Known for predominantly supplying the industrial baking sector, Cereform is taking a step out of its comfort zone and targeting the craft industry with a number of new products.

The firm has invested in excess of £250,000 into these products and that’s purely on the equipment needed to manufacture them, explains sales and marketing director Andy Pollard.

Based in Northampton, Cereform is part of AB Mauri a division of Associated British Foods and supplies a range of ingredients to the baking industry. Rather than taking a product to a customer and encouraging them to use it, Pollard explains that the firm’s work with industrial bakers involves the creation of bespoke products, following consultation and analysis of all aspects of the business and exactly what kind of product it’s trying to produce.

However, the recent launches of two standard products Aqua4+, a multi-purpose water-based dough conditioner, and a new range of ready-to-use fudge icings has required the company to dip a toe into uncertain waters. Pollard says the company has never really had to market new products before, as it tends to create products for individual customers. However, with craft customers this is not the case, he says. "We’re known as a manufacturer of ingredients for the plant market, but this is a new venture for us."

Speaking about Aqua4+, he says: "We haven’t set enormous targets for sales, because we believe it’s the sort of product that will grow ’naturally’. At Cereform we believe in using the technology we’ve developed and our experience with the strict criteria that the industrial market is tied to and we are now bringing it to the craft sector, with a view to assisting craft bakers with any consistency issues."

A first to market

So, a little more about the products. Aqua4+ is the first emulsifier-free water-based improver on the market, says business unit controller Nick Tyne. It claims to be cost-effective compared to standard powder-based conditioners, easily dispensable, easily stored, and dust-free, therefore reducing the risk of exposure to airborne allergens.

Tyne explains that bread conditioners have traditionally been in dried powder form and stored in sacks, but says these can cause problems as the powders can separate when blown around the factory. "The holy grail has always been, ’can you base it on water?’" he says. One issue with putting ingredients into water, is that, as soon as you do, they start to activate, reducing the shelf-life, he explains. "Our technical staff worked on this and came up with a method of suspending the active ingredients in a water-based conditioner. This has been sold, by the tank-load, to large industrial bakers, which use slow-speed mixing methods, and has been very successful." However, the water-based product is not suitable for high-speed industrial bread processing, such as the Chorleywood Bread Process. "It contains an enzyme that produces the same effect as an emulsifier, which lends itself better to the craft or slower mixing process you have with a spiral mixer," explains Pollard. The product has been very popular on the Continent, where these methods are more widely used, he adds.

"We then started to look at whether there was another way we could bring this product to market and offer it to craft bakers," says Tyne. The key thing was to produce Aqua+ on a scale that the small craft baker could use. The company found an easy-to-wipe-down container, and a manufacturer that would provide a special pump that wouldn’t block. The 5kg containers are equivalent to 1.25 bags of normal powdered improver and deliver a 10g dosage with each pump. Tyne says that only 0.25% Aqua4+ on flour weight is required, compared to 1-2% for a standard improver. It can be kept for six months if refrigerated or three months if not.

Icings for craft

Cereform started manufacturing a range of chocolate icings, toppings and caramels around five years ago, which were made bespoke, to fit the production lines of various companies. But recently, it had been receiving a number of requests to manufacture a range of icings suitable for the craft industry.

"We were continually being asked for flavours like lemon, for example, but had to say, ’No, it’s either chocolate or toffee’," explains Tyne. The firm set out to create a more extensive range to take to the craft industry, but which could also be offered, on a larger scale, to its industrial customers. Craft bakers had said they wanted a standard product and weren’t interested in something bespoke, says Pollard. So Cereform bowed to customer demand and has installed a brand new plant for the production of seven different varieties of icing: chocolate, dark chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, lemon, caramel and coffee.

The icings, produced with a Joni Kettle, can be used for a number of different applications enrobing and dipping, topping, fudge cake side icing, frosting and buttercream and are made using natural colours and flavours in stackable buckets of 12.5kg. The range has been developed with Cereform’s sister company British Sugar and offers an icing with a very smooth texture.

The firm started development on the range last summer and it was signed off only a couple of weeks ago. The production kit has been built in a modular format only one kettle is currently being used, but a second is ready to be slotted into the production line when demand requires it.

Although he’s keeping schtum on what Cereform has planned in terms of new products down the line, Pollard hints that the company won’t just be leaving it at these two. And, as he says, if there’s one good thing about moving into an established market it’s that you can see what has been done before and go one better.

Cereform statistics

Number of employees: 170
Turnover: approximately £70m
Number of sites: three Northampton (head office), Corby (technical centre), Royston (Soya Mill)
Products and services: dough conditioners, soya and speciality products, cake and flour confectionery ingredients, donut mixes and concentrates, icings, fillings and sauces, contract blending service