Not your average weekly shop

Ben Gibson

Catering for 500+ people on a cruise can be a daunting task. But Terry Wiseman, Saga Cruise' chief shopper, tells us it's not as hard as it seems!



If you run out of milk at home, there’s always the corner shop or the 24-hour supermarket. No such luck at sea, feeding more than 1,100 passengers and crew aboard Saga Sapphire. So to avoid a mutiny you need to plan… very carefully… Meet our master strategist and chief shopper, Terry Wiseman.

“I buy all the food and drink and much more, anything from toilet rolls to champagne,” says Terry from his office at Saga HQ in Sandgate, Folkestone. He joined Saga in September 1998 to set up the supply system when Saga took it ‘in house’ from an outside company. And he’s still here, and still smiling and loving the challenge of his enormous job. “I’ve been involved from the beginning, I’ve seen our product blossom into the much loved cruise line that it is today. And it’s fun, we’re nice people and we work with nice people, what is there not to love?” he says.

You may think Terry has an impressive team of people helping him with his task. In fact, it consists of just two and-a-half people, including Terry’s right-hand woman, Mandi Butler, the Hotel Purchasing Supervisor. The vast scale of the operation requires a very efficient computer system to keep track of everything. Terry set it up and ranks it as one of his main achievements in the job.

Nothing but the best

Every high-quality meal served on board begins with high-quality ingredients. And nothing but the best will feature on Terry’s shopping list. “Quality control is essential every step of the way, from choosing the right suppliers to making sure the quality remains the same, whether it’s cheese, salads or wines.

Suppliers from around the globe

You can trust Terry not to just take someone’s word for it. Quality has to be checked, seen and tasted, and Terry travels to the four corners of the UK and much further afield to meet the producers and suppliers. “I’ve visited most of our suppliers around the world and in all the countries we visit.

“We have fantastic suppliers in Montevideo, in Piraeus, Greece where we buy superb fish, and we even had a fruit and vegetable man in Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, where we will be returning in January next year. It does mean a lot of travelling for me – well, someone’s got to do it!”

Provenance is key

Provenance is a foodie buzzword and key for Terry and our chefs. Some 40% of all the fruit and vegetables consumed on board are from UK growers whom Terry has met personally. The chefs also buy fresh fish in various ports and visit local markets.

“We’re very keen to reflect the countries we visit in the food we serve and we buy local delicacies where we can. In Madeira it’s Black Espada fish, also called Black Scabbard fish. In Portugal it’s pastel de nata, the custard tarts only available there and we have a supplier in Lisbon. In Spain it’s pata negra ham, a highly-prized Iberico ham produced from black pigs fed on acorns.

Wines for every palate

Anyone who’s ever had the joy of looking at the wine list on board our ships will know that whoever selected the wines is a bit of a connoisseur with a fine nose. It’s all down to Terry of course, who guides you through his finds from around the world. “I would always recommend Albariño, a white wine from Galicia in Northern Spain that will appeal to those who like another of our wines, Vinho Verde from Portugal. From further afield is Vina Casa Silva from Chile, the most award-winning winery in South America and one we have used for 15 years.

“When we sail around South America next year we will be buying wines from the countries we will be visiting such as Uruguay, Chile and Argentina.

“A more immediate task for me is to select the wines that we will be including with lunch and dinner next year, so I’ll be going to a major wine fair in London for that.”

Cheese please

No meal is complete without cheese, and we offer more than 100 varieties on Saga Sapphire. The list varies, depending on the nationality of the Executive Chef on any particular cruise! So if George Streeter is king of the kitchen, cheeses from his native Cornwall will feature prominently. Expect cheese from Sunderland when John McCreary is on board, or a greater selection of French fromage when it’s Thierry Cherronnet’s turn. As for German-born Dirk Roesseler cheese, Terry has sourced a cheese made in Austria, in honour of Horst Pint, our Hotel Operations Director, but matured in Germany!

Special requests and the fun of multinationalities

“If someone wants something particular, we do our utmost to provide it. Recently we sourced vegan wine for a passenger. We regularly cater for celiacs and diabetics, and all guests with special requirements can meet with the chef at the start of their cruise to discuss their dietary needs,” explained Terry.

Working with over 20 different nationalities and numerous languages is always entertaining and makes communications an unexpected challenge. Terry recalls: “I received an email from one of our chefs stating that ‘the beef is crab’. It made us laugh, but obviously we found another source of beef of better quality!”

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.