City of London Livery Company, the Worshipful Company of Bakers, whose first record dates back to 1155, marked another historic occasion on April 3, 2006. During a Court Meeting held at Bakers Hall, Jean Grieves and Hugh Weeks were admitted to the Freedom of the Company by Presentation – the gift of the company – each in recognition of a lifetime of service to bakery education and the baking industry.Jean Grieves was lecturer and assistant principal of Tameside College near Manchester, where her inspired teaching set many future confectioners on their career path. For the past 12 years she has headed up the British Society of Baking, which has enjoyed unprecedented success during her leadership. Recently, she organised its most successful Golden Jubilee conference at Birmingham NEC and, having gone out on a high, Jean has now stood down to concentrate on other things.Hugh Weeks spent many years working at confectionery ingredients supplier Renshaw, specialising in technical sales. He was also a renowned demonstrator and lecturer and still judges confectionery competitions today, always taking time to encourage students. He has been privileged to work with the Royal household, acting as adviser on various points ranging from diplomatic receptions to Royal weddings.At the event, both Jean and Hugh said they were conscious of the honour bestowed on them and thanked the Master, Wardens and Company. They were entertained to dinner in the Livery Hall at the conclusion of the Court where 70 liverymen, freemen and guests enjoyed a four-course dinner with wine. The menu, chosen by Master of the Worshipful Company, Alan Willis, was based on a 16th century menu to commemorate 500 years of Bakers Hall on the same site. It included smoked eel tartlet, honey roast rack of English lamb, field mushrooms and a brown sugar meringue.Music was provided by Edward Pick, a student of the Guildhall School of Music.Special guest speaker was Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat president and MP for local constituency Southwark North and Bermondsey, who gave an entertaining address on politics.For the first time in several centuries, ladies were admitted to the Livery by Patrimony and Redemption. Baroness Perry of Southwark and Jane Gordon are already Liverymen by Presentation, but only recently has the Court agreed to extend the Livery to include ladies by the other methods of joining the Company of Servitude, Patrimony and Redemption.The new liverymen are Alexandra Tompkins – the daughter of Past Master and Clerk John Tompkins – and Maureen Bonanno-Smith. They were admitted into the Livery, both being Free of the Company and of the City, in the traditional manner. Alexandra, already a BA (Hons) is now awaiting acceptance of a PhD proposal and Maureen is a legal secretary and plays a significant role in athletics at county, national and international levels. She was formerly a competitor and latterly an official and has received awards for 50 years of voluntary service.
Recently I read in my daily newspaper that the government considers that mini-brothels would be a good thing. That is just typical of politicians and civil servants – they know nothing about the economies of scale, yet they dare lecture us on efficiency.The civil service and local government are over-staffed and under-worked, but they really believe they are over-worked and hard done by. They are not stupid people – in many cases, they are very well educated – but they have a totally different mind-set from the rest of us, who produce the wealth.One of the principal reasons for their mind-set is the fact that it is virtually impossible to dismiss them, no matter how poor their attendance record or inefficiencies. Thus, they lack the disciplines of the open marketplace.Decline in efficiencyNow, of course, the government has brought the same potential disaster to us in industry. The result is a slow decline in efficiency, as small companies do not have the resour-ces to deal with all the legislation and, in many cases, are terrified to dismiss a poor worker in case they end up in an industrial tribunal for unfair dismissal.Only recently, a friend phoned me to say he had a member of staff who has been taking a day or more off almost every week and, rather than have the hassle of trying to dismiss him, he had made him redundant, at the cost of a few thousand pounds.How dreadful! An employee who is not doing the job he is paid to do gets rewarded with money, rather than a quick kick up the rear. Thank goodness I do not have to deal with these problems any more.I have always found that about 85-90% of our staff are fine but that last 10% is always a problem. When mentioning this to other bakers, I am always surprised that they have the same problem.high salariesMany senior managers in large national companies have far too high a salary, as well as pensions and perks, then have the gall to take a bonus when their firms do badly. But people who own their own companies have a perfect right to take a high salary, because when the company does badly, their salary falls in conjunction.Some fast food outlets are now hiring older people; I think it’s great that they can now earn at 80 what they earned at eighteen. There was a time that, if you were good at your business, you could make a good living. Now, however, we are near the point that just being good is not enough. Customers are getting more and more demanding and appear to always want something new. Yet when we keep making new products, they very rarely sell well.I know you will say that is because we cannot be making the right products; that may be true, but again most bakers agree they have the same problem – the old favourites sell the most volume.The only consolation we have is that, in a recent survey of the chocolate market, eight out of the top 10 best-selling lines were introduced in the 1930s. It seems we are not alone with our problems. n
Bakery businesses have just over a month to apply for the 2008 Queen’s Awards for Enterprise.The awards recognise achievements in international trade, innovation and sustainable development. “It costs nothing to enter and every application is judged on its individual merits,” said Steve Brice, secretary of The Queen’s Awards Office. “I urge any business that can demonstrate commercial success to act now and apply for these prestigious awards before it’s too late.”Winners range in size from tiny partnerships to giant multinationals. Applications for next year’s Queen’s Awards close on 31 October 2007, with winners announced on 21 April 2008. Businesses can apply online at [http://www.queensawards.org.uk]
Last month’s preliminary Competition Commission (CC) report into the supply of groceries in the UK contained serious flaws and omissions, which reflect an ignorance of a range of hidden elements affecting trading in town and city centres. It even encouraged the development of more edge-of and out-of-town stores in areas that may already be saturated with superstores and hypermarkets. While retail bakers may have been dismayed by the findings, one question remained unposed: why are independent French bakers thriving in spite of excessive competition from out-of-town hypermarkets, while their UK counterparts are not?Over the past 37 years, marketing, management and economic consultant MPC has conducted market research into out-of-town shopping in France and the UK. Independents face huge competition from hypermarkets and superstores in French cities such as Toulouse, Nancy and Evreux. In fact, town-centre trade has dropped in these places from anywhere between 13% and 27% for small supermarkets and convenience stores. In spite of this, we have found that bakers and other specialist food retailers have not been affected. In fact, the majority are thriving.Why is this? In the past, French bakers had an advantage over their UK counterparts as government set minimum prices for bakery goods, a system no longer in place. But our research found the reason for their success is the French do bakery retailing well. The quality of flours and other ingredients used, the care taken over presentation and the standards of hygiene are, on the whole, exemplary.This enables relatively small outfits to compete against high-quality hypermarket and superstore bakeries. The type of locations in town centres plays a part, but this is not as crucial with a bakery as with other retail outlets – the smell of baked bread wafting down high streets tends to extend catchment areas.taking the fight to the enemy’s doorstepIndeed, it has been shown that French independent bakery outlets can succeed despite being located in the jaws of a French out-of-town hypermarket commercial centre. This is defined as 80-100,000sq ft of selling area with 40 checkouts and 10-20 small independent shops running adjacent to the mall outside the main store.Toulouse has always been regarded as having more out-of-town retail competition than any other city in Europe. There, we asked a bakery why it chose to trade on such a competitive site. The answer was that the ingredients of the tarte aux pommes in the hypermarket were entirely different from the quality of its own flour and other ingredients.MPC also researched the competitive effect on town-centre trade in Nancy (population at the time, 1973, 130,000) after three out-of-town hypermarkets with a total selling area of 160,000sq ft opened in the space of two years. Contrary to what many local chambers of trade might expect, independent bakery and specialist food traders within the town centre were not seriously affected.While our research findings in Nancy and Toulouse might appear dated (they were conducted in 1973 and 1994 respectively), the premise of the research holds good, as what we saw there shows the same pattern of competition that we see in the UK now. Indeed, this research could only now take place in a UK town or city that had no hypermarkets or superstores – and thus competition could be assessed through new openings.So, while UK bakery retailers should be able to thrive under the same conditions, many compare poorly with the French. So too do farmers’ markets, which still have much to learn, particularly with regards to hygiene and presentation. It is apparent that the French public are better informed about the quality of the food they eat than their UK counterparts.But the CC report appears to encourage more hyper-markets and superstores in already saturated areas, and this could harm town-centre bakery trade. MPC is now analysing 1,800 towns and cities in the UK with populations in excess of 4,000; latest research shows that saturation levels from hypermarket and superstore openings are now well in excess of those in Toulouse.For example Hereford, population 56,000, has four outlets that fit MPC’s hypermarket definition (see [http://www.tinyurl.com/yrwsve]), each with ample parking/selling areas. All four are within six minutes’ driving time from the centre and within 12 minutes’ driving time of each other. The ratio of saturation here is 32% higher than in Toulouse.drowning, not wavingWorryingly, the CC appears unaware of a host of hidden commercial factors around out-of-town trading. There is no appreciation or admission that saturation levels have already been reached in a number of areas across the UK. There is no mention of free car-parking at supermarkets or, indeed, the effects on traffic congestion and carbon emissions caused by opening new stores in already saturated areas. Worse still, the CC report does not even provide a definition for hypermarkets, superstores and supermarkets.It can be overlooked that 27% of households don’t own a car and that many people find town centres more convenient. Then there are households without a car in villages (9%) and town-fringe areas (19%). For them it is vitally important to retain small local stores. This point was ignored by the CC.There is hope for the many town-centre bakeries – providing they take up the challenge of improved quality, presentation and location – of emulating their French counterparts in succeeding in the face of hypermarket competition.It is crucial that the public understand the issues, but these same issues should be made apparent to local authority planning departments. It is not sur-prising that so many planning approvals have been given for edge-of or out-of-town developments in town centres where saturation levels have already been exceeded. Usually the planners have been blamed, but clearly they need to be educated.Sanity must prevail to ensure that, in future, all towns and cities that have reached hypermarket and superstore saturation levels are protected from further edge-of or out-of-town development. There really could be a great future for UK bakery retailers – provided these lessons are learned. n—-=== High street woes ===A new report this week from The British Shops and Stores Association, which asked shoppers about spending habits, found that:73% thought high streets are “a vital part of a healthy society”;42% believed their local high street had declined in quality over the past five years, citing a lack of variety, rising vandalism and a glut of charity shops;52% said they would shop more locally If there were a greater variety of stores.Over 300 of the 4,500-strong small stores that make up the BSSA’s membership have closed in the past year. A Federation of Small Businesses’ survey of Scottish food shops also revealed that, since 1998, one in six bakery shops had been forced out of business.
Greencore Group has reported a “solid” overall performance in the half year to March 28.The convenience food and ingredients group saw group sales up 2.5% to €648.7m (£514.3m) and operating profit up by the same percentage to €41.1m (32.6m).Its ingredients and property division recorded a “very strong performance” with operating profit (adjusted for currency fluctuations) up 61% to €13.2m (£10.5m). Its convenience division fared less well, with operating profit decreasing by 12.5% to €27.9m (£21.1m). Greencore said input price inflation within its sauces and pickles portfolio had reduced its margins.In a statement released today, Greencore said it is “well placed to deliver a good performance in the seasonally more significant second half” of its financial year.
Winner Jacksons the Bakers -Traditional Steak PieChesterfieldJacksons has come a long way since 1944, when it was a single shop, producing mainly large white loaves and the odd celebration cake. Although the company still has one shop, it is about to move into a new factory from which its 58 staff will turn out around 500 lines, from breads to cakes and sausage rolls.The factory will give owners Trevor and Jane Jackson a chance to expand further their wholesale customer base, which includes schools, cafés and restaurants. Jane says they take pride in researching customer requirements and developing quality, traditionally craft-baked products for them. Their hand-raised steak pie, which looks similar to a pork pie and is made with finest steak was described as of “excellent quality” by the judges.Finalist La Brea Bakery -Wholegrain LoafLondonLa Brea supplies frozen sourdough breads for bake-off to retail clients, including Tesco, Selfridges and various independents. The company provides point-of-sale to ensure correct display and to offer product information. The bakery still operates from its original site in California and two others, and is soon to open a new facility in Ireland.Marketing manager Sarah Murphy, pictured left with director of business development Sara Kafadar, says the secret to La Brea’s success lies in its starter dough, created in 1989 by company founder, chef Nancy Silverton. She believes this dough gives the breads a unique taste, which cannot be replicated. To create its Whole Grain Loaf, La Brea adds six different grains, including cracked durum wheat and cracked pearl barley, as well as seeds and a coating of honey.Finalist Monty’s Bakehouse -Savoury ScoffinSouth Godstone, SurreyMonty’s Bakehouse produces a range of filled pastries, pizzas and melts for the foodservice and travel markets.All products can be cooked in their packaging, reducing mess.The Scoffin was created to fill a perceived gap in the UK market for a savoury muffin. Its ingredients include smoked British bacon, black pepper and Parmesan cheese.The company is currently working with clients including the BBC and a retail chain to develop additional flavours. It boasts a turnover of £2.7 million.Director Terri Waghorn says the positive response to the Scoffin is down to its great taste, as well as its flexibility – it can be served hot or cold, packaged or unpackaged, as a plated product or a hot boxed inflight snack.
Another delight on the web is the Erotic Cakes Baker – a US bakery specialising in risqué cakes. All of them – from breast cakes to more X-rated anatomical fare – are “hand-carved” and the bakery offers a bespoke service. “We will create any design you can imagine, from a couple making love on top of a cake to a female torso with edible panties and bra,” it proudly states. See www.eroticbakeryusa.com
Cornish craft bakery WC Rowe has sealed a deal to supply Tesco stores nationwide with scones under the Tesco Finest brand.WC Rowe, whose MD Alan Pearce is the BIA09 Baker of the Year (see pg 4), already supplies Tesco stores in the south-west region with own-brand baked goods, but this is the first time the bakery has secured a national contract with the multiple.The recipe for the new scones, available in sultana and cheese flavours, is formulated so that they naturally break into two halves. The sultana scones are available in 650 stores nationwide and retail at £1.39 per pack, while the cheese scones are available in 400 stores and retail at £1.49.”The Tesco Finest scones represent an entirely new venture for us in terms of having a national distribution,” said Paul Pearce, director of marketing at Rowe’s. “We use locally sourced ingredients wherever possible, coupled with traditional craft baking techniques.”Tesco marketing manager Jo Wren added: “It’s great for us to be able to bring local suppliers like this into national tenders.”WC Rowe has 17 outlets and supplies products to retailers throughout the UK.
Last week Starbucks unveiled its new-look store on Conduit Street in London. Well, a look that’s not supposed to be a look. A look that reflects its newfound back-to-roots indie outlook. So how does it, erm, look?In two words, ’sustainable’ and ’local’. A facelift was long overdue. A recent review of coffee shops, published by The Local Data Company, said Starbucks was “entering a period of introspection” as it took stock of its strategy. “The uniform ambience doesn’t seem so appealing these days and, now the bubble has been pricked, real questions are being asked about all premium coffee shops,” it stated.The chain has haemorrhaged stores, while rival Costa has continued its rapid growth. Now, Starbucks plans to open a number of stores next year, but the focus will be on refitting 100 outlets in 2010 at a cost of £25m, matching the 100 it refitted last year.The aim is to reconnect the store to its heritage, with locally focused fittings and a less uniform approach. Tim Pfeiffer, senior vice-president, global design, flew into the UK last week to launch the plan, saying there are “several levels of environmental initiatives that we have pretty much embedded in the design going forwards”.”We wanted to embed the character of the neighourhood in this and really elevate the offering to the customer, with the overall vibe of the store, creating an environment that really is very much more bespoke and one-off. We wanted to elevate the overall value of what Starbucks represents,” says Pfeiffer.A sense of repurposeIt’s all about recycled materials and cosy meeting spaces in a library setting. For example, the flagship store features a large meeting table made from repurposed steel. “It is beautiful, but it also meets a real need,” explains a spokesperson. “Customers want to hold meetings here whether it’s a book club, a mum’s group or business people using our free Wi-Fi to hold meetings everything is here for a reason.”There is also a return to the original ’heritage’ logo, introduced in 1971; there’s a lower-profile bar to improve interactivity with baristas; and they’ve even improved the coffee offer, with new Mastrena espresso machines. So has Starbucks done enough to stage a fightback?”The look is fine but the global-local thing is too much of an oxymoron for it to be real,” believes BB’s resident shop design expert, Richard Hamilton of Agile Space. While using windfall wood and salvaged materials are all well and good, will Starbucks be able to sustain this level of detail in all of its shop fits? “It’s a move on from the current store look, but the fortunes of Starbucks won’t be resolved by installing £800 Finnish bent plywood lampshades.”Sustaining this level of design detail will be difficult, he adds. “The cost implication will be much greater given its past cookie-cutter approach. The amount needing to be invested in sourcing, design and fit-out will also increase. It will be interesting to witness how and if this happens.” Of course, the one-off indie-style is nothing new. When Pret tried this approach three years ago, the hassle of operating stores with different finishes required everything from varied cleaning materials to light bulbs, causing problems with maintenance and upkeep. Meanwhile, the chain has brand perception problems to overcome. “Unfortunately, the Starbucks brand has become synonymous for me with dirty stores and a place for students to hang out for the day,” says Hamilton.A spokesperson for Starbucks responded, saying that it had worked on the cleanliness of stores and that customer satisfaction ratings were improving. She also said cost savings from green initiatives help pay the increased costs. “Yes, this approach is more expensive than adopting a one-size-fits-all policy. However, we are satisfied that the investment makes sound business sense. For example, higher green construction techniques will be repaid through lower energy and water bills.” The challenge will be not to accidentally slip back into identikit shopfit mode, especially as “all the refits will be inspired by the look, feel and principles of the new design approach”.
Hobbs House Bakery has claimed it sells the most expensive loaf in the UK, at £21 a pop – if it’s sold in a gift box that is. Its Shepherds Loaf was created by Tom Herbert, a director at the Circencester-based bakery, as part of the BBC 4 programme ‘In Search of the Perfect Loaf’, which aired in March this year.Herbert went on a tour of the UK to find the best ingredients he could to create a loaf worthy of winning at the National Organic Food Awards.The spelt sourdough loaf weighs 2kg, and is made using Cotswolds spring water, organic spelt flour from Somerset, and Cornish sea salt, and takes two days to make. The loaf, minus the gift box, sells for £12 in Hobbs House Bakery’s shops – the equivalent of £4.80 for an 800g loaf.Herbert admitted it was expensive, but said consumers would really notice the difference.The Cirencester-based bakery sells around 100 Shepherds Loaves a week, with fans including celebrities such as Liz Hurley and Damien Hirst.* The previous most expensive loaf was thought to be by French baker Poilane, which has a bakery in London Victoria. Its Country Loaf weighs 1.9Kg and costs £4.40 per kg (£8.36). In December 2008 The Telegraph ran a story which claimed the most expensive loaf in Britain was a Roquefort and Almond sourdough made by Paul Hollywood, which was on sale in Harrods for £15.