Business and Operations
Vancouver Croissant’s Key Ingredient
December 5, 2007 By Tuija Seipell
The owner of the Vancouver-based bakery says human touch is crucial for creating quality products.
Vancouver Croissant Ltd. is a wholesale bakery that sells nothing but handmade, frozen croissants. Effat Sedky, the owner of the 23-year-old business for the past eight years, has turned Vancouver Croissant into not just a thriving niche bakery, but also a pioneering operation.
Sedky believes that the highly specialized niche has a lot of potential. In fact, he is pushing the specialization even further. A selection of the company’s croissants now has certified organic accreditation in both Canada and the U.S., although the company doesn’t sell to the U.S. market yet. To Sedky’s knowledge, Vancouver Croissant is the only bakery in Canada – possibly also in North America and even in the world – that makes certified organic croissants.
Sedky is a veteran businessman who says that he knew the business “would work if you look after it because people will always eat.”
However, the company’s success has less to do with people’s need to eat and more with Sedky’s entrepreneurial thinking, thorough research, insistence on top-level quality and sensitivity to customer demand. Sedky is constantly planning far ahead and looking for ways to improve and innovate.
A Quebecois entrepreneur started the company in 1983 as Vancouver Croissanterie Limited. He sold it to another operator who later fell ill and sold the business to Sedky. Anticipating growth, Sedky moved the bakery to Burnaby, about 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver and then last fall, he doubled its size to 3,000 square-feet in anticipation of further growth. Vancouver Croissants serves Vancouver and the lower mainland area through two distributors. Snow Cap Enterprises distributes the regular croissants and Horizon Distributors has just recently been engaged to distribute the certified organic line.
Using the trademark Gourmet Croissant, the bakery continues to specialize on just frozen croissants for the wholesale market. Baking in its own facility is done only for quality control and research purposes. The clientele – retail stores, hotels and other commercial establishments – thaw and let the croissants rise overnight, bake them and sell them freshly baked to the public.
Taking advantage of the take-and-bake trend, Sedky had a special package developed and designed for the consumers to bake at home but at 12 croissants each, the package has proven to be somewhat too large. A six-pack is now in the works.
Operations manager Chris Robinson says that, over the years, the bakery has also experimented with other baked goods – and will continue to do so for R&D purposes – but so far, focusing on croissants is the strategy the company is sticking to.
Practically everything in the bakery is done by hand, with only a mixer and a sheeter in regular use. This is not a strategy one would expect from a progressive company.
in the competitive wholesale business where automation seems to be considered the only route to efficiency and to making a profit. Sedky, however, believes that the quality of the delicate croissant suffers too much from the use of machines.
“Doing it all by hand does take more time and costs more but the machine is cold and will never feel the way a human hand does,” he says.
It is particularly critical to feel the relative temperature and viscosity of the butter and the dough each time, and a machine just cannot be programmed to that level of sensitivity, he says.
“Temperature affects everything in the process of making croissants. It is absolutely crucial to the quality of the end product to be able to control and adjust each step of the process accordingly. We train our staff in the traditional way of making croissants by hand and they take great pride in their work.”
That work includes shunning the proofer, along with cutting, filling, rolling and twisting by hand. All this attention to detail slows down the process, but the 12-member staff, working in two shifts, has managed to produce close to 100,000 croissants in their busiest month.
The organic certification process also took time – more than 11 months and “thousands of dollars.” To the question: Has it been worth it? Sedky replies without hesitation: “No. Not yet.”
The important word is “yet.” Vancouver Croissant offers three categories of croissants: 25 varieties of gourmet croissants, three kinds of gourmet croissants made with organic flour, and four kinds of certified organic croissants. The “regular” croissants are the best-selling category, but certified organic is the one that is growing significantly daily. The certification resulted in an immediate shift among the existing clients. “All of our clients who had been buying our ‘made with organic flour’ products, shifted to certified organic,” Sedky says.
The time-consuming certification process involved the initial research to figure out what is required. Then came the lengthy search for certified organic ingredients, then testing and experimenting with the new ingredients, and finally the official analyses and inspections. Vancouver Croissant’s products are certified in Canada by Pacific Agricultural Certification Society and in the U.S. by the National Organic Program.
“We had to go right back to square one with the ingredients to ensure that the end product is 95 per cent certified organic,” explains Sedky. “Canadian organic ingredients are not easy to find. For example, we could not find certified organic honey to our liking, so we do not use honey. And water, salt and yeast are not certified organic, so there’s not much wiggle room when you need to remain below 5 per cent.”
Price is always an issue, but quality is more important, says Sedky. “We cannot compete in the lowest-price category, so we need to ensure the highest quality,” he says.
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