Baked to perfection

The acquisition of a new Hull bakery doubled BBF Limited’s turnover and staff, as the cakes and pastries manufacturer enjoyed healthy growth in sales over the last 12 months

Thirteen years after opening its Blackburn bakery and head office – the fourth facility for BBF Limited at the time, the leading manufacturer of retailer own-brand and licensed brand cakes and pastries in the FMCG sector expanded its capabilities again in 2018, with the acquisition of Greencore’s ambient cake and chilled dessert facility in Hull. “As a result of the purchase, we were able to double our annual turnover, which is now in the region of £150 million, and also grow the size of our workforce to 2000 staff,” notes Chief Executive Officer, Jonathan Lill.

With four bakeries in the UK (in Lancashire and Yorkshire) and one in the Polish city of Szczecin, the company specialises in making mouth-watering treats of any kind. Be it celebration cakes, Christmas cakes, fruit pies, Swiss rolls, cake bars, slab and loaf cakes, chocolate enrobed cakes, or sponge puddings and crumbles, BBF has the versatility to produce a variety of delights that pamper the customer and last long in their memory.

Owing to the acquisition of its 25,000-square metre Hull facility, BBF has now gained a presence in the chilled desserts category, diversifying its customer base further. “We have also been given more scale to compete more effectively in the ambient cake market, as we are now the largest own-label supplier of packaged ambient cakes in the UK. It was a strategically important acquisition that will potentially provide some Brexit contingency, too, if necessary.

“I am pleased that the integration of the Hull bakery has gone exceptionally well, even if there were some tough decisions we had to make. The turnaround programme is well ahead of schedule, as we have already made some visible improvements in labour efficiency and waste and cost reduction. Moreover, for me, personally, the turnaround provides a massive sense of achievement and pride, because it enabled the protection of 1000 jobs in my home county,” Jonathan glows.

Efficient investments
In the wake of the Brexit referendum and the uncertainty around the future relationship between the UK and the EU, markets have become more volatile, making it hard to predict the business conditions companies will need to adapt to in order to continue their normal operations and allow themselves the opportunity to grow. Jonathan discusses the effects of Brexit on the industry: “Since the referendum, the weakness of sterling has materially impacted the business, but thanks to the efficiency of our investment programme, we have been able to ensure that our financial strength has not been undermined. Despite the very tough market conditions, BBF has continued to deliver great service and manufacture award-winning products for our customers. As a consequence, sales have grown by more than 15 per cent in the past 12 months.

“Our success has been the result of our employees’ dedication, whose consistency and attention to detail have been instrumental in producing fantastic tasting cakes for the consumers,” he praises the work of his staff. “We have seen strong growth in demand for our premium mince pies and boxed Swiss rolls. On-trend celebration cakes, particularly our unicorn and flamingo cakes, have proven especially sought-after by the customers, too.”

Since the beginning of 2018, BBF has also received acknowledgement for its work from some of the major supermarket chains it supplies, including Tesco, Asda, and M&S. In January, both the Blackburn and Shadsworth bakeries were accredited with M&S Plan A Silver, in recognition of how they execute their activities across the two sites, in the best interest of colleagues and the environment, as well as with a view to create a sustainable business for the future. To prepare for the audit, the BBF staff worked tirelessly over a period of six months, truly impressing the team of auditors with their efforts.

Performance recognition
Just a month later, BBF won the Tesco Bakery Supplier of the Year award for its excellent service, quality, and innovation; and June saw the company receive Asda’s Most Improved Supplier award at the chain’s very first Own Brand Conference, when it was singled out for its improved ways of working and the tight management of critical paths, including hitting all timelines and milestones, and, on occasion, even completing them earlier than expected. “All BBF employees are very proud of the awards received earlier this year, as well as of the recognition that we manufactured four of the top five mince pies for Christmas 2017,” Jonathan comments.

“Moving with the trends, while aiming to maintain the excellent business relationships we have established with retailers and our supplier partners, we are now working collaboratively with them to jointly deliver the health agenda of the day, by reducing sugar, calories, and bad fats in our products. At the same time, we need to ensure that these remain an indulgent treat, which, we believe, our customers richly deserve.

“I am confident that we are well-positioned to continue to grow, even in the really tough trading environment we find ourselves in,” he opines. “Thanks to the very well-invested assets and the exceptional team we have both in the UK and Europe, we are looking to grow profitable sales on both sides of the Channel.”

The story of BBF’s last 18 months has been one of skilful navigation through a rough business field full of pitfalls, caused by the lack of long-term clarity over where Britain will be in the post-Brexit world. Despite the difficulties, however, the company has managed to post a double-digit sales growth and expand its capacity after the acquisition of its new Hull bakery, which is a clear sign of its ambition to upscale its operations and supply the market with a greater number of delicious cakes. Last but not least, picking up several accolades from retailers such as Tesco and Asda has strengthened BBF’s partnership with these brands, guaranteeing its status of a credible provider, whose robustness should cater for the company’s strong performance in the coming years. Expectations remain high!