The Bread Factory is an artisan baking company based in North-West London, with diverse customers ranging from independent cafes, to national groups, to five starred hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants
Based in Hendon, North-West London, the company comprises of 750 employees, a 100,000 square feet centre of operations and a turnover in excess of £40 million. It was crowned Bakery Manufacturer of the Year 2017 at the Food Manufacture Excellence Awards, was featured in the Top 50 Food Companies in The Times and has supplied a range of high profile clients, including Waitrose and a number of Michelin-starred chefs.
One person who has been a part of the growth and development of this artisan baked goods supplier recently is Trading Director Tristan Kaye, and he is proud of how the company has progressed: “The Bread Factory has been on an interesting journey of late – despite the challenging macroenvironment including increasing commodity prices and the fall in Sterling, we’re still finding opportunities to grow. The demand for high quality baked products isn’t showing any signs of abating. Consumers are demanding better quality, especially in bread, and the growth in the artisan, sourdough bread market is very strong. While overall bread consumption in the UK is declining, people are eating better quality. It’s these people we exist to serve.”
Broadly speaking, the more than 1000 products that the company creates on a daily basis are structured around four main areas – Viennoiserie, bread, cakes, and a gluten-free range. This is not a fixed list, and Tristan insists that analysing what works and doesn’t is a key part of maintaining both quality and profitability: “It is important to ensure our products always meet our high standards; we are constantly looking to redevelop anything we’re not happy with commercially or from a quality perspective. We are also launching new products on a regular basis, working with many of our customers to develop products that meet their needs for something unique in the marketplace.”
While this partnership approach to NPD is an important part of The Bread Factory’s success, it is also increasingly looking at its general wholesale offering and identifying areas to improve. Part of this is looking at trends, and trying to anticipate where the market will go in terms of styles, types and flavours of products.
Increasingly there is an awareness of where ingredients come from, and more customers want to be informed about what goes into products, as Tristan describes: “For instance, we are seeing more demand for ‘free-from’ products. To respond to this, we are looking at developing more products out of our gluten free facility, or reducing sugar or finding alternatives such as honey or agave syrup, without resorting to any forms of artificial sweeteners.” In recent times, there has been a kind of backlash toward carbohydrates and Tristan feels that this is a bit of a misunderstanding, looking more at how something is made as opposed to the particular foodstuff in question: “Eating bread is not in and of itself a bad thing. It is the extensive industrial processing of the raw inputs that has reduced the availability of nutrients. In an effort to make bread whiter, faster and cheaper, we’ve lost the true value in bread. The sourdough we produce is the compete antithesis of this movement. Thankfully, more and more people are buying into this movement of returning to bread as it used to be.”
As well as constantly analysing the range of items sold, The Bread Factory is also working on its structure as a company, and Tristan has an inside look at the steps taken to make everything work more efficiently: “Earlier this year a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system was implemented. A lot of this involved replacing discrete software across the business, some of which required manual intervention. After some rejigging, there is now one setup that has allowed us to understand what is going on across the organisation, from warehouse to production, ordering, finance and so forth.” A major dilemma is balancing the need to meet increased demand, while at the same time not compromising on the dedication to taste, flavour and style that has resulted in the company’s stellar, award-winning reputation: “There is machinery that supports the process, but there is still the belief in the uniqueness that comes with finishing a product by hand.” In recent times this has included expanding the bakery-floor space in Hendon, including three additional units on its current estate to further develop production. In some cases, this is important in terms of efficiency and also with regard to quality control: “For example with burger buns there needs to be strong consistency in shape and size, so that does require a certain degree of mechanisation. However, there is always the commitment to finishing things off by hand,” Tristan firmly emphasises.
When it comes to how things are made, it is important to remember the people involved are a vital aspect as well. With 750 employees, keeping those people engaged in what the company is doing is a challenge, but a critical one to constantly work on. “Whether joining the baking, driving or sales team, you have to believe in what we are trying to achieve. This starts with an induction day, where everyone arrives at the same time, regardless of the department that the person is starting with.” This feeling of togetherness is also highlighted during the first weeks of employment: “Anyone coming in on the accounts, technical and office-based side has to do what is known as ‘the grand tour’. This is where someone gets an idea of what is involved with other aspects of the setup, including a night shift and going on a delivery, so the whole process can be experienced first-hand.” The company also believes in sharing responsibility and mutual engagement when it comes to health and safety: “There is a co-ordinator that is always analysing each department’s performance. A committee was recently established, with each part of the business represented. This helps to create an overall policy that will work for everyone and acknowledge the needs of each aspect of production.”
A lot of people would be intimidated, perhaps even star-struck when it comes to dealing with Michelin-starred chefs. Tristan is not daunted by this, and is keen to make it clear this is just part of an exciting collaboration: “In this instance these are restaurants with an implicit need to bring an experience for the diner, so there may be a requirement for a particular flavour profile or texture.” Indeed, Tristan welcomes the additional pressure: “High expectations are fantastic from a certain perspective, as it means that the team is being challenged to do better and achieve more.”
When it comes to creating a bespoke loaf, the new product development team typically consult with the chefs in order to come up with a brief. Samples are developed, and shared with the customer. The team will go back and forth on this many times, incorporating feedback, until they arrive at the product the customer is happy with. The Bread Factory may also work with suppliers to its customers, exposing them to working with new and interesting ingredients.
Another big issue that people are talking about in food industry circles is waste reduction. The Bread Factory has taken steps to achieve this, and Tristan knows that doing so not only makes sense from an environmental perspective, but also in a commercial sense: “With the new ERP system in place, it will be easier to reduce overproduction and maintain stock levels,with less risk of food and ingredients going out of date.” Tristan also provides a little bit of historical trivia: “There is always going to be some kind of wastage, it’s where the phrase ‘baker’s dozen’ comes from, as an additional roll would be added if one was burnt, misshapen or dropped. In our case, at the end of the day employees can help themselves to anything left over, and are welcome to share it with friends and family.” In a way, this also ensures future production and resources: “Off-cuts and scraps are donated to farmers for animal feed, while cardboard and other materials are regularly recycled. Essentially, it is about minimising the resources that are used in the first place.”
The term ‘artisan’ has been used by a lot of businesses that work with certain types of edible goods, and the term evokes the word ‘art’, suggesting a certain degree of flair that doesn’t come with a pre-cut supermarket sliced loaf. In some ways it is appropriate, given the creative talents in the kitchen that the company has collaborated with over the years, as well as the awards it has received, recognising the effort that has gone into its process. At the heart of it, Tristan feels this particular imaginative aspect is tied to the passion that goes into a more hands-on method of production.
Tristan is enthused and inspired about what’s next for the company, and the opportunities to come: “There is a bright future for the people who focus on the things they do but most importantly doing them well.” The philosophy behind the Bread Factory might be simple, but the drive and passion behind it is what will ensure the continuing growth and success of this fantastic artisanal organisation.