By Tuija Seipell
By Tuija Seipell
An industry panel in Vancouver compares baking in Canada with baking in Scotland.
Equipped with kilts and bagpipes, 42 bakery industry visitors from Scotland toured Vancouver bakeries for four days in late October and participated in an industry panel at the Vancouver Community College.
The main motor of the trip at the Scottish end was Iain Campbell, seventh-generation baker and co-owner of Campbell’s Bakery in Crieff, Perthshire. In Vancouver, the organizer was Ralf Tschenscher, sales manager Western Canada of Lesaffre Yeast Corporation and past chair of the Baking Association of Canada’s British Columbia Chapter (BAC-BC). Gary Humphreys, current BAC-BC Chair and British Columbia sales manager for Dawn Food Products (Canada), Ltd., was also instrumental in organizing the panel.
About 150 people attended the event at the Vancouver Community College’s Baking and Pastry Arts department auditorium. The panellists were Iain Campbell; Braeden Lord, president of Cobs Bread Canada in Vancouver and director of international development at Bakers Delight Holdings in Australia; Melissa Timewell, director of bakery operations at Thrifty Foods in Victoria, B.C.; and Marc Tilkin, general manger of La Baguette & L’Echalote in Vancouver.
Presentations by Tilkin, Timewell and Lord discussed various aspects of building, expanding and operating a bakery business in Canada, but the focus was on the Scottish-Canadian similarities and differences.
Campbell, whose business in Scotland is a 175-year-old, one-store bakery, said that large supermarkets pose a challenge as does the difficulty of finding staff. He also said that today’s Scottish customers are busy and demanding, want to know about the ingredients in the baked goods they purchase and are more careful about what they eat.
“We also have to try to reduce costs as much as possible so we are looking at increasing the size of our production space, increasing the retail side of our business – currently 65 per cent of sales is retail, 35 per cent wholesale – and automating production where possible because we cannot find the staff we need.”
When several former Eastern-block countries joined the European Union in May 2004, a new pool of eager workers became available.
In an e-mail interview after the tour, Campbell elaborated: “When the EU expanded, there was a large influx of immigrants to the U.K. from countries such as Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania and Hungary. It took some time for these immigrants to find their way to our small town but now we employ a Polish baker and two Hungarian cleaners. They have a quaint old-fashioned habit of turning up on time and not being off sick. Everyone’s a winner.
“I cannot think of one bakery that was represented on the Vancouver tour that does not employ somebody from one of these new EU countries,” continued Campbell. “I know that the next time I am recruiting for staff, I will be contacting employment agencies handling foreign workers rather than wasting money on adverts in our local newspapers.”
Andre Sarafilovic of Wm. Stephen (Bakers) Ltd. in Scotland said that the issues facing Canadian bakers are the same that faced Scottish bakers a few years ago. He said that the market in Scotland was polarised and supermarkets have come, but craft bakeries are now making a comeback and starting to flourish.
“We are the survivors,” he said.
He also said that HACCP regulations were forced on the industry and now they are “part of the deal and the best thing that ever happened to us.”
In a post-visit e-mail, Campbell writes that, “Overall, HACCP has raised our standards and made us more aware of potential problem areas. The reason for the implementation of HACCP stems from a serious breach of food hygiene regulations in 1996 by a butcher near Glasgow. As a result, over 20 people were killed by E Coli 0157, and things have never been the same in this country since. All butchers and some bakers (depending on the amount of products produced) now have to be licensed by their local authority to produce high-risk meat products.”
On a cautionary note, Sareafilovic mentioned a third issue. The bakery programs at Scottish colleges are all gone “because our industry did not use them enough.” Campbell explained later that Scottish colleges do not offer any bakery courses anymore and all learning is delivered in the workplace.
“Traditional apprenticeships were based upon a mixture of work-based practical learning and the underpinning knowledge was usually gained from attending a college on a day-release basis,” he writes. Bakers, however, complained about losing an employee for a day and, slowly, college attendance dwindled to nothing; all training is now delivered by the Scottish Association of Master Bakers’ training department. It has six training advisors based in different geographical locations around the country.
“Most of our training is funded wholly or partly by grants from the European Social Fund,” says Campbell, “This is a large slush fund available for organizations like SAMB. This has been an extremely cost-effective way for businesses here to train employees.”
Campbell says that this will soon end because as new countries, such as Poland, Slovakia and Lithuania have joined EU, the amount of funding available for a “prosperous” country like Scotland will be reduced dramatically after 2007.
“This will impact the way companies train their employees and I am not sure what will happen as a result,” Campbell says. “If people are farsighted enough, they will realize that some kind of levy system will need to be implemented to allow the same level of training to be paid for, but I am not confident that industry will go along with this. Only if central government imposes this on us will it happen and I fear that this may take some time.”
The Scottish participants mentioned during the discussion that they were impressed by the quality of products in the bakeries they visited and especially with the variety of high-end, continental-looking artisan breads available not just at small bakeries, but even at supermarket bakeries. They were also impressed with the presentation and displays.
“You have much more varieties of bread and lovely presentation,” said one participant.
Many said that they were also astonished at the variety of sweet offerings – pastries, cakes, cinnamon buns – available at our bakeries.
And what are we lacking? The polite guests mentioned only the fact that Canadian bakeries are missing on the savoury baked goods side.
“Everyone is carrying a coffee here in Vancouver, but no-one is selling them the pies and sandwiches and savouries to go
with it,” said one audience member. And, of course, they mentioned the remarkable lack of kilts.