Wales-based Brace’s bakery, now run by brothers Jonathan and Mark Brace, has become one of the leading wrapped bread suppliers in the country, and has an ambitious product roll-out planned.
When miner George Brace opened a bakery in Pontllanfraith, Wales in 1902, he probably never envisaged that the family business would still be trading 116 years later as one of the UK’s largest bread brands.
George set up Brace’s – which delivered door-to-door – with a loan from his brother, William, and enlisted the support of his family to operate it while he continued to work at the local pit.
It was only following a mining disaster in 1905 that George devoted his time to developing the company and encouraged his five sons and two daughters to launch their own bakeries in the surrounding valleys.
Only one – the Oakdale Bakery in Monmouthshire, opened in 1920 and operated by George’s eldest son, Ernest – would thrive in the years that followed.
By the late 1930s, the business was supplying local shops and many pits in the area and, in 1946, Ernest’s son, Colin, joined the company that he would go on to run in 1974, following the death of his father.
“After the demise of the Spillers baking operation in 1978, trade doubled overnight and a new 8,000sq ft factory was purchased in 1979 at Croespenmaen, one mile from Oakdale,” says Jonathan Brace, who now runs the family firm with his brother Mark. “That was our step into the sliced and wrapped bread market.”
By 2000 the Oakdale plant had grown to 60,000sq ft and was producing bread rolls and Welsh cakes. Four years later, Brace’s opened a second automated bakery at Pen-y-fan, Crumlin, and bought a former Warburtons site in Rogerstone, Newport, in 2011.
The efforts of Colin, who passed away this year, were recognised when he received an OBE in 2013 for services to the baking industry and community.
Today, the business employs 250 people and produces loaves for the foodservice industry, as well as Brace’s branded bread for more than 3,000 stores in south Wales and the south west of England.
Amid tough market conditions in the sliced bread sector, in February 2016, the Croespenmaen site closed temporarily as it was running at a loss, but reopened in early 2017 with the Rogerstone plant rented out to another baker.
A mission to put the emphasis back on the Brace’s brand saw the brothers change the tin size, repackage the entire range and reintroduce favourites like fruit bread, says Jonathan. They also “looked carefully at changing market trends” and “invented a few of our own”. The business now plans to introduce at least 29 new products in the next six months.
1902: George Brace’s established
1920: His son Ernest opens a bakery in Oakdale
1936: Ernest incorporates his father’s business into his own
1946: Ernest’s eldest son Colin joins the business
1979: An 8,000sq ft site is purchased at Croespenmaen
1986: Colin’s sons Mark and Jonathan (pictured right) become directors
2004: A site at Pen-y-fan is purchased
2013: Colin Brace receives an OBE
2018: Colin Brace passes away