Mary Berry isn’t one to let the grass grow under her feet. Having left The Great British Bake Off behind her, she has teamed up with Finsbury Food Group to create a line of ready-to-eat cakes. Alice Cooke caught up with her and Finsbury’s innovation chief at the launch of the range
Finsbury Foods innovations director Jill Downs thought she had “died and gone to heaven” when she heard the business would be collaborating with Mary Berry.
As for Berry, the launch of her own retail range had been something she had thought about - and had been regularly asked about - for many years.
Now, in her own words: “I’ve finally done it!”
“I’ve always thought, ‘Am I going to do it one day?’” she continues. “I know about cakes. I’ve been writing about cakes for years, buying cakes, making cakes, but in the back of my mind I always thought that if I ever did it, it would have to be as good as the ones I actually make – and this range, I reckon, is.”
But Berry admits that, when she was first approached by Finsbury, she was “a bit shaky about it, to be honest.”
It’s a sentiment echoed on Finsbury’s side too, according to Downs, particularly when she and her NPD manager were driving to Mary’s home with all the cakes in the back of the car.
“It was one of those moments where all of a sudden you think ‘oh my goodness, I am on my way to be judged on my cakes.’,” she says. “And even though I know that we make fantastic cakes, we make award-winning cakes, we’re really good at making cakes – I was nervous!”
But fears were allayed on both sides when, as Berry puts it, “we realised we were seeking perfection.”
Developing the range took nine diligent months, but “everyone was so keen to make it work as well as it possibly could,” says Downs. “We’ve always followed her books and thought ‘What would Mary Berry do?’.”
And she recalls the day that Finsbury’s marketing head called her to ask what a Mary Berry cake range would look like if the company was to produce one: “I thought ‘bring it on!’”
The decision to develop the nine-strong range followed research that showed 8 out of 10 consumers are more likely to buy a cake from a supermarket if it has Mary Berry’s name on it, according to Finsbury. The research also found twice as many consumers want to see Berry’s name on a range of ready-to-eat cakes over any other.
“So out came all the Mary Berry books and I got cracking on making some of the recipes up straight away,” says Downs. The thing that struck her most, she says, “is they turned out just like the pictures in the books and tasted absolutely fantastic. I’d like to take credit but I can’t - the way the recipes are put together made it so easy for us.”
But the development wasn’t only about the cakes, Downs adds. “It was also about Mary trusting us as a business. Do we have the integrity that’s required to work on this fantastic brand? Does Mary trust us to turn her recipes into a reality?”
Berry says all this did indeed matter, but that the ingredients in particular were really important. “It’s really butter, sugar, flour and eggs. We used natural sugars, barley sugars in some – nothing dyed, and the taste as well as the ingredients had to be really natural.”
And once the recipes were mastered, there was also the question of size.
Berry says: “Sensibly, I think, there’s a smaller chocolate cake, for more everyday eating, as well as a bigger one for a celebration. That one does cost a bit more, but it looks glorious on the plate.”
The process turned out to be an unexpected learning experience for Berry, when she discovered freeze-dried strawberries for the first time: “They’re just so crunchy and flavoursome, I think so much better than freeze-dried raspberries which are just the pits – the seeds end up in your teeth and that’s no fun at all.”
What sets the range apart, Berry says, “is with the celebration cakes, you can really make them your own. There is a very simple kit in with them, so any inexperienced hand can write a message on them. And if it’s a bit wobbly, so much the better, and everybody will comment because that shows you actually did it.”
Berry professes to being “extremely proud” of all the cakes in the range, which will be widely available this spring.
“All in all,” concludes Downs, “at the end of all that work we’ve got a fantastic range, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.”
• Lemon Yoghurt Loaf Cake
• Banana Fudge Loaf
• Lemon Drizzle Cake
• Carrot Cake
• Death by Chocolate Cake
• Divine Chocolate Cake
• Strawberries and Cream Cake
• Divine Chocolate Celebration Cake
• Delicate Rose Celebration Cake