Following a number of incidents on baking companies using bread baskets without permission, British Baker caught up with Bakers Basco general manager Steve Millward.

With so many incidents over the past few years, British Baker wanted to find out from Millward why baking businesses continue to misuse the equipment.

Bakers Basco manages and licenses a pool of four million breads baskets and associated wheeled trolleys for the use of bakers. Several baking businesses including Allied Bakeries, Hovis and Warburtons pay a licence fee to use the equipment.

Baking companies have been using your bread baskets without permission for some time. Why do you think they continue to do this?

“Our bread baskets and dollies are made to carry bread, and only bread, safely and efficiently. Unfortunately, our baskets and dollies are so well designed that people ‘borrow’ them and use them for a whole range of purposes other than carrying bread. They all carry embossed warnings that they belong to us and they should be returned, but people still divert them for their own use.

“Sometimes, it’s just one or two baskets and, as soon as we contact them, people say sorry and give them back - it’s just them being thoughtless. At other times, it takes a letter from our lawyers or a visit from one of our recovery officers, but still we get many of our missing baskets back without any real fuss.

“However, some people aren’t just thoughtless, they are selfish. There have been cases where businesses have got hold of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of our baskets/dollies and won’t give them back when we ask. Basically, they are avoiding having to purchase their own baskets and dollies, so they take ours. That is deeply unfair on rival, honest businesses that buy or rent their own equipment.

“When we come across people who won’t give our baskets back, our recovery team and our lawyers go into overdrive. In cases like this, we will use the law to recover our equipment and get financial compensation. Where people habitually misappropriate equipment, or it constitutes a public health risk, we also seek restraining injunctions.”

How many incidents did you have in 2016?

“We got the courts involved in 51 instances during 2016, which is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the total number of cases of missing baskets and dollies that our recovery officers investigate. But, most of the time, people say sorry and give them back.

“Since Bakers Basco launched 10 years ago, the basket attrition rate for our licensees has been slashed. We’ve got it down from double digits a few years back to single digits today. In terms of court cases, since 2006, our lawyers have commenced around 350 legal cases, with the liable parties being ordered by the courts to pay up to £25,000 in damages, costs and interest per case.”

How does it affect businesses when companies take your baskets without permission?

“Our baskets and dollies are sturdy, space-saving, environmentally-friendly and cost-effective. They should last for years and that means financial savings for small and large bakers that are licensed to use them. That translates to competitive pricing for the retailers those bakers supply, which in turn means lower prices for consumers.

“So, when people divert them for their own use, it costs bakers, it costs retailers and it costs shoppers.”

You have added GPS trackers to your baskets. How effective has it been compared to the glitter additive that you have used before?

“Glitter is a low-tech solution, but proved cost-effective and we still have a significant number of our glitter baskets in the field. GPS tracking, on the other hand, actually allows us to see where our equipment is in real time. In one major case, we linked the GPS chips to satellite imagery and were able to show our equipment moving around the defendant’s premises over a period of weeks – and being driven up and down the M1 over that time. We were able to present a dossier to the judge showing exactly where our missing equipment was and how it was being moved around, plus satellite pictures, alongside all our other evidence. Job done.

“We had been keeping an eye on GPS trackers for some time before we implemented them, but it’s only in the last couple of years that the actual tracking chips have come down in price to a point where large-scale deployment can be financially justified. There was also the need for supporting software to make it easy to manage tracking operations – we can now see where our GPS-equipped equipment is on a dashboard on PCs and laptops.”

Can you do anything more to prevent baskets being taken?

“We are very interested in how the internet of things is developing. If chips come down to a point where it’s cost-effective to include them in all our equipment, then that could be a huge boost to our efforts to keep our baskets in the logistics chain, helping deliver our daily bread safely, efficiently, cost-effectively and in an environmentally-friendly way.”

Should there be heavier compensation fees to stop companies doing this all together?

“That’s a matter for the government and the legal system. At times, it does seem that some companies just treat the damages and costs they have to pay us as an occasional business expense. We’ve successfully gone to the courts hundreds of times and we’ve been awarded costs and damages every time, ranging from hundreds of pounds on small actions up to £25,000 in larger cases.

“We’ve also had a number of cases where people have broken an injunction or court undertaking. That’s a solemn promise they made to the court at a hearing not to take our equipment again and it’s legally binding. In those cases, defendants have had to pay a fine to the Crown in addition to paying costs and damages to us. That’s much more serious; they could even go to prison for breaking an injunction.”

Do you expect any improvement in 2017?

“Absolutely. Our recovery team is expanding coverage to include the non-bakery sector and we are currently exploring some exciting new technology.”