When East meets West the result is often a compromise. Not so in the case of Leathams Larder and Asian Home Gourmet, two companies devoted to authenticity jointly and separately. The former is the brainchild of Mark Leatham who has scoured the western world in search of locally-produced speciality foods for the UK market under The Merchant Gourmet banner. The latter is the company and its eponymous brand which he discovered when he ventured east ­ to Singapore. Leatham believes the Asian Home Gourmet range of foiled-packaged spice pastes, which he has just begun to import and distribute, will be his first mainstream line. The first fruit of the partnership forged between the two companies, the Thai selection of four pastes has already been launched through 360 category C Tesco outlets. This was quickly followed by Cantonese and Szechuan ranges, through Sainsbury, timed for the Chinese New Year on February 7. Indonesian and Singaporean lines will be introduced in the summer and the Indian range will follow, around October, to coincide with Divali, the Indian Festival of Light. Leatham, whose first career move in food was as a pigeon-shooter supplying chef Albert Roux at Le Gavroche restaurant, set up Leathams Larder with his brother Oliver in 1980. The company built its reputation sourcing the world's finest for London's top chefs and only moved into the retail market two years ago. He told The Grocer: "I was commercially aware of the size of the Asian market in the UK. I realised Italian had been done' and what was now happening was Asian, but what was available wasn't authentic." Then in Singapore he met Kwan Lui, founder and managing director of the 10-year old Asian Home Gourmet, who shared his passion for authenticity. She specialised in taking Asian foods out of local markets and street stalls for distribution around the world. She says that the only way such products can be considered authentic is if they are made on their home ground, in the time-honoured way, from fresh, not dried ingredients. "From the time they are ground, spices start to lose their flavour and aroma. We chop and grind spices together until their juices and natural oils form a paste which is slowly and gently stir fried. By preserving the spices in their own essential oils, we achieve a stable seasoning paste." The Asian Home Gourmet 50-strong range of products now sells through more than 2,500 major supermarket chains throughout the world ­ including Asia, the Antipodes, Continental Europe and the Americas. Australia is a particularly good market where Kwan Lui says sales have grown 200% in the last year and where every single supermarket has its own identifiable Asian section. In the UK it is too early to hope for an Asian aisle. Ben Haynes, Leathams' national accounts controller, says: "So far there are no other products in this format in the UK. Tesco is stocking it in its Oriental fixture. We're obviously hoping they will create an Asian category." The range, priced at 99p for a 50g makes-one-meal sachet, has been packaged for the UK market and carries the endorsement of The Merchant Gourmet brand. The packs had their problems at Customs. The products had already passed Sainsbury's and Tesco's technical audits twice, but the first shipment was held up for seven days while Customs tried to decide what duty to apply. "Anything that comes from Bangkok is taken apart wholesale because of concerns about drugs," says Haynes." Now they are safely in the biggest two of the four main chains that Leathams regards as critical. Haynes says they are confident of also gaining distribution through Waitrose and Safeway. Once the main four are stocking the products, consumer advertising will start. Meanwhile, the pastes are being promoted through the glossy quarterly magazine, also called Asian Home Gourmet, launched in 1994 and now distributed in 10 countries. Kwan Lui says that, ironically, the magazine has been selling through Sainsbury ­ cover price £2.50 ­ for two years and the current issue has a sample of the Thai paste covermounted. Leathams, which expects to see an 80:20 split between multiples/independents for the Asian range, covers the sale and distribution to around 90 London-based independent accounts itself and uses Petty, Wood for distribution to the rest of the United Kingdom. {{MARKETING}}