From whole chooks to caviar: discounted restaurant produce hits Sydney's retail market

Two Providores general manager Sally Gosper with Holy Goat cheese. Two Providores is now selling premium produce to the ...
Two Providores general manager Sally Gosper with Holy Goat cheese. Two Providores is now selling premium produce to the public due to restaurant closures. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Food lovers who have longed to cook with the chickens used at Quay, or buy the same beluga caviar served at Aria are in luck as food wholesalers look to sell high-end restaurant produce to the public for the first time.

"Our business was expanding really well, but when food service trade was restricted to stop the spread of coronavirus, everything completely turned around," says Sally Gosper, general manager of Two Providores which supplies artisan produce to Sydney cafes, caterers and restaurants.

The Marrickville business has lost 78 per cent of its wholesale customer base since the coronavirus pandemic hit hard two weeks ago, and is shifting its focus to retail sales as a result.

"We have so much amazing produce now available home cooks wouldn't normally be able to access," says Gosper.

Products available for home delivery from the Two Providores website include Nichols farm free-range chooks raised in Tasmania and used by hatted restaurants including Quay, Bennelong and Momofuku Seiobo; soft and creamy fromage frais from Holy Goat Cheese in central Victoria; and Wholegrain Milling Co. flour used by "just about every good baker in town" including Iggy's Bread in Bronte, says Gosper. 

"We're calling out to the public to get behind these iconic producers," she says. "If we don't support them, there's a very good chance they will go to the wall - agriculture doesn't stop when demand stops."

Gosper says consumers can expect many items to be "massively discounted" compared to normal retail prices. Similar pointy-end value can be found at Simon Johnson stores in Northbridge, Alexandria and Woollahra where the price of all sturgeon caviar has been reduced by 25 per cent.

"The airlines buying caviar from us for their first-class customers have stopped flying, so customers can expect a lot of specials," says Simon Johnson's caviar ambassador Lisa Downs.

Simon Johnson will also start selling artisan cheese traditionally bought by luxury airline services, and discounts of up to 60 per cent are set to be announced for large format items such as five-litre cans of Colonna olive olive and 450g tins of Ortiz anchovies usually only sold to restaurants.

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John Susman is the managing director of seafood marketing, sales and consultancy company Fishtales. He is excited about the amount of restaurant-grade produce that can now be used in home kitchens.

"Almost every food service distributor in Australia is trying to pivot their business for home delivery or click-and-collect," he says. "Despite the fact it's a tragedy for restaurants, the lockdown means more people will be preparing meals at home and they can experience the joy of cooking with premium produce."

In the steak and sausage sector, Vic's Premium Quality Meat has suspended food service industry sales but opened its Mascot wholesale facility to general consumers seven days a week. In Marrickville, sustainability-focused butcher Feather and Bone has tripled the number of home deliveries it was doing three weeks ago. 

"We've lost all our wholesale business, catering spits and [butchery] classes, but gained a lot of retail sales," says Feather and Bone founder Grant Hilliard. "We're selling more stock if anything."

The butchery is also stocking Burraduc Buffalo dairy products used by many restaurants, however customers are most interested in "core products" such as chuck steak, mince and sausages, says Hilliard. 

"I think that says something about the way people are feeling right now - mozzarella might be seen as a touch frivolous if you're worried about your livelihood."

Sydneysiders looking to buy essential food items while supporting wholesalers can order groceries online at Manettas Seafood Market instead.

"Our seafood sales platform has changed in the past few days by allowing wholesalers of meat, bread, fruit and vegetables to come on board too," says site founder Peter Manettas. "I'm receiving calls everyday from more suppliers to list their products with us. The number of wholesalers suddenly without a restaurant industry to sell to is massive."

In spite of increased retail sales, Susman expects suppliers will be hit hard by coronavirus-related restaurant closures - largely due to outstanding bills that will most likely never be paid.

"A lot of restaurants have gotten away with using suppliers as a cheap form of finance for a long time. I can name at least 30 seafood distributors around the country that will not be able to recover from this."