30 November 2017
Recently, the good people that are behind the new startup The Norwich Porridge Company asked if they could send me a couple of their products, to mark the occasion of their launch into the marketplace. Sustainably-minded, health-conscious food, produced by a entrepreneurial local company - how could I refuse?
It’s interesting, because on the day the packs arrived my attention was taken by the news that Kellogs is to cut the amount of sugar in its three top-selling children’s cereals by between 20% to 40% by the middle of next year. It’s just the latest step in a painfully slow process by the food industry of meeting demands for reduced quantities of salt and sugar in processed foods.
Why so slow? Because it is genuinely hard to make these reductions without so altering the flavour experience as to lose customers. An ethically pure food that almost no-one will eat is not going to succeed in the marketplace. And so progress has depending on two things. (1) How much can we actually change the taste expectations of customers by slowly, little-by-little, making changes, slow enough that they get used to them and their palates become adjusted, and (2) how much can technology come up with new ways to reduce the ‘bads’ whilst finding other ways to keep the flavour the same?
Inevitably, you end up - in the case of the former - with the result that the consumer base becomes split. Some consumers embrace the journey, and their palates begin to change accordingly to expect less sugar and / or salt. Others are not engaged at all - and will switch at the drop of a hat if they begin to feel that their brand doesn’t give them the flavour hit they expect. Foods that aim to be healthier and more sustainable may have to choose which of those segments it aims towards.
That came to mind again when trying the Norwich Porridge product, principally because here is a company that is very clear about where it is targeting on the consumer scale. To quote its own (slightly hard-to-read) commentary that came with the box “we stand firmly in the way of sugars, narrow our eyes at sweeteners and roar NO!” Inevitably, that means that some people will find the product under-sweet. Others, that are well along the journey to removing sugar from their lives will find the well-mixed-in fruit that comes with each pack to be sweetness enough.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Norwich Porridge company currently produces two products - gluten-free porridge with chia seeds and a different fruit combo. One version has blueberries and banana. The other has raspberries. You get them in a little cardboard pots. You simply fill the pot up to a specified line with hot water, stir, let sit for a couple of minutes (with the lid on to keep the heat in) and then eat. It came about because the founders were dissatisfied with the traditional porridge companies for producing pots that were very high in sugar and artificial flavourings. Hence the commitment to only use oats, seeds, milk and fruit.
I, and my companion taste tester, are earlier on the low sugar journey. In fact, I’m not even sure I’m on that journey since I go for “all things in moderation” as a basic principle. When I make porridge for myself, it’s with just a couple of teaspoons of honey and that seems to be just enough to make it delicious without hitting the eye-watering mark on the sugar scale. So I found these slightly under-sweet - but if your palate is better adapted than mine, the fruit will do fine. And you could always (whisper) add a tiniest addition of honey or something else if it’s a problem for you. The mission is to move away from artificially high levels of sugar - ultimately you should go with what suits your palate because none of us will be served by food that we eat for a while and then give up because it doesn’t bring us joy. The point is that you can always add a little more if you need it - but you can’t take it away. So at least the Norwich Porridge pots give you that choice.
Inevitably any new product will have some rough edges. I like creamy porridge - but with the instructed amount of hot water, it ended up rather dense. Easy enough to add more liquid. And the banana didn’t quite come to life in the pot the way the berries did.
Nevertheless, this is an energetic new company that will smooth out the wrinkles and fine-tune its product for the target audience. If you like healthy not-messed-about food for breakfast and you find that sometimes you’re really pushed for time (and which of us isn’t?) you could do worse than have a few pots of Norwich porridge in reserve.