The charming story and 130-year history behind Roberts Bakery’s successes 

There’s nothing better than the smell (and taste) of freshly baked bread. Whether it’s a white loaf, fresh bread rolls, or multi-seeded slices, Roberts Bakery (Roberts) is a family-run company based in Cheshire, England, that promises to deliver a wide range of baked goods to satisfy the taste buds of many.

With a rich heritage spanning over 130 years, the Roberts family certainly know a thing or two about baking bread. It all began with Robert Roberts, who completed a bread baking and grocery apprenticeship in the 1860s at the age of 11. The first store opened in Northwich in 1887 and more family members joined the business over the following years.

Innovative appliances, such as bread slicers and wrapping machines, revolutionized the business in the 1920s, freeing up time and energy for the bakers to focus solely on baking. Having survived both world wars, the bakery relocated to a new site where it remains today, bolstering its production capability to 600 loaves per hour.

The following decades saw the business excel across the globe, with the fourth generation of the Roberts family also joining the fun. Embracing constant innovation and fresh ideas, Roberts launched a state-of-the-art test kitchen in 2012 and a rebranding campaign in 2017, bringing the business into the era of modernity and sustainability, with new bread bags containing 53 percent less plastic.

Today, Roberts employs nearly 750 dedicated professionals who share a common goal to deliver exceptional, sustainable baked goods to every sector and for every occasion. Operating as a cohesive unit, the business continues to embrace innovation with its vast range of products stocked across the UK in major supermarkets like Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Waitrose, as well as various convenience stores.

Investing in growth
Its sister company, The Little Treats Bakery (Little Treats), offers delicious biscuits and sweet treats to various customers, including food service clients like Costa Coffee and Marks & Spencer (M&S). Bill Thurston, Managing Director at Roberts, joins us to discuss the company’s evolution, detail how it plans to navigate the busy Christmas period, and expand on its major investment plan.

“In October 2022, we announced the huge milestone we’d achieved through successfully raising £18 million in funding to secure investments and working capital requirements to support the overall future growth of the business,” Bill opens.

In a recent press release on the topic, Mike Roberts, Deputy Chairman of Roberts, commented: “The new funding puts us in a very strong position and allows us to really invest for the future growth of our business and advance on our journey towards Net Zero.”

Meeting demand
Following this announcement, Roberts announced a second significant milestone – a shakeup of its Cheshire facilities including the relocation of its Little Treats division. “Work has begun on a significant rebuild of two bakeries within our Northwich headquarters and the Little Treats manufacturing operation will move four miles north to a new site in Winsford, Chesire,” Bill expands. “Little Treats is a rapidly growing venture for us, where we sell characterful biscuits and chocolate clusters to retailers, coffee chains, wholesalers, and foodservice customers across the UK. The new site will enable us to meet increasing demand and place us in a strong position for the future.

“As part of the investment plan, we will establish three centers of excellence; one for biscuits as outlined above, one for bread, and another for specialty loaves. We believe this will revitalize the company and ensure it is fit for the future. We’ve outlined detailed plans for the next five-to-ten years and will share more information with the public when appropriate.”

We ask Bill the secret behind Roberts’ recent growth. “Our success is all down to the emphasis we place on quality, which is one of our family values,” he replies with confidence. “We consistently prioritize quality, regularly conducting independent benchmark testing with Campden BRI. This allows us to measure the quality of our offering compared to competitors.

“Of course, we’re proud to always rank either top or joint top in terms of appearance, texture, and flavor. By maintaining such certifications and rankings, we can retain our market-leading position and continue delivering high-quality products to our valued customers, as well as attract new customers who are looking for a superior branded bread option.”

Community-based approach
Bill adds: “When it comes to growing the brand, we consider awareness, loyalty, and repeat rates as key indicators of our success. We recently announced a repositioning strategy, which places the community in which we operate at the core of our brand identity and activities. We are well-positioned to meet consumer demands and keep up with growing trends like the need for local sourcing and reducing food miles. We think a community-based approach is particularly crucial for a regional brand like ours, as it allows us to genuinely understand and connect with our devoted shoppers.”

From cooking lessons in schools to charity bake-offs and awarding grants to several initiatives, Roberts is particularly passionate about supporting the local community in meaningful ways. “In November, we launched an impactful campaign aimed at raising awareness and supporting our local community,” he details.

“We are also very proud to sponsor Mission Christmas Cash for Kids, which is the largest toy appeal in the UK organized by Bauer Media Group. Roberts is dedicated to assisting the charity to ensure that no child across Cheshire and Staffordshire goes without a present during the Christmas season. It is through initiatives like these that we demonstrate our commitment to making a positive impact on society while reinforcing brand recognition.”

Aside from the external community, Roberts also emphasizes the need to create positive, longstanding relationships internally with both employees and suppliers. “Being family-operated, the company is like a huge, tight-knit family that our people are proud to be part of,” Bill states. “We have multiple generations of families working across the divisions, some of which are celebrating more than 40 years tenure with us!

“When it comes to suppliers, we have always recognized the significant role they play in our overall success. The impact is evident in every aspect of the business; without reliable, trustworthy suppliers, we wouldn’t be able to deliver high-quality products to our customers. Our suppliers are not just vendors to us, but rather strategic partners who contribute to our growth and sustainability.”

Proving prosperous
As our conversation draws to a close, we can’t help but ask what the Christmas season looks like for Roberts. “Our festivities are characterized by new products, like our brand-new cranberry ciabatta, which is being supplied to foodservice establishments like Costa Coffee as part of their seasonal menu,” Bill reveals. “The dedicated biscuit team has successfully launched over 100 new products in 2023, 30 of which are Christmas-themed items like gingerbread houses and decorate-your-own kits. Specifically, we are thrilled to share that our ‘Colin the Caterpillar’ decorate your own kit, exclusively for M&S, is featured on a new docuseries in the UK, titled Inside M&S.”

While 2024 will be dominated by the opening of three new centers of excellence, there are numerous exciting opportunities on the horizon for Roberts further afield. “Our staff and community are eagerly awaiting the opening of our new centers, and not just for the aroma of fresh bread in the air,” Bill laughs as our conversation draws to a close. “Beyond that, we will continue our journey towards achieving zero waste while strategically planning for a prosperous future in the bakery industry.”