Each month we profile a family firm to see how the business has passed down through the generations. Here, how Robert Roberts founded a bakery that has flourished for 130 years
Robert Roberts began learning his trade aged 11, when he was sent to a baker and flour dealer in Salford to complete an apprenticeship in bread baking and grocery retail. After years of working for other people, aged 30, he branched out on his own with a corner shop in Castle, Northwich, from which he sold and delivered groceries including bread.
Now, 130 years later, Roberts Bakery is thriving and can be found on a site just a few miles away from the original shop. The business has evolved from a husband-and-wife team with a horse-drawn cart to a multi-million pound business supplying national retailers and employing 900 people.
“It’s got slightly more complicated,” jokes Mike Roberts, deputy chairman and Robert’s great grandson. Mike is one of a handful of fourth-generation Roberts family members to work there.
In 1900 Robert moved to larger premises on Station Road in Lostock Gralam and added a small bakery to his shop to cope with the growing demand for bread. Frank, Roberts’ only son, came on board after completing his apprenticeship.
“It evolved quite slowly from 1900 to World War Two when we bought another business in the Northwich area,” explains Mike.
“Back then there were a dozen bakery companies in Northwich, but there’s only really us left now.”
Business was tough during the war. While bakers were a reserved occupation, many van salesmen were called up. Through hard work, the company survived and, in the following years, a new generation of the family joined.
In 1952 the bakery moved to its current site and constructed the Red Rose Bakery on farmland in Rudheath, Northwich. By the 1970s, bread production was running at 3,500 loaves an hour and in 1977 Roberts began to supply Sainsbury’s on an own-label and branded basis.
The business diversified into mass bread roll production in the 1980s, along with morning goods. By 2000, it was producing 13,000 loaves an hour.
“We’ve gone through a lot of evolution,” says Mike, “now on to the revolution”, referring to a recent, and radical, rebrand. “We wanted to shake things up in bread,” he adds.
The seismic shift, as described by the business, is designed to overcome the decline in the wrapped bread category and signals Roberts’ ambitions to become a nationally listed challenger brand.
1887: Robert Roberts opens a corner shop selling and delivering groceries to the local community.
1900: A small bakery is added to the business after it moved to larger premises on Station Road.
1936: Robert Roberts passes away, aged 80, leaving his son Frank in charge.
1952: The company moves to its current site in Rudheath.
1977: Sainsbury’s signs a deal with Roberts for the supply of own label and branded bread.
2000: The iconic cooling towers at the front of the bakery are built, and bread production now runs at over 13,000 loaves an hour.
2014: A third plant opens.
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