From Cornwall with love
Rowe’s Cornish Bakers is enjoying a period of ongoing investment and stable growth, as it continues to develop exciting new flavours to complement its classic Cornish pasties, in order to meet evolving consumer demands
If you have ever wondered about the technology by which your favourite Cornish pasties are made, Maurice Matthews – Technical Director at Rowe’s Cornish Bakers – is here to reveal what makes the delightful treats of the world’s largest producer of hand crimped Cornish pasties unique.
“First of all, we make all our Cornish pasties to an authentic recipe in a traditional way. Cornish pasties have benefitted from ‘Protected Geographical Indication’ (PGI) status since 2011. To be counted as a real Cornish pasty, it has to be made in the Duchy of Cornwall to a recipe defined in law. The permitted ingredients are beef, potato, turnip, onion, salt and pepper, and the filling has to be raw and not cooked before baking the product. No gravy is added – instead it is the combination of all the meat juices with the steaming vegetables that gives true Cornish pasties their unique flavour.
“Rowe’s are unusual insofar as we bake almost nothing on-site at our pasty and savoury bakery in Falmouth. Instead, everything we make is frozen before it is dispatched, so that it can be freshly baked at the point of sale, giving consumers the freshest tasting pasty possible.
“We are very proud to support so many local farming and food processing businesses, both within Cornwall, and across the southwest of England. Our supply chain is seamless: it is not unusual for us to receive the vegetables at six in the morning, process them in the bakery by nine, have the pasties made by midday, and then put them on the lorry by mid-afternoon. This sequence helps us to ensure we are using the freshest ingredients possible,” Maurice explains.
The story of Rowe’s Cornish Bakers began in 1949 when former RAF officer, Bill Rowe and his wife Phyllis set up a bakery shop on a slip road leading down to the sea, just off the high street in Falmouth. Over the next 30 years, Bill and Phyllis grew the business, expanding into other towns of Cornwall. In the mid-1970s, they opened a new bakery in nearby Penryn and took on an apprentice called Alan Pearce. Even at a young age, his baking excellence brought him to the fore, and when Bill and Phyllis passed away in the 1990s Alan assumed the position of managing director. Under his ownership, Rowe’s Cornish Bakers continued its retail expansion within Cornwall but also made its first strides into wholesale markets.
In 2003, Rowe’s opened a brand-new bakery on the outskirts of Falmouth. The new ‘Bickland’ bakery was dedicated to the production of Cornish pasties, sausage rolls, and other savouries. The Bickland bakery suffered a serious fire in Summer 2014, just as the crucial holiday season was starting. Thankfully Rowe’s had excellent contingency plans in place, and within seven days, pasty production had re-started at the original bakery in Penryn, before moving back to the main production hall when the fire damage had been fully repaired.
A change of ownership in 2017 allowed the existing team of directors to accelerate their plans for careful growth but with the same detailed attention to tradition. The business is still expanding and always on the look-out for new talent.
Maurice comments: “We installed new depositing machines in 2017 to improve the consistency of our pasties. This investment was led by independent market research, and had a side benefit of making our process more efficient.”
More recently, in October 2018 the company moved out of its bakery in Penryn, from where it had operated for over 40 years. The older site was becoming increasingly hard to maintain to the requirements of a modern food producer. The new ‘Bakehouse’ in Penryn is just a quarter a mile away from the former site, and continues to produce Rowe’s classic bakery goods including famous Cornish saffron buns, cakes, scones and best-selling Easter biscuits.
Maurice continues: “We are just about to commence a new project that will see us equip our bakery with a second spiral freezer by the summer of 2019. We already have one spiral freezer that has the capacity to handle two-thirds of our pasty production needs, taking the products from chilled to deep frozen in under 60 minutes. When we get the second spiral freezer, we will be able to process 100 per cent of our output through a rapid freezing process, improving their quality considerably.”
It has become a tradition for Rowe’s Cornish Bakers to launch a range of Christmas specials every year around the festive period. In 2018, it enthralled its customers with turkey & chardonnay pasties, with port & stilton pasties for vegetarian customers, demonstrating the creative ability of Rowe’s product development chefs. “While we expect that Cornish pasties and sausage rolls will long remain our core products, we are also responding to consumer trends, including the shift towards vegetarian and vegan options, a segment in which we already trade strongly.”
He adds: “in the past, vegetarians and vegans were motivated primarily by worries over animal treatment, but now many more are also led by environmental concerns and issues around sustainability. Our product offer in this segment is probably larger than it is for other pasty makers who have not fully embraced the trend yet. We have noticed that others tend to follow where we have led!”
Even though the business climate can be unpredictable, Maurice expresses his confidence in the future prosperity of Rowe’s Cornish Bakers. “We have come through some challenging years and we are in a much healthier place now. We have every reason to believe that we 60are doing a good job, providing great customer service and tasty products which will always be in demand. After all, what could be more comforting in uncertain times than a freshly baked Cornish pasty?
“We were very sorry to see a former competitor in the Cornish pasty market go in administration last Summer. We were pleased to be able to help one of their key customers find a reliable, quality supplier at no notice, and – along with many other pasty businesses in Cornwall – even more pleased to have recruited, talented new colleagues from that company,” he discusses.
“Right now it is still not clear what will happen with Brexit, so we have taken steps to secure more storage space, ambient, chilled and frozen. We are making all the necessary preparations to store more raw materials, packaging and finished products. This is one of the big challenges everyone is facing at the moment, as every food business is fighting for frozen storage space in particular. Nevertheless, we expect to remain stable in these tough times.”
Rowe’s Cornish Bakers has set its sights on expanding the retail side of the business in 2019. The company intends on opening its next shop next to a busy intersection on the A30, the main route acting as the spine of Cormwall in the Spring. The specific location has been chosen to reflect the business’ strategic vision of targeting town centre locations with high pedestrian footfall, or transport hub locations where it is easy to pull in and park.
“Looking at our local heartland, Falmouth also has its university, including a growing campus in Penryn. There is a substantial student population in this area, so we are looking at innovative ideas to attract students. Social media presence is a priority and we have done some great work in refining our digital strategy in the past 12 months, and plan to develop this further in 2019.”
Maurice concludes: “We look forward to an exciting 2019 and beyond, regardless of the uncertain world about us, knowing that it is our people that set us apart from the crowd.”