Bakers Journal

Tackling the issues, part 4

November 11, 2008
By Jane Ayer

A roundtable of bakers and industry suppliers chat about challenges, solutions and the value of what the trade does.  At Bakery Showcase 2008 in May, Bakers Journal gathered a group of bakers, suppliers and consultants to discuss the most pressing issues of the day. The third part of our coverage of the roundtable ended with Kuyer and Tchenscher discussing hot topics such as pricing, franchising and niche-market bakeries.

Brian Hinton: I come from the oil-rich province of Alberta and we throw money around and not everyone bothers to pick it up. Four businesses have opened up in Calgary, none of them bakers. One sells cupcakes at $2.50 apiece and they can’t keep up with production; one sells cookies and round shortbread, they charge $2 for them each, they’re nicely packaged; one does nothing but baby foods with bakery products, organic, and she asked me to do the co-packaging, so I’m just going to throw out prices: she’s getting about $5.60 for a small package of current sticks, she calls them, some sort of thing the baby can suck on, and the ingredient cost on those was about 60 cents. And the other one I’ve forgotten in the excitement. What I’m saying is, we’re bakers, we have to have formal training, we have to go through the protocols and this is what is happening, somebody’s taken a piece of our business and is charging phenomenal amounts, doing an excellent job of brand management. I want to throw this out to the floor. Is this going to last one year, two years, 10 years for these businesses? I don’t know. But gourmet baby food for baked goods? That’s new to me, but there’s also gourmet dog biscuits.

Martin Barnett: We know the cookie stores that opened up years ago, with gourmet cookies, how many of them
are still around?

Hinton: But did they make their money and run?

I think they saw a little niche for six or seven months and the customers got bored and moved on.


Jane Ayer: But you see cupcake shops that opened up a while ago and they’re doing quite well still.

Jack Kuyer: My whole life in the baking industry, there’s always been fads; there are all of these niche little bakeries and they come and go. You know I never sold as many muffins as I did when I had a muffin store right next to me.

Michelle Brisebois:
Well, you leverage what’s going on, right? If somebody starts something and taps into a fad, then leverage that in your bakery and when they’re gone you’ll have their customers.

Ralf Tchenscher:
The cupcake story is actually coming out after the 9-11 attacks, it was really about comfort food and that’s how people started opening cupcake shops.

Isn’t the cupcake shop in Vancouver franchising?

Kuyer: I haven’t heard that myself, Jane, but I would guess it only has a very short life span, because cupcakes are still just cupcakes and you do get tired of them eventually. What it is, if you really analyze it, is not a cupcake store. They are selling something more than a cupcake; it’s more to do with décor, with packaging, with presentation and every baker could learn something from that.

It’s the experience, experiential branding.

And what you’re talking about, Brian, it’s exactly what they’re doing. They’re selling something more than baking and that’s the problem: baking doesn’t sell baking. We’ve got to get out of that framework and there’s so many exciting things that you can do and I think if you put a businessperson into any of these small town bakeries, I think I could walk into any one of them and increase their sales substantially, but nobody wants to talk to me. They could probably phone me up and I could tell them all the stuff they have to do, it’s that stupid. If these people would only get out from between their two doors.

But the industry is attractive to young people. Your programs are full, are they not, Martin?

We’re at the stage now where there is a resurgence in baking and a lot of people have really good products, and people are willing to pay more. There was a retiring of the old traditional European bakers who could make the good stuff and there was a skill gap that now we’re trying to fill. But I’ve been listening to this discussion about what the small- to medium-sized retail baker can do to improve their profit margins and their merchandising and I think those bakers are the backbone of the industry, it’s not the in-store bakeries, the big box store bakers follow the trend, and there’s the artisan baker that is setting the trend and then somewhere in between are the other 90 per cent of bakeries out there and they’re not here, they’re not around this table, they’re not coming to the show very much, and what can we do on that level to attract those people to our association and then educate them to educate the public? And I remember in the early ’80s the RBA had an event in Vancouver and I remember going to one of the seminars and just sitting there, mouth agape, this little hippie baker who was making whole-wheat bread 16 hours a day and sleeping on the bread sacks and I remember everything that guy said. He was from California and he went on and on about how much it cost to get one customer into your store. How much did it cost you to build the bakery? $150,000 – just to get that first customer into your store? So are you going to treat them right? You better, because it cost you that much money. I think we, on a provincial level, could put on merchandising seminars and costing information sessions, not just golf tournaments.

Frank Safian:
I’ve been the chair of the association for two years, but I’ve been with the association since the early ’90s and I can tell you as the program chair of the Ontario chapter, I can show you an arm’s-length list of special speakers we’ve had, from fire control experts to pest control experts to the VQA experts; we’ve had the rabbi in to talk about Kosher pareve, we’ve had all the experts in on a regular program, people. Their intent is to educate the people about these topics.

Ayer: But, Frank, how many retail bakers are there?

Safian: The truth is, Jane, I can count usually on one hand. But you’re right, we don’t get the retail baker out, but our association, our chapter, we are making an effort on a monthly basis.

We need to start wrapping things up; I know some of you have places to be. We don’t have the same kind of population as the U.S., we don’t have the same kind of money they do, so can we support something like a Team Canada and do you think that’s the way, or even one of the ways to raise the profile of the industry and maybe attract young people to it?

Absolutely. What Team Canada is doing, that’s an opportunity for our industry which we should take.

Ayer: How do you get sponsors then? That seems to be the common struggle.
Andrea Damon Gibson / And do you use the BAC as the vehicle for that? Do you use Bakers Journal?

The Team Canada approach has nothing to do with the national office at all. It gets back to ownership. The thing about Team Canada is who’s going to own it, who’s going to manage it? Who’s got time to spend the hours it takes to take ownership of Team Canada. If you want to be national, take your caravan, go from east to west, do the proper competition, have competitions locally and regionally to build interest so that it’s not an old boys network of, well, ‘I’ll pick him, her and him and that’s Team Canada.’

Tracey Muzzolini:
But that’s how the U.S. team started. It costs a lot of money to put on a competition.

It’s very difficult for me to make some comments, based on the fact that our company is the main supporter of the Louis Lesaffre Cup, but I see the success and the recognition on a global basis of Team U.S.A. They have been in every baking magazine around the globe.

And not just baking – they’ve been in consumer publications; they’ve had television spots.

Muzzolini: And they started with handpicking.

Because it has to begin somewhere.

You put it in the Bakers Journal. Two and a half years ago, you said, ‘Calling all bakers.’

And I was the only one that responded and that’s in our national magazine. I was the only one who responded to that.

That’s scary.

We need to put support behind this team to get actually to the level of making it to the Coupe du Monde, because when you’re successful, people want to be a part of that. And you have to do whatever it takes to get that team there. And that requires practice and money, and once you get a team to the Coupe du Monde, start having a national competition. If you have a team that’s never been successful because they haven’t had support, you can’t expect people to want to be a part of a losing team.

John Michaelides:
I think you need a champion.

And that is one of the problems in our industry now. It’s very hard to find champions. And the reason for that is we’ve decimated our suppliers. As an industry we’ve taken our suppliers and tried to make them more and more efficient because we’re so price-oriented that now most of our flour mills don’t talk to their customers anymore; it all has to go through distributors. There’s no communication anymore. When I was a kid, we had 20 salespeople coming to our bakery and those people had time to talk to you. And sometimes it would go to the point where it was really disruptive to work flow. And today, we all stand up and say who’s that walking in, we don’t get salespeople hardly anymore, and so that’s taken away probably the biggest vehicle for communication between bakeries.

Do we embrace the pastry chefs enough? We don’t seem to have that represented here. But in Canada we only have one trade and that’s baker. And when we train bakery apprentices, we don’t have a pastry apprentice, we have a bakery apprentice. How do we bring those people, that’s half of our industry out there, how do we bring those people to the table and how do we move forward together?

That’ll have to be our next roundtable discussion, because we’re out of time. But I would like to give everyone a couple of minutes to say a few words. Jack, would you like to start?

Kuyer: We need to keep talking; eventually we’ll come up with answers. You’re always going to have a key group of people that make the industry a better place and hopefully there’s a whole group behind us who are going to be a lot smarter.


Brisebois: I think the key for the industry is to make sure, as you go forward and you’re balancing all these internal issues around who has ownership for what, ingredient costs, etc., don’t lose sight of seeing your business through the customer’s eyes, and every industry makes that mistake where you start to look at things so much from an internal perspective that you don’t stand back to say, ‘All these things I’m grappling with as a business, these are the same things every household is also grappling with.’ Don’t lose track of what’s going on trend-wise for the opportunities.

For me, I’ve handed my business over to my son, lock stock and barrel. I now see myself as a senior statesman, and I’m learning as much from my son as I’ve learned over the years in the industry. I’m fortunate enough to be in the position where I can utilize some of the skills I’ve learned over the years and pass them on to the next generation.

I think we have to promote education in the industry or we’re going to lose the trade. I think definitely we should get the pastry designation added on. I think on a grassroots level we have to embrace the small bakery and get them involved.


Barnett: Somehow. And I think Team Canada can be a venue to promote our industry. And let’s get the Wheat Board involved. Where are they?

Ayer: Your thoughts, Frank?

Safian: If I have a message to the people that aren’t in this room, it’s worry about the things you can control, not about the things you can’t. I think we as an industry, I think we do need leadership and I say that loosely, but we do need it and I don’t know if it’s because we’re fragmented either as an organization or an industry, but we need leadership, and I can’t emphasize the importance of education. We need to support the grassroots and that ownership needs to come from everybody.

I think it’s not really all doom and gloom and as bakers embrace new technologies we can be competitive, not only in Canada, but in the global marketplace. There’s a lot of opportunities in this area.

Thanks for inviting me. On a Team Canada side, I think we’re starting to make progress and I’d like to keep moving forward. I think there’s a lot of potential there and a lot of success for people on the teams. It’s an education, it’s the most wonderful experience I’ve had in my life, getting together with people who are crazy about making great bread. There’s nothing like it.

Personally I believe we’re in one of the best industries: an industry you need to have passion for and an industry I believe has a future. Right now we do face difficult times or we think we face difficult times. We’re facing something we haven’t been confronted with and if we as an industry can communicate with the people who have been hardest hit, which is mostly the retail bakers, and communicate with them what they can do to overcome those challenges we’re facing right now, we will open up their eyes. And if somebody is open to change and you need to change, based on what we’re facing, you will be successful.

Damon Gibson: I think our industry is facing challenges, but challenge equals opportunity, and in the part of the industry I’m involved in, we see all kinds of growth. We see competitors, but that’s really healthy. I think it would be great to have a vehicle – whether it’s the BAC, through Bakers Journal or Team Canada – that brings everyone together and has more of these conversations.

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