Bakers Journal

Editor’s Letter: June 2013

June 4, 2013
By Laura Aiken

Bakers and gymnasts have a lot more in common than first meets the eye.

Bakers and gymnasts have a lot more in common than first meets the eye. Grit, passion, discipline and precision come easily to mind as comparisons. We know bakers can be as passionate as young gymnasts in training, but can they be as flexible? The ability to contort one’s shape into something new in an instant could very well be the defining characteristic of tomorrow’s bakery.

Flexibility came up multiple times in discussions with members of the bakery industry at this year’s Bakery Congress in Vancouver. However, it means different things to different people. To at least one veteran on the equipment side, the successful industrial bakeries of the future will be those that invest in the technology to be nimble in the fickle marketplace: those that buy machinery that will allow them to be more diverse in their product offerings and continue towards automation. The speed of desire moves so much faster in a world of instant inundation. We don’t really know what tomorrow’s consumer is going to want, but we’d better be prepared to give it to them.

For small bakeries, flexibility is something they likely feel they already have as an advantage over large-scale operations. It is easier for small businesses to bend at a moment’s notice and customize, two traits banked on for a competitive edge. The danger of this thinking, for big and small, is that it encourages getting too comfortable with your lot and stuck in ways of thinking. It’s possible to be inherently malleable, yet rigid as an oven’s feet when it comes to your convictions.

All industries suffer from some degree of “I know best” that gets the best of them. I, like many women, am particular about my hair and rarely happy with any haircut so I tend to bounce from stylist to stylist, going as long as possible between trims. It was the highlight of a recent week when I forked over a measly $22 including tip for exactly the haircut I was after. I asked the woman with scissors who seemed to be the owner and whose mirror was ringed with about two dozen sales success awards, why it was so difficult to get such a simple haircut: trim off the split ends, just an inch or so, don’t go crazy with layers, etc. The sassy woman – and she is a card – put it bluntly: “I always hear the girls in here telling customers, ‘Oh, I think you should do this, or this would look best, and I say, ‘I don’t care what you think, just do what the client wants!”

It is human nature to invoke our expertise, but the willingness to put it aside that defines our flexibility. Consider how you might react to the recent headlines about demand for cupcakes possibly being in decline. Some cupcake sellers in the Canadian press said there was no way the petite treats were about to be dethroned. But are these businesspeople ready for the possibility that the headlines are right, at least at some point down the road? This raises the question, what is the next big thing if cupcakes do lose some lustre? Is it doughnuts or pies or brownies? The answer is, it’s all of the above, and more, coming in cycles just as life tends to do. The question is not whether you are prepared to serve the obvious darlings of the press, but whether you can see a return of Bundt cakes coming, as one baker shared was a surprise hot item for their large bakery recently. If you aren’t prepared to accept that you don’t know what’s coming, you may have a hard time handling it when it arrives. How fast can your bakery react to market demands? Consider that in the future, it likely will need to be even faster.

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