We hope to stimulate government ministers, civil servants and local authorities to recognise the importance of small shops on the high streets. We use the term ‘high street’, but it could be a suburban shopping centre, a village or small shops in general. I would like to see progress on planning issues and making access to high streets better. I’m also looking for more support for town centre management partnerships, which are partnerships between local authorities and local traders to improve town centres. Parking will continue to be a major issue. The supermarkets recognise this. They provide a lot of free parking, as well as free buses, for people without cars to access their stores. People want an easy way to do their shopping.The year ahead is going to be difficult because the National Minimum Wage, which was last increased in October, is starting to have an effect, as are high energy prices. People that are not proactive in running their businesses, that don’t react by adjusting pricing and costing, are going to get a shock when their accounts come in in a year’s time.I think the outcome of world trade talks could have an effect on agricultural prices, which could affect grain prices and vegetable oils. We’ve already seen an effect on sugar prices (following an overhaul of the European sugar subsidy regime.)These changes could affect the industry in the longer term, either in a positive or a negative way. As far I’m concerned, I shall retire this year after 40 years in the baking industry.
A move from its long-established town centre home to a substantially larger bakery on the outskirts of Falkirk has provided retail and wholesale baker Mathiesons not only with “a totally compliant food manufacturing environment” but also with a completely new perspective on the marketplace.The 34 outlet retail baker, which also supplies wholesale customers across Scotland, has moved out of its former 18,000sq ft Williamson Street bakery. Space there was at a distinct premium and opportunities for new product development (NPD) were consequently limited. But the company’s new 47,000sq ft premises present no such constraints. “This gives us a chance to raise our heads – to look at the marketplace and at the opportunities out there,” declares MD George Stevenson. “That will drive the way we look at NPD.” However, the first priority for the family business is to assimilate the 100 staff into their new home. “We do have to bed in a lot of new standards and processes, because it’s a big change for everybody,” he observes. The transfer of operations from Williamson Street began in February and was completed during early March, although preparations had been taking place since the site was first identified in 2004. “As soon as I saw the building, I thought ‘this will work’,” recalls Mr Stevenson. Architects focused on ways of achieving regulatory compliance but, in broad terms, the building’s existing template fitted with Mathiesons’ own needs, he says.Lifting the loadThe site on Falkirk’s Central Business Park was formerly occupied by data storage device manufacturer Exabyte. The bakery firm took it over in August of last year and orchestrated a couple of significant changes to the fabric of the building, including the addition of a loading bay with docks for six vehicles and sufficient space to unload under cover. The loading/unloading area at Williamson Street was “very tight” and so this represents “a big step forward”, according to Mr Stevenson.The other major change was to incorporate into the internal design a corridor that completely encircles the main bakery production area. As a result, deliveries from outside can be effected without anyone having to step into the main production core. There is even a specific door through which supplies of meat enter the production area. “To my mind, it’s as good as you can get (in terms of segregation),” states Mr Stevenson.This “inner and outer” approach to the bakery design also means that a piece of equipment requiring maintenance or repair can be transferred to its own special room to avoid disturbing or compromising the production process. Furthermore, a room has been set aside on the outer band of the building for the accumulation of packaging and food wastes. These can now be collected directly from outside. For Mathiesons, the move to new premises has underlined the extent to which space – or rather, the lack of it – had been the company’s enemy at Williamson Street. For example, the fully-racked stores area at Central Business Park offers more than 20 times the capacity that was available at the previous bakery. Mr Stevenson comments: “We didn’t have any racking to speak of at the other bakery – it was all storage on pallets – so this will make such a difference.” Whereas, previously, suppliers delivered to individual shops two or three times each week, they will now be able to make a single delivery in bulk to the bakery for onward supply to its 25 retail outlets, which are spread across the centre and east of Scotland. The change will mean a significant reduction in distribution costs.The luxury of space is also apparent within the production core of the bakery. For example, Mathiesons has been able to afford its confectionery operation a separate and far larger area with dedicated wash-up section and blast freezer transferred from the Williamson Street bakery. Sandwich ingredients are directed from the stores into a holding room, ready to be drawn off by sandwich-making staff as required. And with food safety in mind, personnel involved in making sandwiches, cream products and confectionery have their own changing rooms to reflect the products’ higher-risk status. The extra office space on both floors of the building has enabled Mathiesons to incorporate an off-the-job craft training centre kitted out with some small items of equipment. Mr Stevenson acknowledges the merits of on-the-job training, but believes a training room separate from the main production area “is essential for effective delivery of underpinning knowledge”. Inherited wealthAs well as the space available to Mathiesons at Central Business Park, the company has also reaped some benefit from the sensitivity of the production processes operated by its predecessor at the site, Exabyte. “Thanks to the previous tenant having a requirement for constant control of air temperature and humidity levels, we have inherited a very good system,” observes Mr Stevenson. Another plus point is undoubtedly the bakery’s location – turn right after the nearby Kincardine Bridge, which crosses the Firth of Forth, and you are in the midst of Central Scotland’s motorway network. “It’s a big advantage for us in terms of expansion and distribution,” says Mr Stevenson. Mathiesons has set up a retail outlet at the plant to attract trade not only from the road but also from the business park itself where, for example, a nearby call centre employs around 750 people. The shop is sited next to the bakery’s canteen and will also cater for staff needs. According to Mr Stevenson, the decision to establish this new and substantially larger bakery represents “a commitment from the family that there is a strong future for baking in Scotland”. It is also a massive commitment to the company’s 450-plus workforce spread across the bakery, 25 retail outlets and nine restaurants/cafés stretching from Elgin in the north to Gretna in the south. Indeed, the move is thought likely to create up to 24 new jobs.Including site purchase, the firm has invested a total of more than £4m in the project, with around £600,000 being ploughed into an array of new equipment including three mixers, three retarder provers, a prover, and four Sveba Dahlen ovens. “We went for new ovens because of the age of the models at Williamson Street and because of the cost of dismantling and transferring them,” explains Mr Stevenson. The company has also bought a new Rondo Doge puff pastry machine for savouries, all of which are dispatched frozen for bake-off at the retail outlets. From the old bakery, the company has moved across a reel oven, roll plant, bread plant, hot plates and a doughnut maker. For the moment, production will focus on those goods for which the firm has already established a reputation. Noting that its top seller is the Scotch pie, Mr Stevenson adds with pride: “We have won more gold medals than any other baker in the world for our Scotch pies.” Sweet and savouryThe firm’s other leading savoury products include bridies, sausage rolls, cheese & onion pies and steak bakes, while its vanguard confectionery products include éclairs and vanilla slices. Mathiesons is also known for its range of speciality breads, rolls, cakes and morning goods. One product area likely to benefit more than most from the move to new premises is sandwiches. Mr Stevenson explains.The Williamson Street bakery served the family firm for over seven decades and provided director Donald Mathieson with his first job on leaving bakery college well over 40 years ago. “There are bound to be memories and a sense of nostalgia,” says Mr Stevenson, “but we have no regrets about the move. The new bakery re-sets the bar in terms of standards, operating procedures and working environment – the conditions for producing quality products.”Company turnover of around £8.5m per annum had been constrained by the size and shape of the Williamson Street bakery. Mr Stevenson asserts: “This move allows us to get back on the growth trail.”- Coinciding with its move, the firm has changed its name from R. Mathieson and Sons to Mathiesons Bakeries.
The UK’s branded coffee chain market continues to expand rapidly, exceeding 3,000 outlets for the first time in May 2007 and an estimated £1.3 billion in turnover, according to new research from Allegra Strategies.Its report, UK Coffee Craze Continues, forecasts the coffee shop market will nearly double over the next decade to reach up to 6,000 outlets and turnover in excess of £2.5bn within seven to 10 years.Results from more than 6,300 telephone and face-to-face interviews with UK consumers revealed that they were visiting branded coffee chains more frequently than ever before. More than 11 million adults visit coffee shops at least once a week and more than 20 million at least once a month, the report said.Starbucks, with 540 shops, is the UK’s favourite coffee chain, with 27% of UK coffee shop visitors rating it as their favourite brand, said the report. Whitbread-owned Costa Coffee at 15%, M&S Café Revive at 10% and Caffè Nero at 7% are the next most popular.Costa Coffee is the UK’s fastest-growing coffee chain, with 555 outlets in April 2007 and a 24.7% share of the market, the research suggested. “Convenience of location” remains the most important reason consumers select a specific coffee shop and average customer spend has increased more than 5% a year over the past three years.UK consumers were also seeking a wider array of food and drink, including Fairtrade, organics and healthy options, and are eating and drinking more on-the-move, the findings suggested.
Rising food prices are never far from the headlines these days with wheat playing a pivotal role in cost increases and providing a focus for the media.The current hike in food costs are being caused by the growing world population, as well as growing global prosperity in countries such as China and India, where there is increasing demand for food. The use of agricultural crops for energy and industrial purposes is also having an impact.Poor harvests this season in Canada, Australia and Eastern Europe have led to an increase in the cost of wheat – prices have already risen 100% in the past 12 months and this trend looks set to continue for the foreseeable future. This has led to a much-publicised increase in the price of bread, but also to an increase in the cost of grain-fed meat and other foodstuffs, such as eggs. The effect has not only been felt in the UK. In Italy there have been widespread protests about the rising cost of pasta.Although everyone is aware that growers and producers are facing increased production costs, food retailing remains a fiercely competitive business. But we must remember that it is not possible for bakers to simply absorb the increased costs. It is inevitable that they must be recovered.Today, food is more affordable than ever. Sixty years ago, the average British family spent over one-third of its income on food; this has now dropped to less than one-tenth.
A North Hampshire baker is planning to seek compensation from Thames Water because the closure of the main road through his village is costing his business £400 a day.Simon Smart, who runs the Bramley Village Bakery with his wife Tracey, said the road closure to install a new underground sewerage system had started in November and was due to last 10 weeks.He told British Baker: “It’s been horrendous. They have shut off half the village, sending people on 15-mile diversions. We are not getting the passing trade and we reckon it’s cut sales by 40%.”The bakery normally sells between up to 500 Christmas cakes over the festive period, but sold only 120 this year. Sales of mince pies fell from 18,000 to 12,000.Smart said he would seek compensation but had noted in the small print of the form that it would be “down to Thames Water’s discretion”.
Yes, we know it’s childish. We know it should be beneath us. But we couldn’t help sniggering at some of the exhibitors’ names at French bakery show Europain this week. Such schoolboy tittering is unbecoming, but to puerile Brit journalists, this is what visiting overseas trade events is all about.There was definitely an ’artisanal’ theme to the exhibition – with the emphasis very much on the second syllable of that word – with the likes of Pain “Paillasse” (what the quotation marks signify, we can only guess). Then there was Vulganus Spirals – we don’t even want to know what they make. But best of the rear-themed bunch was the exquisitely named Ars Pan.Others that tickled us included Lego Foods, which doesn’t make products from toy plastic bricks. Sinmag, which sounds like something you’d find on the top shelf of your newsagent. And Brabender, which we can only imagine is some kind of crossover between bakery equipment and womens’ underwear.
Jo Fairley is co-owner of Judges organic bakery and grocery in Hastings and co-founded Green & Black’s chocolate firm with hubby Craig SamsThree years ago, Craig – who opened Britain’s first organic bakery on Portobello Road, in 1972 – bought our neighbourhood bakery on our own, less-than-Portobello-ish bustling street, in Hastings.Like so many, it was sleepy. By 2pm, they’d run out of bread, and ticked over doing some trade in the café area, where regulars could (and did) nurse a 70p pot of tea and a scone for four undisturbed hours.We only ran the café for two days, over which it took the princely sum of £200, barely covering staff costs.It’s a pattern I see repeated up and down the country. Where bakeries do have an adjoining venture, it tends to be café-style. sleepy, and with prices so low, it’s hard to see how any money can be made out of an area that, quite often, gobbles up more than half the shop’s available floor space.For high-street bakeries to survive – when so much bread is sold in supermarkets – I believe there has to be a new way.Our solution was to close down the café, rip out the inglenook (with permission from the conservation officer), and transform the café area into a one-stop organic and local food shop while retaining the bakery counter, so as not to frighten the horses – or rather, the many devoted local customers.We installed library-style adaptable shelving, scoured local antique shops for unusual bits of furniture with which to ’break up’ the space, and sourced produce from the wealth of farmers, cheesemakers and vintners who flourish on the rich soil of East Sussex.Now the nicest comment from customers who step inside is, “Wow, now I don’t have to go to Sainsbury’s any more…” They can – and do – buy literally everything from a single carrot to a pork chop, right up to vintage organic Champagne. The fresh bread and cakes bring customers in far more often than a typical deli might expect – and when they’re there, customers buy a lump of excellent cheese, or a bottle of milk.Many of them now shop with us three or even four times a day. We have one customer who says she’s got rid of her fridge because she doesn’t need it any more. Our clientele is cutting out food miles, by choosing to shop on their doorsteps rather than driving to the supermarket – and as a result, the local economy is thriving.The net result is that we have boosted turnover in our tiny 450sq ft store from £220,000 a year to £800,000. We even have franchisees interested in replicating the concept, having seen that we’ve done the groundwork to source the very best products anyone’s taste buds could wish to encounter.So for high-street bakeries, there is a future – but it may well lie beyond the ubiquitous scone and a pot of tea!
Cleveland Biotech has been named winner of the Field Service Innovation of the Year award at the 2008 Cooling Industry Awards. The accolade was given for the company’s Amnite L600 FridgeFree product, which is a biological solution for clearing gel build-up in the drains of commercial refrigeration units.“The awards recognise the achievements of companies pushing the boundaries of environmentally focused refrigeration and air conditioning,” commented Cleveland Biotech’s managing director Ben Hoskyns.Judges called the offending gel “one of the nastiest substances that you will come across in the refrigeration sector” and said Cleveland’s FridgeFree a solution that “frees up the engineer to fix refrigeration systems, not clear drains”. The solution works by disrupting the formulation of the gel-like substance.Cleveland Biotech provide natural solutions to the growing problems of pollution including those arising from the discharge of effluents and wastes into the environment.
== Nick Harris == Managing director, BFP WholesaleFollowing on from the welcome news that the National Association of Master Bakers (NA) has created an action group to promote the craft baking industry, are there lessons to be learnt from how large companies address their marketing?Household budgets are tighter than for many years, so the supermarkets have entered another price war, grabbing the headlines with some incredible discounts. Should the independent craft baker follow the prices down and, if not, what can they do? One strategy is to promote the heritage and provenance of the branded product, highlighting quality and tradition.Many of our independent craft bakery customers use promotions that we and our competitors run, but does this really help? Surely the real challenge for this sector is to encourage more people into the shops, who will then spend as much as they can afford during their visit.The recently launched NA action group has an objective to remind people that the independent baker has an important commercial and social role in the community and also to inspire the baker to maximise their involvement in this local position.So why not a marketing campaign for all the independent bakeries, highlighting the quality, tradition and convenience of your local master baker? Could the two craft bakery trade organisations and the ingredients’ trade body not work together on a national campaign to promote the sector as a whole? Suppliers would surely support this initiative, so why can’t the independent bakeries have their own national Offer of the Month, highlighting the positive messages as to why this sector is so important?
Dear Editor,A Food Standards Agency study, published last week, stated that there was little to no nutritional difference between organic and non-organic produce. Leaving aside the arguments for and against the study, we would like to focus on two overlooked aspects. For us at least, the major benefits of organic are not in comparing what is in organic food (nutritional values), but rather what is not in organic food – pesticide residues, chemicals, e-numbers, artificial colourings etc. The evidence here is pretty much pro-organic.Secondly, as a dedicated organic wholesale bakery, in business for 10 years, we have to adhere to a strict list of what natural, organic ingredients we are permitted to use. Our recipes are uncomplicated; they are the same that have been used for hundreds of years – flour, egg, milk, butter, raising agent – mix, into the oven, done. But we were unable to achieve the same results by automating our process as we do in hand-baking; the machines could not handle the consistency of our organic batters.Customers choose organic products for different reasons, such as taste, quality standards or perceived benefits. We stand by their right to do so.Lise Madsen, MD and founder,Honeyrose Bakery