I have always maintained that it is a false economy to cut corners when purchasing ingredients. And if I were to pass on any words of wisdom from my 24 years in the food trade, this would be one of my top three pointers for running a successful business.

"That’s predictable," you might think. "After all, you and Unifine have a vested interest." We most certainly have. We want to help in making our customers successful. In my own experience, we achieve the best results together when they buy the highest quality they can afford.

What’s wrong with cutting a few corners when the budget is tight, and why doesn’t it pay to look upon ingredients as an afterthought? It’s simple. When customers purchase your bakery products, not only do they choose with their eyes but they are also drawn by aroma, taste and texture. Your skill can most certainly do the trick on the visual front. But it’s what happens when they sink their teeth into a cake or pastry that will determine whether you get that vital second purchase.

It has to be rich, light or flaky - offering eating experiences and flavours that are neither overwhel-ming nor disappointingly absent. The crumb needs to be consistent throughout, the contents should look generous and yielding and the essential nature of each item has to linger on the tongue. Today’s customers demand it and if you don’t offer it, someone else will.

OK, it costs a little more initially but it’s not as much as you may think. Top-of-the-range flavours and bases invariably go further. They’re bound to, especially the natural ones - the flavours are more refined and perform better when concentrated. Such refinements also mean that they blend more evenly and there is a greater consistency in the finished article. The customer knows every time that the quality of their last purchase will match that of the next. All this might seem obvious, yet so many businesses miss the point, then wonder why their sales are flagging.

As an example, take a look at the award-winning butcher/baker Dennis of Bexley. Dennis is a remarkable combination of butcher, baker and caterer, which produces in-house and trades from a high-class food hall in Kent. Its owner, Keith Mulford, has adopted the very best practices of larger retai-lers such as Marks & Spencer. In terms of size, he and M&S are at the opposite ends of the scale, but both businesses have two things in common. Firstly, they insist on using the very highest-quality ingredients for their product ranges and secondly, their sales ethic begins with the ingredients they are going to use. Everything else follows on.

We are all aware of the effect this has had with Marks & Spencer, giving them a clear edge in their food halls. For Dennis of Bexley, starting with good ingredients has not only built them a high reputation within the industry, but has won them copious awards, including three prestigious European Cups, Overall Supreme Champion Award and a number of top prizes in the Guild of Q (Quality) Butchers 2006 Smithfield Awards Product Evaluation. However, Mulford’s greatest reward came recently when Dennis’ business moved from Bexley to Dartford. He reckons he took 95% of his customers with him.

So, next time the annual business plan looms, by all means take a long look at where you can save a bob or two. But make sure it isn’t on the ingredients, for it is these on which good reputations - and repeat sales - are built. n