James Pozzi speaks to Eva Wheeler, head of technical operations & NPD at Allied Bakeries, about the launch of its Kingsmill Great White Loaf and its manufacturing operations.
Allied Bakeries is coming to the conclusion of a five-year investment with the launch of its Kingsmill Great White Loaf. With the USP of containing fibre levels to match wholemeal loaves, are you confident this can reverse declining white bread sales?
I really am. Our research has been positive as we have a band of people who see 50-50 being a healthy bread, whereas white bread isn’t sold on this basis. I do karate and I mentioned the new loaf to my instructor. I gave him a sample of it and he said it was absolutely for him. He wouldn’t compromise: it had to look, smell and taste like white bread, and this is the sort of person we’re aiming for. It’s a very different person, if anything, we’ll move people out of standard white bread rather than down from 50-50. If a consumer likes 50-50 for health reasons, they are very much with that and may only deviate to move into similar products, such as wholemeal or seeded. Bringing people back to white is a big thing; we know they love it but they feel guilty about eating it. The fact we have invested so much money into our equipment to have consistent quality manufacturing – we wouldn’t do that unless we were very confident. We certainly wouldn’t get such a high level of investment signed off.
Kingsmill have mentioned the challenges of making this bread, which sounded quite complex. How did these challenges manifest during the R&D phase?
About a year in total, from the initial insight right the way through to from the test bakery to the plant trials. We were keen to get this on plant and abuse it by testing what happens when the plant stops, just to make sure we had a really robust recipe. We did actually bring this forward however. Originally we were looking at 18 months, but with one of our key business values being pace and bringing things to market quicker, we accelerated its development. So now it’s been launched seven months ahead of schedule.
How has Allied’s investment in its factories and in new brands such as the Great White impacted on job creation and attracted people to work in the baking industry?
It gives us job security. We obviously provide a lot of branded products and a lot of customer brand. We’re demanding of our own quality standards but so are our customer brand partners are as well. They want consistency, reliability and a partner they can trust. We’ve not only invested in the manufacturing equipment but also the infrastructure – really raising standards across the board. That means we now have a good spread of customer brand and branded products across a range of stores. We’ve not really changed too much in terms of head count, we’ve just upped the level of output with bigger, more efficient and energy saving plants. The key thing is when you have plants that are 20-30 years old, they are more likely to break down, and bread isn’t a product that likes to stop with its yeast ingredient and natural processes. Our plants now just run and run.
Since last year’s horsemeat scandal, has there been a continuous shift towards having companies having greater power over supply chains in order to restore manufacturing confidence?
I think there are different ways of doing it. In my role I look after branded and customer brands, which means attending their conferences every year to find out what is important to them. In 2013, the big thing that came out of all the conferences was trust in the supply chain. What that means for us is more unannounced audits and more requirements around the raw materials supply chain in terms of vendor assurance. It does help when there is a good level of integration. We have yeast from our own division, key bakery ingredients and all of our flour comes from our own mills. From a development point of view, it helps to have transparent and open discussions. It’s quite easy to develop the greatest loaf in the world, but it costs too much in a low margin market. It’s about developing innovation that is affordable, and to be able to do that, it helps to have all of your partners working together in a transparent way.