Business and Operations
The Final Proof: November 2015
By Stephanie Ortenzi
How fresh is fresh enough?
By Stephanie Ortenzi
The highly charged notion of “fresh” is the baker’s stock in trade, but it comes loaded with vaulted expectations. “Fresh” is a kind of lightening rod of emotion for both bakers and buyers.
There isn’t a baker anywhere who doesn’t cringe just a little when she looks at what didn’t sell that day. And there isn’t a customer anywhere who doesn’t cringe just a little when he decides to buy some day-old bread; and risks being judged poorly for it too.
Is it really not fresh anymore?
Day-old bread is stigmatized, yet everyone is eating day- and days-old bread every day. That fresh hot loaf from the bakery is not always going to be eaten same day. Which is not to say that we shouldn’t expect bread to be fresh at the bakery. It’s just that, with day-olds, there’s more than meets the eye.
Day-olds is an operations issue every savvy baker is watching closely. The day-old shelf provides information. A consistently low inventory of day-olds is the sweet spot to aspire to. But because trade operates in flux, new ideas are emerging on how to deal with them.
At the North Head Bakery in Grand Manon, N.B., founding baker Richard Rice, with his wife and partner Martha Ballantyne, are playing very close attention to this sweet spot. He says he almost always sells out. And when he doesn’t, there’s a simple plan. Yesterday’s baguettes are sold at half price, up until the next batch of baguettes is ready. On day three, any unsold bread is sold for 99 cents.
But not everyone is taken with this strategy.
“I have a lot to say about day-old bread,” says Laura Mulrooney co-owner of Julien’s Patisserie in Chester, N.S. It’s a hot topic for her because she found that when she did have a discount table, there seemed to be more and more left over each day.
“Discounting cheapens the brand,” Mulrooney says. She stopped offering day-olds altogether. That way, she can say that everything for sale is baked fresh that day. Period.
Any leftover bread that doesn’t go to bread pudding or café sandwiches goes to a local food bank, a kids’ breakfast program or to a local organic farm for feed. This last choice comes with a valuable pay-off: “It means that we can have an entire organic pig at the end of the year.”
“Giving it away protects its value,” Mulrooney says. “The whole game is figuring out what to bake to make sure you’re not giving so much away.” She’s citing the main issue at the heart of the day-olds question: who’s got a crystal ball for knowing exactly how much to produce every day? “I’d rather sell out every day,” Mulrooney says, “but not at 11:00 a.m.”
In Regina, Mark Dyck and his partner Cindy run the Orange Boot Bakery. Mark spends a lot of time thinking about day-olds, too.
“We position ourselves as ‘everything fresh, from scratch, every morning,’” Dyck says. So he encourages customers to call ahead and pre-order.
“In a perfect world, I’d have one or two of each loaf left for the last customers coming in at 5:59 pm,” he says. He used to worry that if he had a large day-old counter, it would train his customers to look for day-olds.
“My big problem now,” Dyck says, “is that most of my bread is a two-day build [either a pre-ferment or sourdough levain], so I can’t adjust very well if my day-old pile is large.”
Dyck doesn’t sell any day-olds of his daily staple varieties. They go directly to charity the next day. He also makes a unique specialty loaf each day, which he’ll sell the next day if he has any left, “because someone might have missed it the day before, and they’re just as good on day two.” Then those loaves will join the day-olds, which he labels “Yesterday’s Extras,” which also include cookies, muffins and scones.
In Charlottetown, at Robert Pendergast’s eponymous boulangerie, he says he’s never kept a day-old table. He uses day-olds for pressed sandwiches, grilled cheeses and breakfast toast in the café. He makes a big batch every second day, much of it pre-ordered. His day-olds are often handed over to regular customers as a thank you, or he gives them away to family and friends.
Pedergast says that not discounting day-old bread is a good way to educate the market, which means going up against the consumer’s attachment to the notion of “fresh,” especially when it comes to bread. He’d like to see day-olds labeled “aged” instead, which is true of his favourite, European-style country breads. Says Pendergast: “Bread that’s built on a good starter, and fermented long, slow and cooler, tends to benefit from aging and firming up some.”
Stephanie Ortenzi is a food marketing writer and blogs at pistachiowriting.com.