Successfully implementing a global project for Starbucks to standardise its muffin range was, understandably, one of the main achievements Rich Products highlighted to judges in the Sainsbury’s-sponsored Bakery Supplier of the Year category. But it was also its family culture and its focus on collaboration with its customers, which saw it walk away with the gong at the Baking Industry Awards 2009.

Headquartered in Fareham, Rich UK is part of "the largest privately-owned bakery food company in the US", with a group turnover of $2.3bn (£1.57bn) and a presence in more than 73 countries. It has two manufacturing sites in the UK in Fareham and Hartlebury and plans are under way to build a new UK factory dedicated to the production of toppings and icings (see news page 5).

"Being a family company is what makes us a bit different," says national retail account controller Vicki Banks. She says that although the firm is headquartered in the US, the UK team links up with the teams in America and perhaps even more so since the founder’s grandson, Ted Rich, joined as MD of Rich UK in September last year. "He has been able to bring that connection with America to life even more, and he’s doing a lot of great things with the UK company," adds Banks.

Bakery is the primary focus for the firm around the globe, she says. The UK business, which has a turnover of around $46m (£31.4m), is primarily focused on cookies, muffins, swirls and, to a lesser extent, cupcakes. It has around 250 ’associates’ (or employees), selling 255 products. The UK site also supplies into eight countries in Europe an area it is looking to develop further, says Banks. And the firm supplies the retail sector, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Asda, as well as foodservice companies, including Pret A Manger, EAT, Starbucks and Sainsbury’s Café.

Firm foundations

Rich’s first-ever product launch was its Whip Topping in 1945. Called ’the miracle cream from the soya bean’, it was used for covering and decorating cakes. "It was invented for the troops during the war and was what Robert E Rich founded his business on," explains Banks. The firm even holds an annual Founder’s Day on 18 March across its global network.

Although Rich UK was established in 1989, Banks says its notable growth came in 2005 with the acquisition of David Powell Bakeries (DPB). "We transformed the UK company; we took the cookies that we were already making and DPB’s portfolio of products and really enhanced it in terms of manufacturing and investment particularly in the Fareham site (a former DPB bakery)," says Banks.

Leading up to its BIA application, Rich had several other achievements that it highlighted to the judges, including its success as a finalist in The Grocer Own-Label Awards the previous year. This, says marketing manager Gail Lindsay, helped emphasise the fact the firm is "not only good at supplying, but supplies great products as well". Last year also saw the firm’s first full year of trading with Sainsbury’s and its first product launches in Asda.

Lindsay says winning the award was a great way of recognising the work of the associates in improving all aspects of the firm’s practices. "As much as it was great for our company’s reputation, it was equally important to have something external to recognise the work that they had done as well."

She says Rich’s highlighted the fact that its supplier/customer relationship success stemmed from collaboration showing not just how the firm worked internally, but also demonstrating a philosophy of working in partnership with its customers. "It’s not about taking a product to a customer and saying it’s new and they should have it; it’s about listening to what the customer wants and working to deliver it," she says.

One particular point highlighted in its application was a major global project to standardise Starbucks’ muffin range, across the US, UK and eight other European countries. "We did a lot of work with Starbucks, so that wherever you go in the world, their chocolate muffins, for example, would be the same," says Lindsay. Although these types of projects are not uncommon to the firm, this particular one was on a truly global scale. "We were not only involved in collaboration with Starbucks UK, but with Starbucks in the US and Europe. There was a lot involved in the project and in a short timescale," says Lindsay.

She says Rich’s own ingredients suppliers are "incredibly important" to the success of projects, due to demands such as changes in legislation. "For example, with the Starbucks project, we were also working to reduce salt, which added another dimension, so we had to work really closely with our ingredients suppliers to be able to manufacture something that fitted with the global brief, but also fitted with our own UK legislation."

Lindsay claims the judges were also impressed by the collaboration of its supplier partnership at all levels.

Opening doors

"[The award win] has been brilliant for us in terms of opening doors with other potential customers," says Lindsay. "It has been fantastic to say we’re Bakery Supplier of the Year, and it has given us credibility."

"It was a team award, and that’s why we wanted to make such a fuss of it," adds Banks, explaining that all the associates took turns having their photo taken with the award, and the company had a party to celebrate. "We wanted to make sure everybody felt that they were rewarded by it."

Banks says that, in the last 12 months, the firm’s retail business has been growing slightly ahead of foodservice, but it is performing really well in both sectors. Due to the nature of the business "premium sweet treats" Rich’s has managed to capture some of the consumer spend from people who have traded-down from restaurants to a more affordable treat in a coffee shop, café or supermarket in-store bakery, she adds.

Family values within the business and a passion for what it does are two key strengths of the business, says Banks, who explains that Rich’s doesn’t just sell the product, it sells the solution. It also uses the strengths of the US company and its global network, but still develops products that are individual to the UK market.

As for staff dedication, the company’s associates even have ’The Rich Promise’ and its family values attached to the ID they carry on them. These include: cherishing its culture, being the trusted first choice, innovation, bettering its communities and doing what’s right, no matter what. Banks says the staff still made it into work when it snowed earlier in the year, even if it meant walking all the way. Now those are the kind of staff you want working for you.

How did you feel when you won the Award?

"I was over the moon, and so surprised. I really didn’t think we were going to win, so when they announced it, I was absolutely shocked, but really delighted"
Gail Lindsay, marketing manager, Rich Products

What does the win mean to the business?
"It has been brilliant for us in terms of opening doors with other potential customers"
Gail Lindsay

What the judges said

"Rich Products’ entry really stood out because of its description of the close collaborative working relationship with Starbucks, which helped deliver a fantastic range of products right across Europe. The products were not only great quality but also innovative and met the needs of Starbucks customers"
Matt Pizzey, Sainsbury’s bakery development manager