31 March, 2006
This week’s issue brings the news Harvestime’s Walsall bakery is finally out of administration after six months in limbo. For a company of the calibre of Maple Leaf Bakery to gallop in at the eleventh hour talking about expanding the existing business must be a dream come true for the 248 remaining staff at the site – as well as customers and suppliers.
The last two years must have been an endurance test – the bakery has been sold three times and been in administration twice. Along the way suppliers have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds and there have been at least 150 redundancies.The new owner, Maple Leaf Bakery, was founded in the UK in 1998 as an independent operating company of Canadian giant Maple Leaf Foods. It keeps a low profile, but with the Walsall deal it now has four British sites. Its new acquisition allows it to diversify into sliced bread and bake-off, alongside its range of bagels, pretzels and speciality baked goods.Those familiar with parent Maple Leaf Foods and its Canada Bread business, Canada’s biggest baker, will be watching with interest. And they will be particularly noting the fact that senior management say they will consider further acquisitions in the UK.Only a couple of years ago New Rathbones, from which Harvestime (2005) was formed, claimed to be the UK’s third largest plant baker – after British Bakeries and Allied Bakeries. The landscape has since changed with the growth of Warburtons – which is now recording a 26.1% market share, according to latest IRI figures.With companies like Maple Leaf growing in the UK, the baking scene may well have transformed itself again two years from now.This sort of flux is nothing new. But you sometimes wonder if other food sectors are going through as many changes as bakery – from craft retail to industrial supply. I was researching these matters on the internet the other day and found a couple of websites which suggested perhaps not. One site lists companies up for sale in various sectors – from technology to medical. But click on the food section and out of the 10 most recent entries, six are bakeries, one a sandwich bar and bakery, one a bacon slicer and two are caterers.The site is certainly thought provoking, and not just because it offers great entertainment in putting names to descriptions of location and turnover.