Cornish baker WC Rowe had never competed for a Baking Industry Award before, but a mixture of curiosity, pride and belief spurred them on and 2008 saw the company triumph in the Bakery Supplier of the Year category. Distributing branded and own-brand to all the major multiples - Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Somerfield, as well as Supplier of the Year award sponsor Sainsbury’s - the firm has a story to tell and one it wants people to hear.
The business began back in 1949, four years after the end of the Second World War, when Bill Rowe set up a bakery and a shop in Swanpool Street, Falmouth. Nearly 60 years on, 17 shops now grace the landscape of Devon and Cornwall. The factory at Kernick Industrial Estate has been there since 1976, but has expanded from 6,400 to 23,000sq ft. In 2002, the firm secured Objective One Funding, which saw the creation of a 25,000sq ft production facility at Bickland Industrial Park in Falmouth, which opened in 2003.
"Most of our trade is with the multiples and wholesale customers," explains marketing manager Paul Pearce, son of managing director Alan Pearce. "Because of this, we appreciate that we need to grow our own retail estate to become more independent, so there are plans afoot to rebrand existing shops and look at opening new ones as and when the opportunity arises."
Pearce worked on the shop floor from the age of 16 before moving into his current role. He explains the company wants to achieve as much coverage across the county of Cornwall as it can, but that both its location and the nature of the products have made it more difficult to branch further afield. "We pride ourselves on making fresh products on a daily basis, so obviously the further away you go, the more you’re working against time and the fresh element of the product can diminish. Each of our shops receives two or three deliveries a day."
Now employing around 450 people, the firm will celebrate its 60th birthday this year. "The growth has really come about since 2002, when we acquired our additional premises in Falmouth," says Pearce. "That allowed us to move all of our savoury products - for example Cornish pasties and sausage rolls - down to that purpose-built facility, which in turn enabled us to really target the likes of Sainsbury’s and Asda with that type of product."
Production is split across the two sites. The Kernick site produces breads, cakes and fermented doughs, whereas the Falmouth site produces savoury pastries.
== Expansion on the cards ==
Looking ahead, the firm has plans for future development and has just acquired additional premises down the road from its factory in Falmouth. "It will enable us to move office space down there, create more skilled jobs and, in time, increase our production facilities," he says. "We’re also looking to forge more links with local colleges, so we can bring in skilled engineers and electricians."
The company has worked closely with Sainsbury’s to develop a premium scone range for the supermarket, from coming up with the concepts to getting them to market, explains Pearce. "They believed in the product as well, which encouraged us, so we went for it."
The Taste the Difference scones were produced in three varieties - Cornish clotted cream, sultana, and Davidstow cheddar cheese. "We wanted to come up with a product with a very homemade feel. So, in theory, you could go into a Sainsbury’s supermarket, pick the ingredients off the shelves and make the same kind of scones yourself."
The company uses locally sourced ingredients, from within Cornwall and the West Country, wherever possible. "It’s a policy of ours - for ethical reasons and to cut down on food miles," says Pearce. "It’s not practical to source everything that way, but for example, butter, cream, milk and eggs are right on our doorstep, so why not use them." He also believes that if you can tell a story about a business and its products, people can relate to it and it can act as a unique selling point. For example, with products such as its pasties, Pearce says you can practically track the ingredients down to the field they came from.
As an existing supplier of Sainsbury’s, the supermarket already had a good knowledge of WC Rowe’s business before the Awards and, as Pearce confirms, a good relationship with them. However, when asked what he would highlight about the business to a complete stranger, Pearce says qualities such as the importance of craft bakery skills to the business, local provenance and local ingredients sourcing, as well as the company’s focus on competitive pricing. "I’d say that we are a very honest kind of business and the fact that we’ve been in business for nearly 60 years shows that we’re doing something right."
== Testimony to hard work ==
The fact that the Bakery Supplier of the Year award was the first it had applied for, let alone won, was an added bonus, says Pearce. "It’s testimony to a lot of years of hard work and dedication by the team, and acknowledgement from the industry, which is very important to us." He also notes that it has acted as a real motivator for the staff.
According to Pearce, the judges picked the company as winners for a number of reasons: for the scones it developed, the local sourcing angle and the performance of the products in-store. "We achieved way above our expectations with regards to sales forecasts and we’re still way above forecasts now. We’ve bucked the market trend, as the scone category was actually in decline, but now Sainsbury’s sales in that particular tier of products is actually on the increase," he explains.
Pearce reveals some of the firm’s recipes have barely changed in the last 60 years, but other things have. He admits that, in the past, the company’s approach to new product development has been "quite sporadic", but says that, from the beginning of this year, it will have a structured plan in place. It will analyse the different categories it covers with a view to refreshing some lines, and introducing some new ones into its shops on a more regular basis.
The addition of a dedicated NPD manager, Nick Brown, over a year ago made them wonder why they hadn’t recruited one sooner. At first, Brown was bombarded with ideas from all directions, so the company decided a more structured approach was needed. "Most importantly, it was to make sure that, when we come up with a good idea, it is landed and launched," says Pearce. "In the end, our success lies with focusing on our strengths and working them to our advantage."