Baker of the Year

09 September, 2011

Robert Ditty

Director Ditty's Home BakeryCastledawson

"I hope the judges enjoyed what they saw, heard and ate," says Robert Ditty. "And that they saw how much of myself I put into my business and how much I try to pay back the industry and my community for the support I have had from both."

The judges were in total agreement, describing Ditty as a "beacon in the industry" and a real example of a hands-on baker, whose strong personality is indelibly stamped on his business.

Ditty's parents bought the original, smaller, bakery in 1953 and he joined them in the 1970s. Since then, he has monitored the benefits of retail versus wholesale trade and steered the E3m (2.64m) business to take advantage of both. His wholesale clients include high-end retailers, hamper and gift companies and Cathay Pacific, for which he makes long shelf-life oatcakes. He has two shops, in the market town of Magherafelt and the more rural Castledawson.

Ditty's is well known for its breads, including wheaten or brown soda bread, as well as its hotplate range, which includes soda farls and potato cakes. It does a "roaring trade" in what are known as wee buns; the 40-strong range includes fondant fancies and pineapple creams and sells approximately 7,000 per week. In high season, as many as 70 staff work across the bakery and two shops, and Ditty has set up a training schedule for them through the Belfast Bakery School.

David Smart

Bakery director

Greenhalgh's Craft BakeryLostock, Bolton, Lancashire

"I'd like to think people view me as a baker with very exacting standards," says Smart. "Yes, we produce in bulk, but everything is top quality and it's our skilled staff who ensure that. There's a fine balance between craft bakery and being a food supplier," he adds. "We buy machinery to make a product, never adapt a product to a machine's capability. It's people who dictate what happens during each process."

With 60 shops across Cumbria, Cheshire, Merseyside and Oldham, and around 870 staff, Greenhalgh's is renowned for its savouries and breads, the bakery also produces creams, desserts and cakes.

The son of the founder, he started full-time over 30 years ago. As director his time is now split between the bakery and administration; his day starts at 6.30am on the shop floor. Smart's greatest love is product development, "turning a traditional product on its side"

Christopher Freeman

Managing Director

Dunn's BakeryCrouch End, London

Christopher Freeman is the fifth generation of his family to work in the industry, joining the family business in 1973. "I always wanted to be a baker," he says.

He describes Dunn's as a "traditional English takeaway bakery", producing bread, morning goods, fresh creams, celebration cakes and patisserie. One of his favourite products is a crusty, seedy oven-bottomed bloomer loaf and he loves the innovative low-GI cranberry loaf. The local Budgens is the bakery's single wholesale customer.

Forty staff work in the business; around a dozen in the bakery. Freeman credits them as a major reason for the bakery's success: "We try to get all our bakery staff through NVQ Level 2 and 3 and some of the shop staff have Bakery Skills Level 2 and even 3. They are experienced and skilled there's not a make-up line in sight." Freeman time is spent developing new products.





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