Baguette in the works

The end of the world is nigh. Or at least it was until a chunk of baguette saved the day. Doom-mongers who fear the giant atom smasher in Switzerland the Large Hadron Collider will spark off a particle chain of events that will see the universe cave in on itself can breathe a sigh of relief. Well, for now at least.
Yes, work on the world's biggest particle accelerator, which is not yet operational, came to a shuddering halt when a bird dropped some bread on outdoor machinery, causing it to overheat. The golden question is, was this a carrier pigeon sent from the future to rescue the world with a baton? If so, it's reassuring to know that in a post-catastrophe future, there is still a market for French sticks.

Ultimate see-through toaster

Last year, in our tireless efforts to bring you news of toaster innovation, we reported on one concept 'see-through' toaster that was essentially two panes of heated glass. We scoffed then at the litany of design flaws, from the danger of burning your fingers to the impossibility of cleaning it.
More fool us, because Magimix is due to launch in January what it says is the first see-through toaster on the market. With two sheets of glass on either side to keep the outer wall cold, and windows that fold down so you can clean it, the toaster seems to tick all of the boxes. That is, if you're willing to put your tick next to the £160 price tag.

Mouthing off

"It's a disgrace and a total farce. We can't stomach their cheap gimmicks. What good are cream cakes when we'll all be out on the street next year?"
A worker at the Johnnie Walker plant in Kilmarnock tells the Daily Record he is less than impressed by bosses allegedly "bribing" workers with cream cakes in a bid to get them to do overtime
"It is wrong to say that eating fibre is healthy when it exacerbates unpleasant symptoms for so many irritable bowel syndrome sufferers"
Professor Peter Whorwell from Wythenshaw Hospital in Manchester, quoted in The Daily Mail, which continues its crusade to find something wrong with absolutely every single thing we eat

New loafers?

Ok, we wouldn't advise going to the park to feed the ducks in these, but for any readers out there for whom baking and eating bread is not enough, there is now The Bread Shoe.
All for a bargain E70 (£62) and featuring the tagline "not wearable on feet...first in fashion...for interesting lifestyle...", the shoes were the brainchildren of twin Russian brothers and designers R&E Praspaliauskas. Or were they? The jury is out on the blogosphere over whether it is a hoax, a doubt further cultivated by a defunct 'BUY' button on the host website, even though three styles of bread shoes have supposedly 'sold out'. Plus, some people are crediting an obscure Norwegian comic or artist HR Giger with the bready breakthrough.
If any STW readers can come up with thigh-high women's bread boots, then we're sure that would be a first. Meanwhile, the shoe is sparking heated debates on design websites:
Teo: "This is just disgraceful. There are people starving, and we make shoes out of bread? This is even, if not worse, than starving a dog to death and calling it art. I usually don't get upset but this is wrong."
Signchic: "At last... something to go with my toe jam!"
Chuck Anziulewicz: "NO THANKS! I'm afraid I might get a yeast infection."
Jim: "I have tried this once, thinking that warm bread would be nice. The feeling was not unlike stepping in poo very unexpected. I guess it's better to wait until the bread goes stale."

Desserts display frozen assets

Surely, 'always leave room for dessert' is one of life's truest lessons. It's certainly one that the pudding brands manufacturers will be hoping buyers keep front of mind as they sharpen their pencils, with an eye to revving up under-performing own-label puddings possibly at the expense of the brands.
"Certain supermarkets have been taking stock of their own category and organising themselves to potentially streamline next year; 2010 will be a lot tougher for brands like ours," says Roberta Herd, assistant brand manager at Farmhouse Fare, which supplies both branded and own-label pudding pro-ducts. "We're looking to retain our position as a quality brand, and also to look again at foodservice options."
The traditional pudding market in which it operates accounting for about a fifth of total chilled desserts sales has dipped in the last year, with promotions hitting value perception. "There has been a lot of work on deals, especially twin-packs, with a focus on promotion for the last year," she continues. "This is driving down price and expenditure. That's why traditional puddings are tracking slightly behind in value on last year. But Farmhouse Fare has seen really good growth about 56% in the last quarter (Nielsen, week ending 3 October 2009)." This is on the back of a new 10-strong range going into 52 more upmarket Tesco stores, as well as healthy promotional activity.
News of the renewed focus on own-label comes with the latest figures from TNS, showing retailer own-labels faring worse than the brands (see overleaf). But the biggest winner after a year in recession has been the frozen desserts category. Manufacturers supplying foodservice also report gains for frozen products, though this is offset by the struggling hotel and restaurant sector, with the latter seeing a 25% rise in insolvencies in the last nine months compared to last year (PriceWaterhouseCoopers).
"There is definitely a trend back to frozen due to reduced wastage," says Angus Allan, MD of Indulgence Patisserie, which supplies a number of chilled and frozen private-label products. "But if there is such a trend in foodservice (towards supplying frozen products), they are overwhelmed by the reduced number of people eating out. My gut feeling is this will last until after the election. Retail is very buoyant, foodservice is flat, but the coffee shop sector is doing fine."
Clean-label declaration continues to be a priority, which has benefited the frozen sector. "The retailers always go after the chilled, but immediately you have a life and a wastage problem," says Doug Chapman, MD of frozen supplier Speciality Desserts, which focuses on developing bespoke desserts to fit a brand concept in the hotel, pub and restaurant markets. "With frozen, you've got more flexibility. Certainly in our marketplace it's about zero wastage."

A colourful existence

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."

Eco centric

Economic hardship is failing to quell packaging and labelling innovation, as bakeries, cafés and food-to-go retailers increa-singly seek differentiation in the great high street bun fight.
While times are tough across the retail sector, the recession has both boosted and hindered independent operators, with many consumers trading down from restaurants, but others swapping take-out breakfasts and lunches for home-prepared food.
For those enjoying a lift in trade from the restaurant exodus, branding has become all-important to compete in a saturated sector ranging from small over-the-counter bakeries to chains such as Starbucks.
Manufacturers of packaging and labelling solutions have responded with new ranges of bags, bowls, cups and containers in materials offering greater scope for on-pack marketing, and responding to increasing demand for an upmarket and environmentally aware image.
Opinion is mixed as to the impact of the economic downturn on customers' willingness to pay out the premium applying to 'eco' packaging, with one trade source claiming the environmentally friendly option can triple costs. However, according to Planglow, trade in environmentally friendly lines is booming. "Packaging sales have soared over the last year or so," says Planglow marketing manager Rachael Sawtell. "Most of our products are environmentally friendly and we do tend to have a lot of bakers as clients."
Greatest sales growth has come from sandwich and baguette packs, says Sawtell, which are cardboard-based with windows manufactured from plant-based materials such as corn. Most of Planglow's packaging, which also extends to wraps, salads and beverages, is from renewable resources and is 100% biodegradable or compostable.

Back to the future

Last week Starbucks unveiled its new-look store on Conduit Street in London. Well, a look that's not supposed to be a look. A look that reflects its newfound back-to-roots indie outlook. So how does it, erm, look?
In two words, 'sustainable' and 'local'. A facelift was long overdue. A recent review of coffee shops, published by The Local Data Company, said Starbucks was "entering a period of introspection" as it took stock of its strategy. "The uniform ambience doesn't seem so appealing these days and, now the bubble has been pricked, real questions are being asked about all premium coffee shops," it stated.
The chain has haemorrhaged stores, while rival Costa has continued its rapid growth. Now, Starbucks plans to open a number of stores next year, but the focus will be on refitting 100 outlets in 2010 at a cost of £25m, matching the 100 it refitted last year.
The aim is to reconnect the store to its heritage, with locally focused fittings and a less uniform approach. Tim Pfeiffer, senior vice-president, global design, flew into the UK last week to launch the plan, saying there are "several levels of environmental initiatives that we have pretty much embedded in the design going forwards".
"We wanted to embed the character of the neighourhood in this and really elevate the offering to the customer, with the overall vibe of the store, creating an environment that really is very much more bespoke and one-off. We wanted to elevate the overall value of what Starbucks represents," says Pfeiffer.

Wild White winner

It may be the current tagline for a certain brand of crisps, but the words 'simple is better' could just as aptly be applied to Hobbs House Bakery's prize winning loaf at the Baking Industry Awards 2009. Established in 1920, family firm Hobbs House has long been in the business of making bread. And despite many of its current recipes having been in existence for 20 years or more, the bakery, based in Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire, has not been standing still when it comes to innovation.
Its Organic Wild White sourdough loaf shone through as winner of the Morrisons-sponsored Artisanal Bread Product of the Year a new category at the Awards this year. The loaf contains only organic flour from Shipton Mill in nearby Tetbury sea salt, water and a 45-year-old levain starter of rye flour and water. Sounds simple, but its production takes around three days, with the starter stored for two-and-a-half days before being added to make up the dough.
Hobbs House production director Sam Wells obtained the starter 15 years ago from a German baker, who had had it for around 30 years. "People think it's amazing that something's still going after all that time," says Wells.
The award category required entrants to submit three different products for initial judging. Alongside its Organic Wild White loaf, Hobbs House entered its Baguette Paysan and Organic Soda Seeds loaf, but the Wild White staked its place as the strongest contender, making it onto the shortlist. "It's the tasting that's the key," explains Wells, who recommended the judges warmed the bread before tasting for maximum effect. "Although it's an industry award, we obviously shout about it a lot to our customers," he explains. "We've made it our business to make sure we've had lots of press coverage, as well as marketing material in our shops, which we also sent to our wholesale customers. People like to be associated with winners."
Wells says he was prompted to enter, in part, due to the fact it was a category specific to artisan production. "It's a word we've been using quite a lot recently regarding our business. Artisanal products are exactly what we're about, so I thought, 'Maybe this us for us'."
When it was announced the firm had won, Wells says he was "absolutely speechless". "It was fantastic, a really good evening and Morrisons looked after us very well," he continues. "It was nice afterwards to be able to probe them (Morrisons' judges) on why they chose our loaf. They told us that all the judges had their own favourite second loaf, but, without fail, they had all picked the Wild White as their favourite, which was charming to hear and really encouraging. It's great to be able to bring that back to the bakers here, who make the loaf day-in, day-out, and to be able to give them that kind of feedback."
Wells sent a text announcing the win to his fellow directors and, when he got back to the bakery, he says: "People were really buzzing about it." One of the great things about this type of category, he explains, is that the award is attached to a product rather than a person, so it's one the whole business can share, as they've had a direct involvement with it. "To be attached to the whole thing has been very beneficial internally and externally. And since winning, we've sold a lot more of the loaves," says Wells. "Bryan Burger, head of bakery at Morrisons, said we should expect to see around an extra 10% return out of winning, which has been about right."

Book Review: More Baking Problems Solved

Stanley Cauvain, Linda Young
Woodhead Publishing, £135

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