A BIZARRE power struggle is taking place between the administrators of Harvestime (2005) and the administrators of New Rathbones.KPMG, backed by Harves-time (2005)’s creditors Whit-worth Holdings and Whitworth Brothers, is challenging Har-vestime (2005)’s administrators to take over the administration process of New Rathbones. Eleven creditors, who turned up to a Harvestime (2005) creditors’ meeting earlier this month, have already voted down a motion to replace Begbies Traynor. But KPMG is fighting on, backed by Whitworth. New Rathbones’ administrator KPMG oversaw the break-up of New Rathbones in April 2005 into the Harvestime (2005) and Rathbone Kear business. Whitworth Brothers provided the working capital when the Harvestime (2005) business was formed in May 2005. Begbies Traynor was subsequently called in to Harvestime (2005) on November 18, 2005.Meanwhile, suppliers and customers remain supportive, as Harvestime (2005)’s Walsall bakery enters its fourth month in administration. The bakery continues to supply customers, including independents and supermarket Tesco, with a range including Tesco Finest, organic, in-store bakery and ciabatta loaves. A “couple of interested parties” are understood to be talking to administrators about a possible purchase of the bakery, which employs over 200 people. The rent on the site is paid until the end of May.
“A cake is suitable for any gender, any age, any faith – everyone would be happy to receive a cake,” is Julian Day’s simple analysis of why his mail-order cakes business, Meg Rivers, is doing so well.Its cake club has seen considerable growth in the last year with turnover up by around 50% per year over the last three years. This has prompted Meg Rivers to delve further into the gifts market. Cakes offer a thoughtful alternative to a predictable bunch of flowers, says the company’s owner.“An awful lot of our trade is in the gift market. We sell a cake for £10 that costs £5 to deliver – that seems quite expensive, but not if you’re sending a gift. Few people are realistically going to wander into a local shop and think, ‘I’ve got to have that £20 chocolate cake for the weekend’. But when they want to send a thank you and they want to do it remotely, they’re in a different frame of mind to buy them.”Direct salesDay says 99% of the Warwickshire-based company’s trade is now direct to the consumer. Meg Rivers Cake Club members receive a regular supply of cakes delivered to their doors throughout the year, ordered from its twice yearly spring/summer and autumn/winter catalogues, or via its website. An informal newsletter keeps customers aware of promotions and news from the bakery.Because of the premium price of its cakes, Meg Rivers’ core customers are inclined to purchase mainly for special occasions such as Christmas and Easter. But that is not enough to grow the business, says Day, and the need to foster an all-year-round trade is crucial to maximising turnover – hence a renewed focus on its internet operations.Its website, which has been live for four years, underwent a revamp last year at a cost of around £5,000 – a high price for a company that employs just six people, but it is money well spent, he says. “The world and his wife will say they can design you a website for a couple of hundred quid. But I put as much money as I could afford into it. Mail order cake websites are often fairly basic. If customers see a good quality site, then that makes them feel assured that the cakes are going to be quality too.”Very little ‘e-marketing’ is undertaken, which speaks volumes for the value of a smart, contemporary design and simple navigation for drawing web surfers towards a purchase. “It’s very easy to be seduced by bells and whistles,” he says. “But our website was well set up at the outset. The technical matters go completely over my head, but whatever they did, they did it well! We sell at the top end of the market and we need to get that across; we do that with our brochures and our website.”Good public relations, through coverage in national women’s magazines, has helped get the company’s cakes noticed and sparked word-of-mouth sales.Teatime treatsThe bakery is “an old established business but also a new business”, says Day. Australian-born Meg Rivers – the company’s late founder – had served in the family tearoom in Bowral, 80 miles south of Sydney, learning to bake from an early age and developing a love of traditional English teas. She arrived in England in 1973 and began making cakes in an old parsonage in Lower Brailes, Warwickshire. Realising that the quality and presentation of her cakes could provide the key to a successful business venture, she set up the company in 1988.After a friend left to live in Zimbabwe, begging Meg to send her homemade cakes overseas, the mail order business was born. While the majority of orders still come from within the UK, they frequently arrive from destinations as far flung as Alaska and Australia.Meg Rivers built up a healthy mail-order trade, offering a range of traditional and innovative English cakes, biscuits and traybakes. At first, classic fruit cakes were produced in her own home before moving into a small purpose-built facility in Tysoe, Warwickshire. By 1998, she had a small team of staff offering a wide selection of teatime products, including gift-packed celebration cakes and hampers. The business now employs six people, with extra staff drafted in during peak periods. The death of Meg Rivers in 2000 brought the firm to a temporary standstill, and the family turned to friend and colleague Julian Day who had helped develop the business. Day’s first action on taking the reins was to write to all of the original customers to tell them of the change of ownership and to reassure them that he shared Meg Rivers’ commitment to natural, wholesome foods. Very quickly it was back to ‘business as usual’. This partly explains why the operation is geared predominantly towards selling direct to the consumer rather than through wholesale.“The biggest thing I noticed when I first took over was that we had a core of very loyal customers who order on a regular basis, several times a year,” he recalls. “We now want to sell more cakes to more people rather than try to sell more to our existing customers.”Still essentially a cottage business, operating in the Warwickshire village of Blackwell, he has since developed the operation with the addition of the website as well as an attention to brand-building. One factor in developing a loyal customer base has been successfully communicating with customers through the regular chatty newsletters, he says. Although it retains a small number of café and restaurant customers, running a mail-order business has many benefits. “We are not paying high street rents or rates, which is perhaps one of the reasons a lot of bakers have closed. It doesn’t matter if you’re a tiny enterprise in a former barn in Warwickshire like we are – the world is your market,” he continues. “It’s just as easy delivering a cake to Alaska as it is to Chelmsford.” – Meg Rivers’ products include chocolate, cherry and almond fruit cakes, which sell for between £9.95 and £19.95 for eight- and 16-portion sizes respectively; lemon cookies; brownies, Bakewells and flapjacks; and celebration cakes made to order. Many products reflect seasonality and availability of fresh produce, such as elderflower and gooseberry, rhubarb and ginger, and carrot cake, while ingredients are sourced locally wherever possible. Novelties include a ‘Starving Student’ pack, which contains 60 portions of traybakes, costing £40, plus £5 delivery.
Record Food Equipment, available from Brook Food Processing Equipment (Minehead, Somerset), has made jelly spraying easier.The Record Jelly Sprayer, is fitted with a fast compressed air joint at the front and, with its high-powered compressor, the sprayer can be used for many applications including those that require compressed air and those using the thickest of products, including glazing for Hot Cross Buns.Made from stainless steel, the unit is mobile and easy to clean, says Brook Food.
Cake company Inter Link Foods has announced it will not now meet market forecasts for the financial year ending 5 May, 2007.The supplier said it will make a loss after exceptional costs, but before goodwill amortisation.However, with internal restructuring complete and the new central distribution arrangements operating effectively, Inter Link said that it expected 2007/8 to be materially better than the current year.
The Scottish Association of Master Bakers’ (SAMB’s) new training centre in Larbert is now fully equipped and ready for business.The centre at Mathieson’s bakery near Falkirk is open to everyone in the UK baking trade, not just Scottish bakers, and has taken two years to develop. It comprises a test bakery, eight computers and seminar and conference rooms.Courses can run for up to 70 people and ADM Milling, which is among those who have supported the centre, will be one of the first to deliver a technical course.At the SAMB conference in May, Iain Campbell, convenor of the training and education committee, urged the industry to make the most of the new facility.”Use it or lose it,” he said. “Everyone within travelling distance, both sides of the border, should make use of the new facility.”The centre is close to the M9 and is accessible by train from Edinburgh and Glasgow, with Edinburgh airport 30 minutes away.Arthur Rayer, head of skills training for the SAMB, said: “We hope the industry will support a range of courses and that it will become a hub of learning, used by manufacturers and suppliers alike.”George Stevenson of Mathieson, who is the new vice president of the SAMB, and John Murray, past president who oversaw the development of the training centre, were thanked at conference for their efforts.Meanwhile, the SAMB 40 Group for bakers aged 40 and under will celebrate its 50th anniversary in September 2008.l See pg 14 for coverage of the SAMB technical sessions.
Privately owned bakeries are increasing in value faster than their corporate competitors, making them potential takeover targets.This is the finding of a new report, Portfolio Analysis of the Bakery Industry, from Plimsoll Publishing, that highlights exclusivity, niche products and unique services as other potentially attractive features of independent bakeries.Another more practical factor is the increasing age of the owners and principals at some of the companies, which is causing them to consider their choices.”While many family firms have succession plans in place,” explained market analyst David Pattison, “an offer for the company at the crucial moment is often listened to sympathetically, as the new generation review their options.”The report gives detailed value and performance ratings for 980 companies in the bakery sector, of which 752 are privately-owned. It is priced £350, with a 10% discount available to British Baker readers. Call 01642 626422 for more details.
The Hairy Bakers will hit our screens tonight with a new series on BBC2 looking at all things bakery. Dave Myers and Simon King, known as the Hairy Bikers will embark on a journey across the UK to discover the best of British baking. They’ll meet with top millers and bakers and test out various recipes along the way, from gourmet bread and pies to ornate wedding cakes.The four-part series starting tonight – 18 August – will be screened from 8.30 – 9pm. The duo will be hopping on their bikes to take a look at the history of bread and demonstrating the rewards of baking a healthy white roll fit for the very British bacon buttie. The first episode also sees them mill their own flour at a Lincolnshire windmill to make a fermented classic brown loaf, producing homemade naan bread on the shores of a lake and bake brown ale and cheese bread back in Dave’s kitchen.The next episode on Bank Holiday Monday sees them making Bakewell tarts in Derbyshire, and scones at Chatsworth House. The boys also hunt for tips on how to make the perfect Victoria sandwich.A Christmas special is to follow later in the year.
You may ask yourselves, “Why should I move to quality coffee?” Compare the coffee industry to the wine industry and think back to when the UK drank very little wine – when our knowledge did not extend past drinking Blue Nun. Now, a lot of UK consumers have a basic understanding of different grape varieties and different wine-producing countries. Coffee has the same complexities and the consumer is becoming increasingly aware of the subtle differences.There is still a long way to go before customers regularly demand particular bean varieties or growing regions, but they are already voting with their feet and going to the place where the coffee tastes best. To compete, you need to reflect the standards of your food products with the standard of your coffee, and that’s where training comes in.I have no great problem with instant coffee – it has its place. But that place is no longer in a café, sandwich shop or bakery. I sometimes highlight the difference between instant and fresh coffee by comparing it to orange squash and freshly squeezed orange juice; I don’t expect to find orange squash for breakfast in a hotel.If you go towards espresso-based drinks, you will need to give your team some barista training. The word barista stems from the Italian for ’bartender’, the original experts on the espresso machine. People often assume it will take months to train a barista. But training traditional barista skills should not take a great deal of effort. A one-day course for your key staff should provide the main skills required, backed up with a half-day of training for more casual users.Key staff will need to know how to calibrate the machine and grinder to produce great espresso – as most poor coffee in this country stems from badly calibrated equipment – although all staff will need the straightforward steps to making espresso and foaming milk. Make sure you gain professional training, though; an hour of training from the engineer who installs the machine, or a member of your team who claims to have “used one before” may just generate bad habits that will be hard to shift. Some of the main coffee roasters and machine manufacturers can now offer professional training, or seek advice from independent trainers. Good trainers should also advise you on speed of service, maintaining your equipment and appropriate menu items, as well as providing training notes that future staff can utilise.A common fear is that your staff turnover may suggest that any training done will be a waste. The skills involved in preparing quality coffee can add to job satisfaction, particularly with the addition of skills like latte art (the patterns poured with the milk on the coffee), and can help with staff retention. But when staff do leave, you will need a system for training new starters. Build in the required barista skills into your induction programme for new starters. Your key staff, who had more intensive training, should be able to give on-the-job training for the new starters, perhaps assisted by some training notes provided from your barista training company. Once a year, you could have another day of structured training to maintain skills and iron out bad habits.Finally, set up a coffee ’audit’ system, which checks that all your team are producing drinks to the required standard. This could be done formally or run as a competition for more fun and encouragement.* Paul Meikle-Janney is managing director of barista trainers Coffee Community—-=== Training options ===It can cost anything from between £300 to £500 per day (plus VAT and expenses) to hire a trainer for a day, who could train your whole team. Alternatively, a course for an individual will cost around £125 to £150 per day. People should look at the training company’s track record, facilities and support materials to get full value, as the cheapest is not always the best.Once the basic skills have been adopted, you may wish to extend the training and gain a deeper knowledge of the varieties of coffee available and perhaps teach your team latte art (the patterns poured with the milk on the coffee).It is also possible to gain formal qualifications in barista skills now. Trade organisation the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (www.scae.com) runs barista certification, and City & Guilds and NCFE have created VRQ qualifications in barista skills that can be taken at college.Coffee Community: [http://www.coffeecommunity.co.uk]The London School of Coffee: [http://www.londonschoolofcoffee.com]Speciality Coffee Association of Europe: [http://www.scae.com]Absolute coffee: [http://www.absolutecoffee.co.uk]
Espresso machine manufacturer, Rancilio has added a new 1-group machine to its existing Classe 6 range. The new machine, along with the rest of the line, is imported from the Milan-based firm by The Coffee Machine Company, based in London. It is aimed at smaller outlets with a “modest demand” for coffee.The 1-group is manufactured in stainless steel and is 360mm wide. It comes in three different models – the E1 fully automatic plumbed-in version; the S1 semi-automatic plumbed model and the ST1, which is a tank-top machine.List price – E1 £2,525; S1 £2025; ST1 £1,625www.coffeemachinecompany. co.uk
Consumer lobby group Which? has brought to light a number of bakery products, which could legally be labelled as being ‘low fat’ if proposed EC regulation get the thumbs up next month.The EC’s regulation (EC) 1924/2006 was passed in May 2006, and was inititally welcomed as it aims to ensure health claims on food are substantiated and to stop claims being put on less healthy food. However, Which? now believes that “due to pressure from other European governments looking to promote their national products the Commission’s criteria for which foods can carry claims has become unscientific and fundamentally flawed”.A number of example bakery products have been identified as having less than the Commissions threshold amount of saturated fat – 8g per 100g. A single Tesco jam doughnut, for example, has 5.7g of saturated fat per 100g. Products such as doughnuts, custard tarts and ready salted crisps could therefore carry health and nutrition claims.Research by Oxford University has found that 93% of products would be able to make nutritional claims if the proposals go through and 60% would be able to make health claims (based on a sample of foods representative of the UK diet).A number of UK consumer and health organisations, including the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Sustain and Which? have united to try and fight the proposals, and a letter has been sent to the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson MP.Colin Walker, Senior Public Affairs Officer, Which? said: “The UK Government needs to get these proposals thrown out and completely rewritten. The adoption of these criteria will weaken the fight against obesity and poor diets doing far more harm than good.”