Rediscovering bread

The Bread Factory has continued to grow in 2018, opening a new bakery in Hendon and taking sliced sourdough out across the UK to respond to emerging consumer trends

Companies operating in the hospitality industry need to be kept on their toes at all times, due to the sector’s dynamism and ever-evolving nature. Acting on this principle, artisan bakery The Bread Factory has kept its finger on the pulse of the market throughout 2018, in order to fine-tune its proposition in accordance with prevalent trends. “Since London is a leading global city, a lot of the trends that emerge or are developed here, impact the way people eat and dine across the world,” comments Trading Director, Tristan Kaye. “For example, both gluten-free and veganism are becoming much more influential and we are seeing a lot of our customers demanding products that suit either (or sometimes both) of these needs, as these trends become more and more mainstream.

“Another observation I could make is that the general population is becoming more interested in sourdough, so we are witnessing a significant growth in demand for this type of bread. The vast majority of the breads we bake every night are sourdough, with one even being based on a mother dough that is over 20 years old. This year, we partnered with a highly-respected UK/French baker – Richard Bertinet – to produce and scale up his sliced tin sourdoughs. We did so because we believe these products are going to fundamentally change the sliced bread market – made only from flour, water, and salt (with the addition of grains for our seeded version), they are entirely natural, have all the health benefits of sourdough, and maintain the convenience of the sliced tin shape that people love for toast or sandwiches,” Tristan continues.

In his words, the ongoing upward trend in sourdough demand has also given The Bread Factory the confidence to invest in a new production facility which now houses Richard Bertinet’s sliced sourdough production. “We built an entirely new bakery at Hendon with Richard to focus on producing sourdough bread at scale, and we have now rolled those sliced tins out into Waitrose sites across the UK. Naturally, we have not compromised on the quality of the ingredients, or the amount of time we spend fermenting before baking, which is over 12 hours. Instead, we have invested in new equipment, including a bread divider line, tunnel retarder/proofers, and cooling tunnels, all allowing us to make sourdoughs at a scale and level of efficiency we have not been able to produce at before. All the sourdough is shaped by hand so the new equipment does not replace the work of the bakers’ hands, but it does mean that our skilled people can spend more time on the products, ensuring quality and consistency across the entire production,” Tristan explains.

Bold investment
In a similar vein, The Bread Factory has also been trialling various pieces of equipment in its viennoiserie production area, such as Rondo lines, to improve the consistency in cutting pastry shapes. Tristan adds: “Again, this is not driven by a desire to mechanise, but rather to experiment with new machinery that complements the skills of our people and frees them up to do more.”

Although 2018 has not been without its challenges, caused mainly by the increasing costs of many of the ingredients it uses, as well as by the uncertainty of Brexit’s impact on the broader UK economy, The Bread Factory has been bold enough to invest in the new Hendon facility and also work towards the further integration of two of its wholesale businesses into its wider operation. Moreover, a new brand was introduced into the bakery’s portfolio – The Bertinet Bakery. “This was a strategic decision, which, we hope, will strengthen our proposition in the sourdough segment further. Our new partner Richard Bertinet founded his bakery in Bath and was baking out of there to supply local wholesale customers, as well as many Waitrose sites in the West Country with his sliced sourdoughs,” Tristan discloses.

Awards for excellence
The Bread Factory labels itself, and rightfully so, a ‘product-centric’ business. It is the company’s deep-rooted belief that by focusing on making the best products and supporting that with an efficient operation of delivering on-time and in-full to its customers, it will continue to grow. “An increasing part of the overall picture, though, particularly in the current climate of food safety issues, is customers’ confidence in our ability to make their products safely,” Tristan notes. “We have always taken these concerns seriously and that is evident from our granting of a BRC Grade AA rating – the highest we have ever held.”

With it taking care even of the smallest details, it is no wonder that The Bread Factory was named Bakery Manufacturing Company of the Year at the 2017 Food Manufacture Excellence Awards. Tristan reflects on the recognition: “First of all, it needs to be established that we are actually ineligible for many bakery awards because of our scale, and those we are eligible for, typically attract the interest of the much larger, and often international, bakery groups. However, we do not see ourselves as one of these. Instead, we look at The Bread Factory as an artisan bakery that has just grown up a little. Winning the Bakery Manufacturing Company of the Year award against other large-scale businesses was vindication of that for us. Fundamentally, though, these awards are more about showing our people, especially the bakers, just how much we are being recognised in the market – they are a powerful way of communicating internally how we are perceived externally.”

Best of British
Continuous improvement of its products and service levels occupies a central position on the menu for 2019 for The Bread Factory. “There is a broader trend of people being more acutely aware of what they are eating and where it is coming from. We feel that many consumers are becoming better educated on food – as food programmes dominate what we watch on TV – and they do not want to compromise on taste or quality. Therefore, it is crucial for us to continue delivering what our customers order, matching or even surpassing the standard they have come to expect from us,” Tristan maintains.

“In the long-term, we want to become synonymous with the idea of being best for British baking, and for making our baked goods available to a wider group of consumers, because we firmly believe that everyone should have actrcess to great quality breads, cakes, and pastries,” he charts the company’s course for the coming years. “As a society, we have manipulated our food, and bread in particular, over the past decades, to a point where we believe it has lost much of its flavour, its nutrition, and its very essence. Our mission is to lead the charge in changing that.”