Einstein defined madness as doing the same thing again and again while continuing to expect a different result.This got me thinking about my own business. When trade is poor perhaps we should think that the products we are providing are not what the public want or need. Maybe the service or ambiance of our shops is not good enough.When you think about it, sales may be static or falling and yet we carry on making the same products and never really stop and think about changing them. Or perhaps our bags and packaging might need upgrading – surely the days of plain white bags and boxes are long gone.Looking at the cost of attractive printed bags often makes me think I could spend my limited budget in other ways. Yet we all know marketing is by far the most difficult task.Recently, I had the great pleasure of spending another day at John Slattery’s wonderful shop in Manchester and while acknowledging his incredible skill and craftsmanship I did not overlook his great marketing skills. Calling Slattery’s a ’shop’ is not really adequate – an ’emporium’ is a better description. Looking around his premises you soon realise that not only has a great deal of money been spent on marketing and displays but also a good deal of thought has been put into it.A great friend of mine, Terry Hicklin from Missouri in the US, was a guest speaker at a recent conference held at Slattery’s. He told us how he had bought a business that had been established for 35 years and within six years had increased trade by over 500%.This should make us stop and think how we can increase the efficiency of our own business. To be truthful, when I put on a 10% increase in a year I feel quite satisfied. But shouldn’t we be aiming for 25% extra turnover each year?Now, I know anyone reading this will quite rightly say: ’If you are so clever tell us how to do it.’ The truthful answer is I don’t know. If I did, I would be doing it! But maybe we set the target too low and when we reach it we stop trying so hard.Just over the halfway mark this year we are 9% up, which is nowhere near enough with all our extra costs. On a like-for-like basis we are only 4% up.The sandwich vans are doing well and we have more ordered, the buffet business is holding steady rather than growing, but the retail shops are all over the place from 7% down to 13% up. There is no pattern at all.Perhaps the time has come for us to start looking at refits. When we assessed two of our shops recently, we realised it had been 10 years since they were upgraded. Major refits have, in the past, tended to increase turnover some 15-30%, plus of course the uplift in staff morale tends to make them sell better.But it takes a considerable sum of money to update shops. On average, I would say it costs a minimum of £50,000 per shop. However, I think the advantages outweigh the cost, so we shall be looking at revamping some of our shops in the New Year. n
Eating healthily is not linked to a high level of income, according to a report released by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).The Low Income Diet and Nutrition Survey, published on July 15, found no significant link between income and dietary patterns. Diet-related problems were consistent across the population, regardless of budget.The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said retailers provide healthy food that is affordable to families of all incomes and that education is the key to improving national eating patterns.”Over the past 30 years, consumers have spent less and less of their weekly income on food,” said BRC director general Kevin Hawkins. “Today, an average trolley of food from the supermarket costs 7% less in real terms than it did in 2000 and 15% less than in 1990. Consumers have a bigger food choice, including more healthy options. Educating consumers about what to do with that choice is now key to improving the nation’s diet.”Price cuts on fruit and veg, healthy eating initiatives and the FSA’s reduced salt consumption targets are all moves contributing to this scenario, said the BRC.
I sometimes think we are all obsessed with ’trends’. But one thing is certain: if you are not aware of them, your business will stand still then start to die – and so will your customer base.It is something Tesco’s Neil Franklin points out this week (pg 18) and if you are, or ever wish to be, a Tesco supplier I urge you to take note, because his background is with British Bakeries, and he is forward-thinking every step of the way. He even wants to roll out a new training scheme for both scratch baking and bake-off which is bound to give staff more pride in their products. But the rest is not general talk about how great Tesco is. Unlike some conference speeches, his address to delegates at the British Society of Baking autumn conference got down to the nitty-gritty of what suppliers really need to know, really need to do and really need to be aware of.Perhaps, as a supplier, you know it all already. If not, you may like to go through it with a highlighter pen and pass it to your relevant departments.We are in the information overload age: instant news on every channel and e-mails tumbling in every second, which we read while talking on the phone and signing off invoices. But when I went to do a supermarket shop last week, there were four common things I could not buy and I thought of Neil’s comments, so I understand what he means about lack of availability, for instance. It can be very frustrating.And I can’t help wondering if the suppliers of those four items had marketing people who had accessed the types of information Neil talks about or knew what flavours and promotions I go for. Had they passed it all to the salespeople or directors who visit the buyers?Knowledge is power; it always has been. And the fact that there is so much knowledge available, so often and so rapidly is thanks to the blessing (or curse!) of computers.Competition among the supermarkets is fantastically fierce and is driving both standards and innovation, so having an inside track on their thinking is extremely valuable.Macphie, meanwhile, is driving its own ’green’ standards and innovation (pg 4), leading from the front with a biomass boiler that burns wood chips. How soon will it be before wood chip ovens become the next ’green’ option?
Preservatives in bread are seen by bakers as key in delaying spoilage. But while consumers, the media and retailers generally regard convenience as a good thing, they share a negative perception of preservatives.Yet preservatives achieve the keeping quality we all demand. There have been many attempts to find ’natural’ alternatives to the calcium propionate (CP) widely used, including the use of vinegar, natural ferments, modified atmosphere packaging, ’clean bakeries’ and… well, that’s the lot. These all have drawbacks, including cost, impact on flavour/texture or lack of effectiveness.So why is there no alternative to CP? The simplest answer is that it’s still the best at reducing the rate of spoilage of stored bread. In some products, potassium sorbate has been used. It is better, weight for weight, at preventing mould growth than CP but, if added to dough, reduces yeast activity, so has to be sprayed on the surface of the bread after baking.One other issue to consider is ’rope’ – bacterial spoilage that produces rope-like threads in bread and can cause food poisoning, forming rope-like strands in the crumb, and strong, un-breadlike odours. The anti-bacterial action of CP, both in the bread and our bakeries, has all but eliminated rope. But, if a replacement for CP cannot be found, the risk is that rope will reappear.
Marco Beverage Systems has added self-service coffee brewers to its range. The machines can be operated on one side by customers and by staff from the other side.The side facing the operator is fitted with traditional free-flow Tomlinson-style handles, so staff may draw coffee at any time, while the customer-facing side is a push-and-hold system, where coffee pours only for as long as the button is pressed. The new option is available on Marco’s Qwikbrew single and double models plus the high-volume Maxibrew. All the machines also provide enough water for tea. Marco can also apply clients’ branding to the machines.Cost: Qwikbrew RVPB £1,922[http://www.marco-bev.co.uk]
Boutique-style retailer Baker & Spice has found a buyer soon after entering administration. Spice Bakery, a new firm set up to acquire the assets of Baker & Spice, has purchased the business and “certain assets” as a going concern.Baker & Spice, founded by Gail Stephens, who also founded The Bread Factory, called in administrator Vantis Business Recovery Services (BRS) on 20 February 2009. “We accepted a third-party offer from Spice Bakery, led by Luke Johnson and funded by Risk Capital Partners,” said Nick O’Reilly, client partner at Vantis (BRS). Risk Capital acquired Patisserie Valerie in September 2006 and Druckers in 2007.Vantis (BRS) said that due to “historic losses and ongoing supply issues”, the business had been unable to trade as a going concern, so interested parties were sought to acquire the business as part of a pre-packaged sale out of administration.Paul May, chief executive of Patisserie Valerie Holding and an associated partner of Risk Capital, said Baker & Spice is “a very good and established brand, and a very different offering to Patisserie Valerie”.A full staff review is now under way, and May said they hope enter into discussions with Stephens about her future involvement in the business. The aim of the new firm is to get Baker & Spice operationally in shape before building on the brand, he added.
Lille-based French bakery Chateau Blanc had its official UK launch at food and drink show IFE09 last week.The firm, which is “starting from scratch in the UK”, said it received its first order only the week before. Veronique Gubri, business development manager for Chateau Blanc, said it is now targeting in-store bakeries with its premium offering.The firm produces 43 different breads, as well as patisserie and Viennoiserie made to traditional French recipes. Chateau Blanc was showcasing new products, including its range of macaroons, available in lemon, raspberry, vanilla, pistachio, coffee and chocolate varieties. It has also launched a range of breadsticks, designed to be a healthy snack on-the-go, as well as to accompany soups or salad. These are available in olive, hazelnut and raisin and fruit varieties.In addition, the company is working on a number of prototype products, such as savoury brioche and breads – for example carrot and cumin or spinach and goat’s cheese varieties, and is also loo- king at expanding its range of quiches.The firm, which has three factories in Northern France, supplies indepen-dent bakeries, coffee shops, retail multiples, and the travel and foodservice sectors throughout France, Benelux, Spain, Ireland and Germany. “We’ve also just won a contract to supply Spar shops in Italy,” said Gubri.The company introduced the first macaroon production line in December 2008 and also installed a new Viennese pastry line in February.
Major steps have been taken towards a pan-industry qualification in underpinning bakery skills, with four leading firms signing up to a pilot scheme that launches in September.The pilot has been developed by an industry-wide employer-led bakery steering group that represents craft, plant and supermarket bakers, alongside the National Skills Academy (NSA). The four employers include McCam-bridge, Sayers and Slattery’s, with one to be confirmed.The 10-module course – previously titled ’Foundation Bakery’ – has been renamed ’Professional Bakery’ to reflect its aspirational appeal, and will be pitched at NVQ Level 2 standard. “This is to raise the aspirations of the people taking part and reflect that they are doing something different and special,” said NSA co-ordinator Jonathan Cooper.Over 20 employers “showed a significant interest in the programme”, said Cooper, and the four participating employers will put forward up to 45 delegates. “Feedback from employers has been incredibly positive. They could see that the course modules fitted well with their businesses and ticked all their boxes.”The steering group agreed the learning objectives of 10 modules and content is now being honed by six participating colleges: Tameside, Thomas Danby, University College Birmingham, Leicester, Liverpool Community College and Brooklands. They will develop course material for each unit, which will then go to the steering group committee for final approval.Flexible delivery methods will also be outlined, such as on-site, online and college-based options. Steering group chair and craft baker Ian Thompson said: “It has to be flexible because there are so many different set-ups out there.” The course will also be mapped against the new national Quali-fications and Credit Framework to provide robust accreditation.
Norbert Dentressangle, which took over Christian Salvesen in 2007, has been awarded a two-year temperature-controlled storage and distribution contract with baked goods manufacturer Speedibake. Part of Associated British Foods, Speedibake is one of the leading producers of own-brand bakery products for the UK retail and foodservice sector. With turnover of around £70m, it employs 600 people at two bakeries in Yorkshire and specialises in US-style muffins, traditional ball doughnuts, baguettes, garlic bread and speciality breads.Norbert Dentressangle will distribute frozen products from Speedibake’s two production facilities into major multiple retailers’ distribution networks.
Troubled bakery chain Firkins is closing three of its stores, just a few months after the chain was bought out of administration for the third time. However, the West Midlands company now trading as Newbridge Bakery is set to open six stores in the region and insists it is trading positively.The 28-strong chain has closed shops in Kingstanding, Stour-bridge and Harbourne in the last week claiming they were “no longer appropriate for the needs of our growing business”.A spokeswoman said the firm was seeking new premises in Stourbridge, had done a deal in Harbourne for a relocated store and was in negotiations for a further five shops in the area.