Wizards of Oz
30 June, 2006
Like the UK, Australian craft bakers are enchanting customers with artisan breads, but there are differences, says Ian Martin of Martins Bakers, who has spent over a decade in bakeries Down Under
For the past 15 years, Ian Martin, site manager of Manchester-based Martins Bakers and Sandwich Makers, has been involved in the artisan bakery scene in Australia, most recently giving specialist help to market leaders in organic sourdough bread, such as Brasserie Bread in Sydney and Dench Bakers in Melbourne. He also managed the bread production at Phillippa’s in Melbourne, well-known as one of the largest commercially successful artisan bakeries in Australia.
Having now returned to Martins, he works at the firm for eight months of the year and spends the other four months helping bakery businesses internationally on ‘artisan’ projects. Martins’ bakery and sandwich retail chain is a family business, owned by older brother Neil.“Martins Swiss Confectioners began when my grandfather came over from Switzerland and my father continued the tradition,” says Ian Martin. “I grew up learning the family business and, after acquiring my skills, set sail for Australia 15 years ago to take up a new challenge.”Martin claims he was one of the first to introduce the concept of a craft bakery and café business on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. After learning how to make German-style sourdoughs, his interest in advancing his skills led to involvement in the emerging artisan bakery scene in the main cities of Australia, which are famous for Italian and French sourdoughs.So what type of bread does the typical Australian family consume? “Mainly white bread,” says Martin, “but a growing number of Australians are on the look-out for speciality breads, either from an artisan bakery or one of the many hot bread shop franchises. However, the emergence of the neighbourhood bakery and café business has seen more and more Australians spending time at the ‘local’, enjoying sausage rolls, pies and treats with a takeaway latte for lunch.”According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, bread accounts for 44% of total bakery products consumed and there is a growing trend towards premium products that are “natural and fresh” with the growth rate forecast at 13% per annum.“The Australian market is essentially a domestic market, with only 1% of bread exported overseas,” explains Martin. “Most bread is baked on-site at 8,600 establishments throughout Australia. Franchising is a popular trend in the market; the Bakers Delight bakeries lead the way, with a store in most Australian towns and cities.“The concept of a husband-and-wife team owning and running a franchise is well-marketed throughout the country and well-received by those wanting to set up a small business enterprise with a partner,” he adds. “Nowadays, even young school leavers are encouraged to ‘make it on their own’ by working towards ownership in a franchise together with a partner.”However, the Australian and British markets do have their differences. Independent bakeries appear to co-exist more comfortably alongside the large supermarket chains. “The major supermarket players in Australia, Coles and Safeway, have their own in-store bakeries,” says Martin. “But this concept has reached saturation point, as supermarkets can no longer afford to provide expensive space required for in-store production. “In the UK, supermarkets tend to threaten the existence of the local bakery because of the convenience of the ‘one-stop shop’. In contrast, most Australian supermarket are located in one big complex, surrounded by smaller shops such as bakers, into which the single shopping trolley can be wheeled. As the supermarkets have a limited range of breads, the bakers tend to thrive. For example, a franchised bakery, such as Bakers Delight, often finds customers lining up for fresh bread after the main supermarket shopping is done.Even specialist bakeries thrive when located close to a supermarket. This is the case with Dench Bakers, a sourdough specialist, that is located across the road from local supermarket chain Piedmonte’s in North Fitzroy, Melbourne.”That said, recently published research shows that competition remains strong in both retail and wholesale sectors in Australia, says Martin.“Australian bakers have recently made a special effort to communicate effectively with customers regarding new trends in bakery products,” he says. “In the state of Victoria, for example, the industry has successfully lobbied for government funding to educate the public on the health benefits of ‘slow food’. In Melbourne, the site of an old convent with an enormous wood-fired oven is currently being refurbished for use as an organic bread bakery and café.”The state of Victoria alone boasts a dozen wood-fired ovens, introduced in the last century, he reveals. Many of these bakeries have been refurbished and once again fired up for commercial production.Although on the other side of the world, the artisan scene in Australia, particularly Melbourne, is fuelled by regular teaching visits from gurus based in the UK. “Dan Lepard and Paul Merry, who originally hail from Melbourne, form an important educational link between Britain and Australia,” says Martin.Back at the family firm in the UK, Martin has already made an impact. Martins Bakers and Sandwich Makers was recently a section winner in the British Sandwich Designer of the Year Award, organised by the British Sandwich Association. “I developed a honey and wholemeal demi baguette, made of rye and wheat flour,” he reveals. “It is filled with a hot and spicy relish, made up with sliced bresaola, French goats cheese and lettuce.”