As phoenix from the flames stories go, a cupcake cases supplier being plucked out of administration and landing plonk in the middle of a boom in muffins and cupcakes is one of the more positive stories to come out of the recession-hit bakery sector.
A well-known name and a cupcake case supplier to craft bakers, coffee shops and supermarkets, Chevler Packaging filed for administration earlier this year, largely caused by an expensive final salary pension scheme that the business couldn’t afford and a pressured market in carton packaging. With the recession in full flow, the bank got twitchy and pulled the plug on its investment, meaning uncertain times for the Hengoed-based business, which traded for two weeks in administration. Luckily, the management stepped up and bought out the profitable cupcake casing business from the family owners and left the plastics and carton side.
Following loan capital assistance from Finance Wales, an organisation set up by the Welsh Assembly Government to help businesses struggling to find credit, along with investment from the new owners, Chevler is back on an even keel. In fact, the outlook is so positive they’ve managed to create 12 new jobs without losing any.
Pretty good news, then, for nearly half the bakers in the UK that use Chevler cases, especially as it has only one rival supplier in the UK and another in Italy. "It wasn’t in any way, shape or form a pre-pack buy-out. We were the first ones that [administrators] Deloitte made redundant," recalls MD Stuart Whelan. "There were competing bids. We put everything into our bid, we put our own money in and we got it. We were delighted. We knew we were getting a strong business that did not need any major surgery and customers saw very little disruption."
Sponsors of the inaugural National Cupcake Week in September this year, alongside ingredients supplier Puratos, Chevler has been busy fuelling the cupcake craze ever since. It has launched a range of coloured cases, available in small pack sizes for craft bakers; previously these were the reserve of the big guys, who bought up to 100,000 cases at a time. There are eight separate colours in the range of 51mm x 81mm cases, which are offered in cartons of just 360. The new colours join the Chevler range, which already includes gold and silver foil cases, known for their icing holding properties.
It’s a simple idea, but one that can improve a coloured cupcake range display at a stroke. "Smaller bakers might only use 1,000 a year. So we listened to our customers, packaged them in small quantities and sell them through wholesalers," says Whelan. The last major breakthrough for Chevler was the tulip case, first developed for Costa Coffee, before it caught on throughout the industry.
It has also developed cases for all the main special occasions on the calendar, from Christmas to Easter, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Halloween and birthdays. A forthcoming launch will be unbleached, grease-proof products, with a more rustic look, targeted at the artisan side of the industry.
"If anything, we’ve had too many good ideas and have had to hold ourselves back to get the business right," says Whelan. "We turn around a phenomenal amount of samples at great expense; we have all the equipment here on-site, which means we can set up print runs. That gives us flexibility and quick reaction times, and we don’t have the burden of outside printing costs."
Now the business is in solid growth, Chevler can focus on innovative case ideas, says Whelan. "The business is in good shape," he says. "We have four owner managers, which is a good blend of experience. We’ll be focusing on the business and customers will see more from us going forward."