James Knight from Lantmännen Unibake - My Bakery Job  2100x1400

Source: Lantmännen Unibake UK

Bakery operations manager James Knight

This new series will see British Baker speak to people across the industry to find out about their bakery job. First up is James Knight from Lantmännen Unibake UK.

Name: James Knight

Age: 39

Job title: Bakery operations manager

Company and location: Lantmännen Unibake UK in Bagshot, Surrey

Tell us about your education

After finishing my A-levels I went straight into the world of bakery. I was worried I’d be held back by not going on to higher education, but I found it was quite the opposite. Education can come in many forms, and for me, on-the-job learning was one of the best ways to upskill and gain real-world experience.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A policeman, I actually researched it a lot. However, I wanted a job where I could be hands on so when I started in in-store bakery (ISB). I knew instantly it was where I belonged. I enjoyed the graft and the satisfaction of creating something tangible, all of which the world of bakery offered. I didn’t realise when I started how many opportunities are out there within bakery and how far your career can go – I’m still on that journey.

Tell us about your career – how did you get to where you are now?

I started off with a Saturday job in a Tesco in-store bakery (ISB) and then worked my way up to bakery manager through hard work, a hunger to learn and a passion for the job. I gained a lot of experience supporting a few struggling stores. This developed my operational skill set and helped me build more of a commercial mindset, allowing me to focus on the quality, efficiency, and profitability of the bakeries, the holy grail of all bakery departments. This challenge was something that motivated me, and I knew it was something I wanted to pursue.

I’ve been with Lantmännen Unibake UK for 10 years now. I started as a bake-off specialist, applying all I had learned at Tesco bakeries to the manufacturing industry, then moved into a bakery ISB operations specialist role before a bakery operations manager role became available. Now my role includes coaching and leading our in-house operations specialist team, overseeing product delivery, and supporting key retail customers to develop all aspects of their ISB operations.

“Once you find the right company, if you have the right work ethic and mindset, you’ll thrive”

Sum up your job in one sentence 

I can get it down to one word: varied. There are so many elements to my role. I’m always on the move supporting different sites and working on different challenges. This allows me to work with a huge range of people and locations across the globe, and for that, I am very grateful.

What does a typical workday involve?

I’d say there is no typical workday for me. My day can start from anywhere from 3am to 7am, depending on where in the country I need to be. The core element of my role is bakery operations, supporting key retail customers in developing operational efficiencies and solutions to their operational challenges to get the perfect product on shelves.

Another large part of my role is managing a team. We are responsible for the delivery of sample products to our retail and wholesale customers throughout the UK and internationally (no easy feat nowadays), upskilling our colleagues and end users on best practices for our products as well as reviewing and feeding back on in-store execution.

Lantmannen Unibake chocolate twist

Source: Lantmännen Unibake UK

What would people find most surprising about your job?

The vast number of responsibilities it includes and the level of flexibility the role requires. As an example, earlier this year I was lucky enough to have spent two weeks in South Africa supporting one of our retail customers to improve their operational efficiencies. The very next week I was back touring the UK supporting various retail operational projects, including editing training video guides for our customers. Never a dull day!

What is your favourite thing about the baking industry and why?

Everywhere you turn people are passionate, whether I’m talking to a baker in a store, working with a customer in retail bakery operations, and especially my colleagues at Lantmännen Unibake. We are all real foodies with a genuine love for the bakery products we produce.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming talent in the baking industry?

Be open to any opportunity that is presented to you and don’t be scared of trying something new. Once you find the right company, if you have the right work ethic and mindset, you’ll thrive.

What, if anything, would you change about the baking industry and why?

I think overall it’s a fantastic and exciting industry to be in. Not something I would like to change, but one I would love to see sped up, is the industry’s wider approach to global sustainability challenges. This is of real importance to all of us at Lantmännen Unibake and is embedded in our day-to-day ways of working to meet our corporate sustainability targets. I know it is also high on the agenda for our customers and most of our consumers too. We need to continue to work together, uniting to find sustainable growth solutions across all aspects of the baking industry from field to fork.