We asked Martin Vulliet, our Procurement and Regulatory Manager, to share some insights into his job at Tippin’s and one of his hobbies, teaching archery at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival. With his wealth of knowledge and many skills, we consider Martin our very own Renaissance Man.
In addition to his regular job, Martin has an excellent palate and can taste when something isn’t right. He’s one of a handful of Tippin’s team members who can do this really well – and it’s a very useful skill in a bakery. Martin has been with Tippin’s for 16 years. He knows “a lot about a lot of things” so he’s a great resource for questions and a valued member of Tippin’s management team.
What do you do on a daily basis as Procurement and Regulatory Manager?
There are so many different things I do that there almost isn’t a “typical” day for me! Almost every day, I’m either on the phone or in email contact with our various ingredient and packaging vendors. Or I’m searching out new companies for new ingredients or better pricing on things we currently use.
Prices can be affected by things happening around the world so we always have to be thinking ahead. I research how anything from a drought in Idaho, to a typhoon in the Philippines, to a trade embargo somewhere will affect the pricing and availability of things Tippin’s needs. Then I plan and adapt to those changing events. I also keep informed of new laws, rules and regulations concerning how we process and label our products, and make sure everything we do is in compliance. There’s always something to do!
What is your favorite part of your job?
One of my favorite things is when I successfully predict where pricing for an ingredient is going to go and make sure that Tippin’s will be paying less for our premium ingredients. We never, ever cut corners on the quality of what we buy. We simply won’t do that at Tippin’s. Since I started coordinating our buying we’ve saved a significant amount, which has helped us manage prices for our customers in a time when others are raising prices.
You have a reputation for being a good negotiator. Do you get a thrill from getting a good deal?
Yes, knowing that I got a great price on something is always a great feeling, and it’s even better when I secure a supply of something that suddenly gets very hard to find. I’m always up-front in dealings with our vendors, and when I’m bidding something out I let them know. This keeps everyone honest, and really motivates them to give me their best pricing without a lot of back and forth. I also keep a pretty close eye on commodity markets and news. I’ve found when you approach a supplier with a lot of knowledge, they tend to respect that and keep their prices realistic.
How did you develop the ability to taste and differentiate flavors and describe them?
I try to be an adventurous eater, and I’m willing to sample just about anything at least once. I’m also a super-taster, so flavors jump out at me that others can’t detect. This actually is only sort-of-cool, because it also means there are a number of foods that I really want to like, but just can’t. Things like cilantro (tastes like dish soap) and raw tomatoes (even the supposedly sweet varieties are sour and mushy to me), for instance. But it also means I really can tell the differences between types of vanilla or chocolate grown in different places. When I taste-test things, I look for a good balance of flavors, and that only things that are supposed to stand out do so.
What has it meant for your role as Tippin’s works to develop “clean label” pies?
Our ingredients have always been high quality, but some of our pies had color-enhancers or flavor boosters. Some other items we used because we had a decades-long history with the product and had never explored other options. Finding ingredients that were as good as or better than what we had traditionally used, but free of any kind of artificial flavor, color or preservative, has been challenging at times. I’m proud to say that in every case where we’ve made a change, we’ve been able to manage it. As a bonus, in some cases I’ve even found better pricing along the way!
How did you get started with the Renaissance Festival?
I got involved with the Kansas City Renaissance Festival long ago through a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism that had an area where they taught archery. Now, 24 years later, I still teach archery, both how to shoot a bow and the historical significance of archery. My dad taught me the basics of how to shoot a bow when I was only three. It’s always been at least a back-burner sort of hobby for me. I really like to see someone’s face when they finally “get it” and are able to hit a target with an arrow.
What kind of pie did people eat in Medieval times?
Pies in Medieval times were almost nothing like what we eat today. Sugar and spices were much rarer in Europe then. Even some of the varieties of fruit we eat are different now. Apples have gotten bigger and sweeter over the centuries, for instance. Oftentimes making things into a pie was simply a way of cooking them, and unless you were really poor, you only ate the filling. The crust wouldn’t go to waste, but it would be fed to pigs or dogs. (That’s certainly not the case with Tippin’s crust!)
What is your favorite Tippin’s pie?
I really like our lemon chess pie: rich and sweet but with enough tart lemon to make it seem not so heavy.
What are you most excited about for Tippin’s future?
Tippin’s is continuing to grow and with growth comes opportunities to break into new markets. And of course, find new sources of new and different ingredients.
What is your impression of why people love Tippin’s pies?
Our customers know a quality dessert when they eat it. That starts with finding the best ingredients and having the best people put them together. People that know our story and our history value that, and they trust that we’re not going to put out anything that we ourselves wouldn’t be proud to serve to our own family.