Grupo Bimbo marketing head Kate Haskins on the business’ approach to ramping up its UK presence

“We’re the biggest bakery company nobody has ever heard of,” jokes Grupo Bimbo Brands marketing head Kate Haskins.

And, as far as UK consumers are concerned, she has a point.

Despite having some of the best-known bakery brands on the planet, an annual turnover of more than $15.1bn (£11.5bn), and 197 manufacturing plants, the name Grupo Bimbo means nothing to most Brits.

But that is set to change, with the business this month announcing plans to grow its UK presence – spearheaded by the roll-out of Sanissimo Salmas Mexican-style corn crackers.

The move comes six years after Grupo Bimbo entered the UK with the acquisition of Rotherham-based Canada Bread from Maple Leaf Foods. Rotherham is the largest of three sites now operated by Grupo Bimbo in this country, and produces bagels under the New York Bakery Co brand.

In addition, it has a manufacturing facility in Welwyn Garden City after last year acquiring private-label business Mr Bagel to boost capacity.

The third site, in Maidstone, produces private-label goods such as pains au chocolat, croissants and bagel thins. It also houses a new production line that has been supplied from Mexico to produce Sanissimo crackers for the UK. If all goes well, it will also supply them into Europe and extend the Sanissimo product range.

“The line we have in Maidstone is capable of making four or five different products, all of which are on our launch plan for the next few years – although we plan to establish Salmas first,” explains Haskins.

She adds that the business has learned from the first time it launched a brand in the UK. Making its debut on shelves in summer 2017, Bimbo Little Adventures was a range of baked snacks that failed to gain a foothold with the target family audience.

“Little Adventures was launched very early on, when we were getting to know Bimbo and the Bimbo brand,” says Haskins. “There was a real ambition to get brands into the UK and this was an experimental launch to see how we could go about doing it. We learnt a lot from that launch that will be applied going forward.”

She says the approach from here on in is to start with an insight, get that right, get the brand into the market and support it properly to drive sales through and “create the demand that we know is there”.

Haskins says selecting which of Bimbo’s enormous portfolio of brands to bring to the UK was “a bit like being a child in a sweet shop”, but she is clearly confident in the choice.

“Sanissimo Salmas is so on-trend; it has so much going for it right now,” she says.

“We put it through consumer research about 18 months ago and got back the results we pretty much expected. People were very engaged with it being so simple, plus it is healthy but tastes of something.”

Bimbo’s UK target audience for Sanissimo are foodies rather than dieters, so ensuring taste and a strong brand story were key.

“It is very authentic - it’s the kind of product people are eating in Mexico on a daily basis like we might eat bread. And it has a great brand story; it was a small business Grupo Bimbo bought in Mexico about 20 years ago and it is very much part of the Mexican diet.”

In contrast to many of the corn-based products on-shelf in the UK, Sanissimo Salmas crackers are made with white corn rather than yellow.

White corn is what people in Mexico will use to make their tortillas or crackers. It has a slightly different flavour profile, but is delicious.

“If you speak to Mexicans, they will tell you yellow corn is kind of the ‘Tex-Mex’ corn of choice. It’s sweeter than white corn and is what you would expect an average tortilla chip to be made from.

“White corn is what people in Mexico will use to make their tortillas or crackers. It has a slightly different flavour profile, but is delicious. It is an ancient grain – there has been no cross-breeding or modification because it just does what it needs to.”

Also setting Sanissimo Salmas apart, explains Haskins, is the baking process: they are produced over an open flame to give a crunchy texture and a smoky, charred finish.

“The ovens we have installed are something else entirely,” says Haskins. “From a company in the UK that’s used to nice, controlled ovens, we are baking there over live flames. It is something else to watch!”

And, although it has taken six years for Grupo Bimbo to invest seriously in the UK, it now has big ambitions here.

The company’s growth has been fuelled almost entirely by acquisitions, and the decision to buy Canada Bread in 2014 was partly to give Bimbo a presence in one of the most advanced retail markets in the world

“Bimbo saw they could learn a lot from the UK,” says Haskins. “In many ways we are further advanced in evolutionary terms than some of the South American markets.

Having waited and watched, the company is now planning to enter a handful of categories “with really big brands and really investing behind them”.

In addition to the new production line and an expanded marketing and sales team to support its aggressive growth plans, Bimbo is backing Sanissimo with outdoor advertising in March and a major sampling campaign.

“We know from launching the brand in other markets that once people taste it, they are converted,” says Haskins.

“It’s a tough world for brands and there is no room to do anything other than get it right, so we are following an approach where we invest significantly – not just in capital, but in the marketing behind it as well.

“This is the formula we’ll be using going forward to make sure that while you haven’t heard of Grupo Bimbo in the UK yet, you certainly will do in the future.”