Face to face...
Published:  20 July, 2007

Q What is Délifrance?

A It is the bakery arm of parent company Nutrixo which also owns Grands Moulins de Paris, the French miller. We are 50% owned by French farming co-operatives and 50% by employees.

Délifrance manufactures its own goods, using its own flours and specifications. The good thing is that it gives us total control over the supply chain. We are well-established in the European baking market and 2008 is the brand's 25th anniversary. There are 15 international divisions and I am MD of Délifrance UK, which employs approximately 120 people and has its headquarters in Leicestershire.

Q Who are your customers?

A On the foodservice side, we supply catering professionals and wholesalers with raw frozen or ambient baked breads and Viennoiserie. On the retail side, we supply the major multiples and convenience stores with breads, Viennoiserie and savouries, which can include part-baked as well as raw or ambient goods.

As Délifrance is a manufacturing operation, as opposed to just supply, we also have around 600 of our own retail outlets worldwide on forecourts, for example.

Q Do you see any advantages in belonging to an international company?

A We all learn from different cultures and experiences. Whether developments are in the sphere of organic, healthy inclusions or bio-strategy, sooner or later, all things pass to all countries. It happens even faster across Europe. Tesco, for example, is addressing what's happening in Europe all the time with its stores and goods. In bread, we clearly see a widening repertoire of sandwich carriers. And there has been a raft of new introductions in Viennoiserie and brioches, for example. At Délifrance, we love the challenge of driving the market forwards.

Q So what, more specifically, are the UK trends?

A The trend here is definitely for more information. Our recent recruitment has centred on technical services people to comply with that.

There is also a move towards 'larder' ingredients, which is partly driven by the media and foreign travel, but consumers also want more natural, wholesome ingre- dients - no emulsifiers, not too much salt, just natural goodness.

Q How do you address that in your own products?

A The whole Délifrance ethos is 'nature and flavour'. We use no emulsifiers in our bread products, we ferment each bread for a minimum of two hours, our butter is sourced from the Charentes region of France.

The quality of flour we use is very good, high-protein, 100% French flour. Our parent company, Nutrixo has 23 mills. The flour used in our breads comes from one particular region and we always blend flour from the old crop to the new carefully and slowly to ensure consistency. One of the company's priorities is to test new varieties in the fields for disease resistance and drought.

Our ethos is to work hard to make sure our goods are the best. I tell colleagues: "Don't be frightened to explain why we believe we're the best."

Q What sort of training do you provide for newcomers?

A All newcomers, whether they are receptionists or food technologists, have to go to the Paris school of baking for a week. Next, they have to work with one of our franchisees for a week, making or selling goods to the public, so that when they are talking to buyers or customers, they know exactly what they are talking about on both the foodservice and retail sides. Extra training is then job-relevant.

Q Have you always worked in bakery?

A No, I graduated as a chemist. One day I was standing in the lab, shaking test tubes and pontificating about life and I thought, "Is this it?"

A friend saw an advertisement for a food technician at RHM's Manor Bakeries. At the interview I felt an instant rapport. My studies had included food chemistry and I immediately felt at home. I loved the buzz and the atmosphere of baking. I had fantastic training and began to spend more time in the commercial section, working with Tesco and Marks & Spencer.

By around 1986, I felt ready to move on, so RHM created a combined technical/commercial role. Some of the big retail buyers would come up with slightly outlandish ideas, so I would say, "Well, you can't do this or this, but you can do that." I stayed for about eight years.

Q What was your next move?

A It was to Northern Foods and occurred at the time of the Tom-kins takeover of RHM. At Nor-thern, I became involved with Gunstones bakery, as well as with sandwiches, pizzas, chilled snacks and Bowyers, the sausage maker, of Trowbridge.

CEO Chris Haskins rebuilt the Gunstones bakery after a major fire. It cost a massive £35 million, which had to be recouped. A Mr McCracken of M&S was a major client and Mr Haskins (now Lord) just stood up and said: "It's all yours Mr McCracken!" What a great approach! It put M&S under pressure to really innovate the ranges, which they did, excellently. Some CEOs can be scared to invest, but he showed you have to have the courage to run with it.

Q Do you always feel the need to be challenged?

A Yes, definitely. Next I went to CPC Best Foods to launch the US Entenmann's brand in the UK. It brought me right back into bakery and I loved the job. It gave me the opportunity to launch a completely new bakery brand in the UK, from scratch!

I moved to Bristol and we set a target of 30% market share. It was an exciting time, because RHM had bought Lyons cakes, to add to their Mr Kipling brand. CPC had a history of backing brands. Supermarkets are always very keen to see innovation and added value, backed by good marketing support. Entenmann's became the fastest-growing FMCG brand in 1997, as measured by AC Nielsen. I worked in New York and Miami, learning how products were made and how they were benchmarked against others. >>

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=== Curriculum vitae ===

l First joined the bakery industry as a food technician at RHM's Manor Bakeries, moving on to a technical/commercial role

l Moved to Northern Foods, where he was involved with Gunstones bakery

l Worked for CPC Foods, launching the US Entenmann's brand into the UK

l Worked for Allied Bakeries in the convenience trading division

l Joined Délifrance UK as MD




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