Entrepreneur Hamza Qureshi has developed a new range of signature seasonings to help consumers recreate the restaurant experience at home after his ‘dark kitchen’ business took a hit during the Covid pandemic lockdowns.

He devised the Bird Dust range of chicken coatings with support from the Food Innovation Centre at the University of Nottingham, which offers free expertise and advice to food and drink manufacturers in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

Now he is selling three different flavours of seasonings direct to consumers online via a webshop, Amazon and Ebay, and also in more than 30 independent retailers across the UK and Eire, with stockists in places like London, Cardiff, and Dublin.

Hamza, who runs White’s Gourmet Fried Chicken based in Forest Fields in Nottingham, had been operating a popular and successful ‘dark kitchen’ before the pandemic caused him to rethink his business plans. Dark kitchens prepare and sell food exclusively for delivery.

“When the first lockdown kicked in last year, I could see it was going to cause long term issues and wasn’t going away any time soon. So, we started exploring ways to mitigate as many of the issues as possible,” explained Hamza, a product manager who had previously worked in financial and corporate services before switching careers in 2018 to work in the food sector.

“We had to close the kitchen for a few weeks during the first lockdown when everything had to close but we reopened as a dark kitchen, trying a few different operational models until September last year. During this time, my initial concerns were being reaffirmed. This issue was going to stick around and there’s more turbulence ahead.

“It was important to explore other opportunities and I spent a number of months on market research to understand what was happening. Could we pivot into something that was more practical and sustainable in the long term? How could we switch over with minimal risk?”

Hamza came up with a number of potential ideas and approached the Food Innovation Centre for support in scoping the possibilities and taking forward viable commercial options.

“We already had a pretty good starting point as we made most things in house, from scratch, from our sauces to coatings. They helped us to taper down these propositions which allowed us to get into the market as quickly as possible and secondly to ensure that we were compliant with all the regulations,” he added.

Under the White’s Gourmet Fried Chicken brand, three different flavours in the Bird Dust range were developed – Crunchy Fried Chicken Coating, Panko Fried Chicken Coating and Reaper Fried Chicken Coating – in 250g packs for retail and for direct sale to consumers. In the future, Hamza also plans to offer 5kg to 20kg containers for the food service sector.

White’s Gourmet Fried Chicken has also teamed up with flavoured oils company Borderfields to suggest pairing the Bird Dust coatings with the firm’s cold pressed rapeseed oils, which are produced at Redhill, Nottingham. This allows the Bird Dust to coat oven baked chicken, as well as fried chicken.

“Our fried chicken has been a massive hit over the past two years, while selling from our dark kitchen. It was about time we bagged up the secret and shipped across the UK,” said Hamza.

“The Food Innovation Centre really helped at a critical point to figure out very quickly what’s possible and ensuring what was possible was compliant from a regulatory standpoint. Running your own business can be challenging during normal times, during COVID that’s only been amplified. The Food Innovation Centre helped to simplify this complexity and allowed us to see through the mist. A massive thanks to Alice, Richard and the team at the Food Innovation Centre.”

The support from the Food Innovation Centre was provided under the Driving Research and Innovation project – a three-year project that runs until the end of December 2022. Part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) via the D2N2 LEP, the project is run by the Food Innovation Centre at the University of Nottingham School of Biosciences, in conjunction with the Chemistry Innovation Laboratory in the School of Chemistry and Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and in association with the Midlands Engine. It is a unique collaboration project that provides free specialist innovation support to small and medium-sized businesses.

Richard Worrall, who runs the Food Innovation Centre at the University of Nottingham, said: “The foodservice sector has been hit hugely by restrictions brought in to deal with the Covid pandemic, but many operators have imaginatively and successfully diversified to keep their businesses afloat – creating new opportunities and new products.

“Experts at the Food Innovation Centre are on hand to support food and drink manufacturers in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire to help them grab new opportunities and overcome the challenges that they are facing, and we would urge them to get in touch to see how we could help. We’re delighted to hear that the Bird Dust developed by White’s Gourmet Fried Chicken is proving so popular and is now being sold in independent retailers across the UK.”

The Food Innovation Centre is a one-stop shop for small and medium-sized food and drink manufacturers in Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. As well as new product development, its experts also offer help and advice with processing and packaging, sustainability, business development and can signpost to other organisations with expertise in the food and drink manufacturing sector too.

The support provided to White’s Gourmet Fried Chicken by senior food technologist Alice Jones and the team included advice on compliant labelling, including how to create obligatory nutritional data, and technical input to optimise the Bird Dust product to perform better in oven baking (it was initially designed for frying).

For more information about the Food Innovation Centre and to get in touch with experts who can help, visit https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/biosciences/facilities/food-innovation-centre.aspx

For more information about Bird Dust and White’s Gourmet Fried Chicken, visit https://www.whiteskitchen.co.uk/

Perfect 10 PR is a Nottingham-based PR agency specialising in foodservice and construction public relations.