More than shop work

Vegetable butcher: Available in Harrods now.

There are some very unique jobs to be had in retail. In this new series of Q & A’s Retail Insider will profile some of the most unusual job titles across the sector.

We begin by talking to Andre Lewis, Fresh Buying Manager at Harrods about the new ‘vegetable butcher’ post in its food hall.

1.What is the change in consumer demands that led to the creation of this job?

It is well understood now that people are seeking to consume more vegetables at the same time as reducing their intake of meat. The problem is that people are also shorter on time and haven’t increased their knowledge of the skills needed to incorporate more vegetables into their diets. We’re so passionate about produce and sourcing the best of the best and want to make it easier for our customers to enjoy them. One of the key elements of this role is the daily creation of seasonal selections of prepared vegetables, herbs and flavoured butters to roast, steam, or stir fry for ultimate convenience. It provides the customer with a chef-prepared meal for one, originally designed by our Executive Chef Andy Cook and prepared freshly by Jasmin one of our vegetable butchers.

2.Describe their working day?

The vegetable butcher starts the day selecting products from our daily fresh fruit and vegetable deliveries to turn into delicious roast, steam & stir fry packs. Customers can select prepared vegetable dishes such as the indulgent miso glazed aubergine ready to roast in the oven or more virtuous choices like a super green stir-fry and steam packs which are the perfect accompaniment to your meal.

During the day the vegetable butcher is on hand to teach customers more about our seasonal produce and as trained chefs they are skilfully able to select from our vast array of produce to prep something personalised for customers. Whether it’s simply slicing our Delica pumpkin, creating an exotic fruit platter or developing a bespoke vegetable dish which is prepped and seasoned to a customer’s liking.

 3.What is the most unusual thing they have been asked to do so far with a vegetable?

Nothing too whacky so far – but the most common request is to prepare our seasonal squash range. People don’t always know which varieties of squash can be eaten with the skin on, which can even be eaten raw in salads, and so on. This is exactly the type of knowledge that our vegetable experts are on hand to pass on. The raw squash tip can be a bit of a mind-bender for some people!

 4.What are the questions that people ask them most?

Often people are interested in different varieties of product, they may not have seen a pithaya before or perhaps they are taken aback by the flavour of a Muscat grape (it can be a shock if you’re used to standard table grapes!) Muscats have seeds but once you try you won’t look back.

Most of all, people want to know how to prepare those harder to prep items. Aside from squash, globe artichokes are another classic that people enjoy but are unsure how to prepare, as are black salsify and different types of radicchio. We also have hard to find products like fresh kaffir limes and fresh ginger which might be brand new to many people and they’re just interested to learn more.

5.What type of training is needed?

One of our vegetable butchers is a trained chef and the other has been working in our fruit and vegetable department for years and has become a real expert in the product itself. Behind the scenes, our world class buyers travel far and wide to source the best fruit and vegetables from the top suppliers. It’s also very important our team regularly attends trade shows and markets both in London and Paris to ensure we are introducing our customers to new and exciting produce.

 6.How might this role develop over time?

We’ll keep pushing on with product development, using the freshest seasonal fruit and vegetables to create convenient and unique prepared fruit pots and vegetable roasts, steams and bakes. The sky is the limit really – anything you can make with fruit and vegetables! We’re always learning too, as varieties develop and new products from around the world arrive on our shelves.

 7.Could this be rolled out to other fresh produce departments in department stores or even green grocers?

The concept is simple at its heart. We’re combining incredible product knowledge with chef skills and offering accessible ideas and guidance to customers. In the wider market these products are usually produced in a factory setting and lack the personal touch so it would be nice to imagine that more will follow our lead and make more freshly prepared vegetables available and accessible.