The Bread Factory

Proving success

As leading artisan bakery, The Bread Factory, approaches 30 years since its founding, it is still as dedicated as ever to producing the best in sourdough, traditional breads, Viennoiserie and cakes

Hitting three decades in business is an accomplishment for any company, and The Bread Factory is now just two short years’ away from this milestone achievement. Having survived the ups and downs of economic boom and bust and numerous challenges along throughout the years, The Bread Factory stands in mid 2021, stronger, more sophisticated and as focused as ever on making and supplying only the finest products available.

FoodChain last reported in on its activities in December 2017, and in 2021 we were fortunate to catch up with Dean Arbel, Managing Director, to get an update on what is involved in the company’s strategy to ‘make bread better’.

“Over the past three years we have been busy activating our strategy to make sourdough bread more accessible for everyday consumption so that everyone can enjoy healthy and delicious bread,” he began. “Work has included developing a tighter portfolio and challenging our ways of working across our fantastic bakery and new product development (NPD) teams, led by Head of Product Catriona Watt-Smith and Creative Director Roy Levy. Together the teams have been combining the traditional principles of baking and leading scientific insights, to continuously improve our award-winning sourdoughs. Our key focus here has been around the fermentation process to optimize taste, health benefits and making our sourdough stay fresher for longer without using any other ingredients – just flour, water and sea salt.

“We have also invested in technology to improve our customer service from new ordering processes, to a new EPOD handheld system for our delivery drivers,” he continued. “Our aim is to deliver outstanding products, consistently, on time and in full to the chefs we serve and through our grocery channel.

“As a result, The Bread Factory has been doing incredibly well. Our grocery channel has grown dramatically since 2018 with both our GAIL’s and Bertinet Bakery retail sourdough brands going into Waitrose and Ocado as consumer demand for clean simple and natural foods increases. We believe we are well prepared for the bounce back of the food service industry and hope to see this part of our business grow back.”

Bread heads
Returning to the revelation that the team is working on making ‘bread better’, Dean expanded on the work that the NPD department has been putting in over the last 24 months. “We’ve been baking sourdoughs for over 25 years, so we have an abundance of knowledge and experience in what makes great bread. We felt it was time to put our best bread heads together to combine the traditional principles of baking with scientific insights around fermentation to take our sourdoughs to the next level,” he said. “When making sourdough, correct fermentation is key for both flavor and to unlocking the health benefits that are so abundant in the starter culture and flours we use. We reassessed each step in the process to ensure the fermentation is at its peak throughout and that the sourdough we are making is the best possible. Our starters are fed more regularly and with a larger diversity of wheat types than before so they are bubbly, live and full of gut-friendly bacteria. The breads are proved in a much warmer environment to ensure a more complete fermentation, which allows the body to absorb more of the natural minerals present in the grains. We’ve also turned our attention to using more ancient grains like Spelt and Durum because of the health benefits they carry. Over the past three years we have more than doubled our NPD team to add capabilities to keep innovating with an aim to launch new products six times a year with seasonality.” He also revealed some new introductions planned for 2021, which include sourdough bagels, and an ancient grains sourdough called ‘Generations’.

These mouthwatering improvements to the bread range have been made in conjunction with additions to The Bread Factory’s cake selection, with arrivals launched as recently as 12th May. “The new line-up includes twists on old favorites – such as the Carrot, Cinnamon and Spelt tin cake, as well as some new on-trend innovations like White Chocolate and Tahini or Chocolate and Beetroot. This range has been developed to showcase visual aesthetics, color and flavor in baking,” Dean explained.

Committed to using time-honored artisan methods, with no compromise on quality, in Dean’s words ‘the main technology is the hands of our bakers’. However, that’s not to say the business doesn’t fully embrace sophisticated solutions where required (as also evidenced earlier in the new ordering and EPOD system Dean mentioned). In 2018, The Bread Factory opened a new bakery – a 24,000 sqf state-of-the-art-facility in which it makes many of its sourdoughs, and where both traditional methods and new technology are combined to ensure that breads stay fresh and delicious for longer. “We now bake out of our sourdough bread bakery, our cake and viennoiserie bakery and our gluten free bakery,” noted Dean.

People development
While always prioritizing hygiene, these sites were, of course, carefully monitored during the lockdown period, when The Bread Factory, like the rest of the UK, had to adjust its processes to deal with Covid-19. “We bought appropriate PPE, and ensured masks were worn in the bakeries,” said Dean. “We also reduced travelling between bakeries, and wherever possible our teams worked from home. We implemented different teams that wouldn’t meet each other and undertake regular Covid flow tests for our people.” This approach symbolizes the overall care and attention that The Bread Factory dedicates to its staff and the high regard in which it holds the people that develop, bake, pack or deliver its bread. “There are so many pieces in the chain that gets the ingredients through to our customers and it often amazes us how we do this with such success every day. We are so incredibly grateful for the skills and hard work of all the people that make that happen,” Dean accentuated. “We have five core values: People, Innovation, Quality, Passion and Service. We held workshops in 2020 that joined everyone from bakers and office staff, to operations and drivers, together, to understand what is important to us at The Bread Factory.

“These were key for team building and left teams with a deeper understanding as to what’s at our core and meeting people they wouldn’t usually. We have also launched our annual leadership program called ‘Shaping Leaders’ – a one year course for 44 of our leaders where we focus on their own development and tools for them to grow their people. We are really nothing without our people and therefore have a responsibility to take care of them and ensure they keep growing in knowledge and as individuals.”

Continuous improvement
Further training has also been embraced by Catriona Watt-Smith and Roy Levy, proving that at The Bread Factory, there is room for growth and improvement at every level. “Catriona and Roy have been investing more of their time in understanding the science behind the sourdough world. We have a weekly learning and development session with external consultants to improve our knowledge on that front. We have also led a bakery course for our top bakers with University of Birmingham to improve further the skills of our top guys. The programme took more than a year and was very successful,” added Dean.

From Dean’s insights into the business, it is clear that The Bread Factory has traversed the difficulties of 2020 thanks to forward planning and sticking to its strategy of continuous improvement. This approach also proved useful when preparing for Brexit, and an added bonus it found from sourcing flour in the UK instead of France means it has helped it address the green agenda, too. “Our flour is now predominantly UK grown and milled – keeping our environmental footprint down is incredibly important to us. We source our flour mainly from Shipton Mills and Wright’s, both within a couple of hours from our bakery,” said Dean.

Three years have passed since The Bread Factory was last in the pages of FoodChain, and it is clear that the company has maintained and built upon the ambition and drive that was previously reported. The business shows no signs of slowing down, and as Dean concluded, the future focus remains on quality and innovation ‘to lead the way on sourdough’. “We will continue to bake the best pastries, cakes, and sourdoughs for even more of the London food scene, as well as penetrating deeper into our grocery customers as demand for great bread keeps increasing,” he stated. “We hope to keep focusing on the learning and growth of our leaders and bakers as their capability is key to our success. Furthermore, we want to keep educating our customers on the benefits of sourdough and why choosing better quality is better for us.” If it is possible to make its ‘breads better’ then the talented team at The Bread Factory are definitely ideally placed to achieve this delicious sounding mission.

The Bread Factory

Rising stars

TBF 132 bThe mission of The Bread Factory is simple and clear: ‘We exist to give more people more access to better quality bread, cakes and pastries.’

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 TBF 132 csetup, 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.