Middleton Foods is launching an award in honour of its late CEO, Peter Hill, who passed away earlier this year. Sales manager Ryan Baker explains the driving force behind the accolade and how he hopes it will raise standards across the industry
For those readers that may not have been fortunate enough to meet Peter, tell me a little bit about him.
Peter worked in the fish and chip industry for most of his life. He started at Goldensheaf before coming to Middleton Foods in 1990 as sales manager. He was instrumental in propelling the business forward, he created all of the sales teams here and oversaw a lot of the business growth, such as the building of the flour mill. He went from being our sales manager to our CEO at the end of his career. He had been NEODA president and he had sat on the original steering committee for Fish & Chip Shop of the Year, so he was an influential guy in the trade for many years.
Peter loved the industry and was loved by the industry too, wasn’t he?
Absolutely. He promoted fish and chips everywhere he went and he was very good at seeing opportunities to grow the industry. He was a charismatic guy, an excellent salesman and very much a people person. He knew loads of people in the trade and a lot of those people he had known for a long time. He was very knowledgeable, very friendly and would help anybody. He carried that across many different industries not just fish and chips, as he had worked in the bakery and foodservice industries too, so was widely known and respected in those trades as well.
You are marking his legacy by launching The Peter Hill Award, which recognises newcomers to the industry. How did you agree on that?
Everyone at Middleton Foods worked with Peter for a long time – I myself worked with him for 30 years – and we were all very keen to do something that was reflective of how Peter saw the industry. One of the things Peter loved was seeing new people coming into the industry, opening shops and doing things the right way. It was always very important to him that the trade was represented well.
Who is The Peter Hill Award open to?
Anyone new to the trade whatever guise that may be, whether they’re brand new, whether they’ve been working in the industry for a while and just stepped into their first shop or they’ve left to try something else and come back. We have three independent judges who will pick the winner: Fred Capel, Nigel Hodgson and Calum Richardson; so three winners of the Fish and Chip Shop of the Year and three absolute legends in the trade.
Does the award come with a prize?
Yes, the winner will receive £1,000 worth of Middleton’s stock and we’ll support them throughout their winning year by taking them under our wing. We have social media help they can tap into, and we will work with them on National Fish and Chip Day to create a memorable day. Plus they will have exclusive access to a host of people, such as the judges mentioned above, as well as one of our area managers. There will be lots of opportunities for the winner to learn new skills and advance their knowledge with a site visit to Middleton Foods, two places at KFE’s School of Frying Excellence as well as a NFFF training course. We also have two places on our table at the National Fish & Chip Awards 2024 and access to the drinks reception in the evening, where we will introduce the winner to the industry and the wider opportunities available to them. Also, in this inaugural year, there is three months of exclusive 1-1 ForkedUp coaching from Calum Richardson. This really is a unique selection of prizes and unlike anything on offer throughout the industry.
What kind of qualities are you looking for in a winner?
We’re looking for somebody that wants to elevate themselves into a premium shop. It doesn’t matter where the shop is or whether it’s a humble takeaway or a full-service restaurant – we’re looking for someone willing to go on a journey to make sure they’re doing things the right way and serving excellent fish and chips. It’s more important than ever that shops do everything right, and quality is absolutely paramount. Ultimately, it’s about quality operators who want to make themselves better.
How important is it that the industry attracts newcomers with new ideas and new energy?
It’s desperately important and that’s exactly what we need: new people with new energy, new ideas and new practices – and The Peter Hill Award aims to do exactly that.
How do you think Peter would feel about having an award in his name?
I think he would be very, very happy. He was always a big supporter of the Drywite Young Fish Frier competition, which was a fabulous way of getting young people in the trade and to make themselves and their shops better. It’s raised the standards of fish and chips over the years, with so many winners going on to win Fish and Chip Shop of the Year. If we could achieve something along those lines that would be great and I know Peter would be chuffed to see us giving something back to the trade.
What’s the general feeling in the industry you’re getting when visiting shops?
It’s still difficult but I think the general consensus is that the trade is doing okay. There are a lot of challenges still – potatoes are the big struggle at the moment – but other things are starting to ease up slightly, and some prices are starting to drop back which is helping. But there are no two ways about it, it’s a difficult environment for shops at the moment. That’s why we’re really keen to promote quality and excellence.
To find out more about The Peter Hill Award, including how to enter, please visit www.middletonfoods.com/the-peter-hill-award