The power of the pasty
There are few companies out there that you will find more passionate about pasties than Proper Cornish, which has spent the last three decades making only the finest pastry products that Cornwall has to offer
In July 2011, following a nineyear campaign led by the Cornish Pasty Association, an organisation made up of around 50 pasty makers, the name ‘Cornish pasty’ was officially awarded Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status by the European Commission. According to this status; ‘a Cornish pasty should be shaped like a ‘D’ and crimped on one side, not on the top. Its ingredients should include beef, swede, potato and onion, with a light seasoning of salt and pepper, keeping a chunky texture. The pastry should be golden and retain its shape when cooked and cooled.’ The PGI status also means that Cornish pasties must be prepared in Cornwall.
One of those individuals that was instrumental in bringing PGI status to the Cornish pasty was Phil Ugalde, parts of my premises and it was through this that I met a pasty maker who was making excellent products,” he begins. “His business took off and eventually he had taken over the whole of my unit. Roughly a year later he asked me whether I fancied selling his pasties, so I bought a van, bought products from him and away I went about Cornwall selling pasties.”
Phil’s decision wasn’t simply a spur of the moment one made on a whim, however. A born and bred Cornishman he, like countless others had grown up with the Cornish pasty being a part of daily life, he had a strong familiarity with the local area and had a background in sales, all of which proved incredibly useful. “The most important thing for me, when starting out on this journey, was that I pitched my business activities in a particular way that was different to how the wider pasty market was operating at the time,” he continues. “While there were several amazing bakers making great pasties in isolated areas, the commercial distribution of pasties had fallen into the trap of price verses quality, with the latter spiraling downwards. What I did was to immediately put the quality right back to where it should always be and set the price to reflect this quality. This done, such was demand for this premium Cornish product that within a year I had a £250k business.”
In 1990, Phil would come into contact with brothers Dave and Chris Pauling and taking the Pauling family recipe and working with local farmers the three set about hand-crafting exceptional quality traditional Cornish pasties. The result of their passion for producing quality products has led to a thriving national business with an estimated annual turnover of £16 million for this year. A true success story for Cornwall.
Proper Cornish today employs some 250 people, it supplies products to all the major wholesalers and can be found on the stands on train station platforms, airports food halls, educational institutes and healthcare establishments.
Phil and Chris remain firmly at the helm, being the two major shareholders in the business, with Chris holding the position of Group Managing Director. The third shareholder is Gerald Allen, the Group’s Operations Director. Gerald (fondly known as Billy – but that’s anouther story) joined the business in the early nineties in the Veg Prep area. His passion and enthusiasm for the business was clear from day one, and through his hard work and dedication he has worked his way up to become not only the Group’s Operations Director but also a Shareholder. Proper Cornish embraces the ethos of nurturing internal talent, and Gerald’s story is fantastic evidence of this.
This year Proper Cornish celebrates its 30th anniversary
Proper Cornish’s celebration of three decades within the food industry has been marked with several noteworthy events. One has been the rebranding of its products with the adoption of a new, striking, rustic look to its branding and packaging with a focus on the handmade elements of its creations. This year has also marked the establishing, renewing and celebration of a number of key partnerships which the company enjoys, for example, its association with Bristol Rovers Football Club and Merlin Entertainment, operator of attractions such as Legoland and Thorp Park.
2018 is also the year that Proper Cornish was crowned the winner of the 2018 World Pasty Champion,Company category award for its handcrimped Cornish pasties, adding to the host of other awards and accolades, which the company has received in recent years, including a Gold Healthy Workplace Award from Cornwall Council. “This award was a fantastic birthday present for the company and we believe it speaks volumes as to what Proper Cornish stands for and for the authenticity of what we do and create,” Phil enthuses. “We have never cut corners when it comes to quality, as we know that, to do so would compromise the integrity of the products which we sell. We have also made it a central mission for the brand and company to consistently deliver fantastic customer service.”
While the Cornish pasty is obviously the centerpiece of the company, and makes up around 40 per cent of its sales, Proper Cornish has also built up a strong resume of other products which its customers are equally fond of. These include sausage rolls, savory pasties, parcels, slices and turnovers. “We have anywhere between 150 and 200 recipes on our system at any one time, as well as having a dedicated in-house product development team who work with our flavour houses, suppliers and customers,” Phil states. “This allows us to not only regularly introduce exciting new products, such as our foot-long sausage roll, broccoli and cauliflower cheese pasty and pulled pork pasty, but also allows us to introduce unique seasonal offerings which suits all tastes and trends.”
This extensive product range also helps to cater to the company’s growingprivate label customers, who make up an integral part of the business and its ability to scale up and bring down prices. “We work with a lot of key players, each of which has a very clear idea of the high-quality products it wants to stock, and we work very closely with our customers to service their needs,” Phil says.
At present, the company has the enviable capacity to make close to 60,000 handmade pasties, plus an even greater number of automated products such as sausage rolls, turnovers, slices and parcels, per day at its Bodmin facility. However, as Phil goes on to detail, such is the demandfor its award-winning goods that the company is currently in the midst of a programme of investment and expansion. “We have been working on a programme of investment for around three years and counting, with the aim of completing this process by Easter of 2019. By this time, we expect to be in a position where we will have the potential to quadruple our capacity, should the need arise. This will place Proper Cornish in an enviable position to scale up or down as necessary, which creates a level of flexibility that will be hugely beneficial in the future.”
As we enter the second half of 2018, so begins what is traditionally the busiest six months of the year for Proper Cornish, one that sees its business driven by the summer tourism trade, the return of school and university students in the autumn, and then the Christmas season. This has become a yearly business pattern which the company needs to follow closely. However, on speaking with Phil, it is clear that Proper Cornish by its passion, remains undimmed: “We love Cornwall, Cornish pasties and the job that we do. We have been doing it for 30 years now, and if anything, we love it more with each day that passes.” Proper Cornish – Made Proper to Taste Proper.