How collaboration gives this company its competitive edge
By Bakers Journal
Josh Allen, the founder of Companion Baking, believes in the “4 Cs” of his company: Companionship, customers, community and their company. His service-based business helps bakeries improve their bread programs, from cost control and scaling to full distribution.
Allen’s unspoken fifth “C” is collaboration. “We sit down and collaborate with the customer and work with them to fill a need that tells their story to their customers. And that’s what we really have a passion for doing.”
The company was in business for 27 years, starting as a fresh wholesale bakery. It all started with Allen borrowing money from his grandfather to start the business. “His one piece of advice for me was always ‘shut up and listen to your customers and they’ll help you and tell you how to be successful.’ So, we’ve always listened and we built our product mix over the years in response.”
Recently Companion Baking helped a pizzeria chain expand while going clean-label. “They’ve been around for a long time, but COVID ramped up their business… they got really busy during COVID selling pizza. They had been making bread for themselves for 40 or 50 years, garlic bread and for a small sandwich line that they were doing. They realized that they couldn’t do both of those things so they reached out. ‘We need to be able to continue to produce pizza and meet that demand and we need you to be able to make bread for us born in the capacity that we need.’ We took some things completely away from where they were going, we took some things that were an exact match, and in the end, we found something sort of in the middle.” The pizzeria had only two weeks to get their new line in order for fear of falling behind, but ultimately, the co-operative approached worked. “We improved the crust characteristics of what they were looking for. We improved the [label] ingredient declaration, and we’ve been able to meet the demand for them and they’ve been able to grow their pizza business through the pandemic.”
They had two weeks to work it out, or else they would lose business by being far behind in orders, and Companion Baking made it work. Part of the company’s success lies in its ability to manage expectation.
“A lot of times, customers have a very strong idea of what they need, how they want to get there. And we work through it a lot on paper and talk it through a lot before we even start to do samples. I think one of the things that folks appreciate about us, is that we’re very honest and transparent that we can’t do something or we can’t do it for a price they need. We explain that to them up front; we don’t waste a lot of energy either on our part or their part in thinking about opportunities if we can’t deliver. So, we try to spend a lot of energy in those upfront conversations and ask a lot of questions, and sometimes we can ask questions that they weren’t prepared to answer. Then, they’ve got to go figure out what the answers are to those questions. So, it’s still usually a good dialogue and I think that builds trust a lot of times.”
Companion Baking thrives on problem-solving. “It’s just a real joy for us to try to sell those customization needs so that they can tell their story, whether it’s on the plate or on the package for customers.” Allen defines storytelling in a baking context as a company that can impart a sense of quality in their product through sharing the history of their ingredients or method of creating the baked goods.
“We make ‘great’ special for you,” says Allen. “We built a business around an interest in specialization and customization and doing those kinds of things and so it’s been in our DNA from the beginning,” he adds.