music industry, Ben O’Brien was exposed to two different, but still relatively unconnected worlds.
It was amid a frustration with a lack of quality food options at festivals that he ended up bringing the two together and persuaded some traders he had befriended to leave their market pitch and go on the road.
Having been part of this new phenomenon of artisan food at festivals, and going on to found Sourced Market, O’Brien still sees this space – and the overlapping world of street food – as an enduring influence on his approach to curating new sites.
“A lot of innovation happens at that street food, market level”, he says. “Our office is in Spitalfields, and the team get out quite a lot, so we’re quite in touch with what happens in the London food scene and further afield.
“The great thing about the food industry is it’s made up of a very friendly, fun bunch of people, who love sharing the great things they’ve tried.”
Being relatively small means Sourced is able to quickly bring in new products and suppliers – though this can mean bypassing processes.
“When we just had one site, if something was really good, it would be on the shelf in the next week.
“Now we’re a big bigger, we have stock control, and that can get in the way of being dynamic.
“With everything we do we always ask ‘is this going to make it better for their customer?’
“The customer likes trying new products, and sometimes we bypass our systems, which can be counter intuitive, because you put them in place to make the business more efficient.
“But you can’t forget what makes your business important - which is funding great products and getting them into customers hands as quickly as possible.”
One way of championing its producers has been through monthly events at the Wigmore Street basement bar and restaurant, Tap Room, with the latest was a showcase of Vinegar Shed, with a menu built around pickled quails eggs, octopus with vinegar and caponata.
As well celebrating producers, Sourced nurtures and helps develop new brands, and is currently working with ‘sushi sandwich’ concept Norigami in preparation for scaling up its operation.
“We’ve always worked with small producers, with informal advice on packaging, and recipes, as it’s in both our interests to help improve their products.
“It works better for them to be more viable, and it’s better for us to have sustainability of supply- though there’s no formal process.
As far as consumer tastes go, Sourced is aiming to go 50% vegetarian and 25% vegan, as well as include more new products with health benefits.
“Healthy, vegetarian, vegan, functional food is by far the strongest trend we are experiencing,” he said.
“It’s the way the market is going - not necessarily people becoming vegan, but thinking more carefully about when to eat meat and fish.
“Sometimes its health driven, sometimes environmentally driven.”