Cornish pasties, the healthy fast food option enjoy a twenty-first
In the foodie 21st century, the pasty is enjoying a revival
with dozens of outlets springing up dedicated to the sale
of Cornwall's greatest culinary export. Pasty shops are now
common at mainline railway stations, and fashionable Covent
Garden in London has two shops selling the 'oggie'.
Sales at the 'Starbucks' of the pasty business,
the West Cornwall Pasty Company, are rising at almost 50 per
cent a year.
So why are Cornish pasties suddenly so popular? Consumers
seem to regard a freshly-baked pasty as a healthier option
than other fast food. The pasty has real, simple ingredients
and, unusually in the fast food world, also contains some
Food critics and writers have also noticed a growing appreciation
of Britain's traditional dishes and an emphasis on local recipes
Then there is the rise of Cornwall. Over the past decade
a county once famed for farmhouse teas has gained a trendier
image with Rick Stein's restaurant empire, the Eden Project,
The Tate at St Ives, and the growth of surfing.
Fresh impetus may come if the European Union gives the pasty
Protected Geographical Indication, restricting its production
to the west of the Tamar River.
Pasties are already being exported to Europe with Cornish
pasty shops opening in Germany and Spain and there are plans
for expansion into Holland and Portugal.
Such international ambitions are a long way from the origins
of the Cornish pasty. Although pasties are mentioned in Arthurian
legend and Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor, the Cornish
variant took off around the 18th century. The wives of tin-miners
packed in pastry a meal of meat, potato, onion and swede so
that their husbands could eat properly underground. The crimped
edge allowed the miners to hold the pasty without contaminating
lunch with the arsenic that clung to their fingers.
Nowadays the standard ingredients are beef and potato, although
makers are experimenting with new recipes such as steak and
stilton and chicken balti.
The West Cornwall Pasty Company has been very successful
in the train stations and thoroughfares of south-east England
and the Midlands. Mark Christophers, one of six visionaries
who founded the company in 1998, recalled: "We are
all Cornish and we saw what Starbucks and Café Nero
were doing for the coffee market and what Pret a Manger was
doing for the sandwich market and we believed the Cornish
pasty was a great product which had not been marketed properly
before outside of Cornwall." He believes the Cornish
pasty is popular because it is a 'wholesome, feelgood'
food. Its portability has also helped in an increasingly busy
world. "It's a convenient product. You can eat it
on the go and it's a complete meal," said Mr Christophers.
The West Cornwall Pasty Company sells about seven million
pasties, turns over £16m a year at its 44 shops and
plans to open another 10 outlets this year. "We can
see it growing three or four times [current levels] in the
UK," ventured Mr Christophers.
Crantock Bakery, based near Newquay, is also expanding.
The company supplies Cornish Bakehouse but also has 20 franchised
stores of Oggie Oggie. It plans to open another eight this
year. More than 120 staff make the pasties and other pies,
which are exported to Spain, mostly for expatriates. The company
hopes to have 20 outlets in Spain and is looking at expansion
elsewhere on the Continent. Sales are rising at about 20 per
cent a year. "It's the original fast food,"
said Nick Ringer, the chairman. "Anecdotal evidence
suggests that as pasty sales are growing, some of the more
traditional sectors of fast food are not growing. Maybe consumers
are looking for something different. Burgers have been around
for 40 years, fried chicken has been around for 40 years and
when a pasty shops opens in the neighbourhood, people think:
'I'll give it a try'."
The Objective One Programme for Cornwall and the
Isles of Scilly has invested in Crantock Bakery through the
European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF).
Anyone considering a new horticulture, food and
land based industries project is advised to speak with Maria
Ford, at Government Office South West on 01752 635015 before
commencing development as there are now only limited funds
available due to the successful uptake of funding by the agricultural
sector in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
Media Relations Manager
Objective One Partnership Office
Truro TR1 2UD
Mobile: 07973 813647
Telephone: 01872 223439