British Chef puts Macedonian Ajvar on the Map

A pantry staple, made in the Balkans since the time of Alexander the Great, has been launched in the UK, The Telegraph reports.

A little-known Balkan food product has been introduced to the global marketplace by British chef Philip Evans. The entrepreneur is exporting his own-recipe premium “ajvar”, a red pepper relish, manufactured in Macedonia, to 13 countries worldwide.

Evans first came across the product when he moved to Macedonia with his wife Anna in 2009, after she took a job with a local NGO. Ajvar is a household staple across the Balkan states, and many families have recipes that go back generations.

“Everyone’s auntie makes the best variety,” he says. “People are so passionate about the stuff here.”

“The relish was first made in the time of Alexander the Great,” he continues. “It was made in September when the peppers were fresh and cheap. It was a way to preserve them to eat throughout the winter.”

He set up Pelagonia, the archaic name for Macedonia, to manufacture the relish, alongside a range of other Macedonian products, after attending a food show in 2011 with his own-recipe relish and catching the attention of a Waitrose buyer.

“I realised that there was all this quality food from the region that was completely unknown to foreign markets,” he says .

His “aivar” – “We dropped the 'j’ so that people would know how to pronounce it” – is now stocked in more than 200 Waitrose stores across the UK, and is also available on Ocado as well as in more than 300 independent shops and delicatessens.

Evans is hoping to recreate the “humous phenomenon”, he says. Humous was first introduced to the UK in the late 1980s. “Today, 25pc of British households keep it in their fridge,” he says.

“Other categories like pesto, olives and sundried tomatoes have become huge. This will be just as big.”

Rival ajvar manufacturers do exist, such as Croatian food giant Podravka, but Evans is going for the premium end of the market, he says.

“Podravka only sells to the Balkan diaspora. We’re going for the international middle-class foodie.”

The UK is Pelagonia’s biggest market, but its products are stocked in 13 other countries, from Dubai to Norway. Pelagonia’s revenues grew 76pc last year and are forecast to double again in 2014.

“We’ve had Jamie Oliver and Ottolenghi submit recipes for our aivar, and that’s been great for sales,” says Evans.

Having cracked the Western markets, Asia is next on Evans’ hitlist.

“If we can export to the UK, we can export anywhere,” he says “This regional speciality has never found its place in the world – until now.” 

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