Q. How did you get to be chief operating officer of the Aga Foodservice Group?
A. I am 52 years old and have been involved in various sales, marketing and divisional management roles. I started out at Calor Gas in computers and moved into sales and marketing, then controlled a number of its retail outlets.
I went from there to the Glynwed Group, which turned into the Aga Foodservice Group five years ago. Altogether, I have been with the company for 27 years.
I started in consumer products at Glynwed as sales and marketing director of the cooking operations. I then moved into the foodservice and bakery side with refrigeration in 1986.
We made our first acquisition five years ago with Mono, when I became chief operating officer of Aga Foodservice, and we have grown ever since. In that time we have bought Miller’s, Belshaw, Adamatic, Bongard and Pavailler.
Q. Could you explain Aga’s place in the baking industry?
A. Everybody knows the Aga Group for its cast-iron cookers range, but it is the world leader in bakery equipment. We supply deck ovens, mixers, provers, dividers and everything associated with a high-quality scratch bakery – we’ve got fingers in all of those pies.
As well as the companies already mentioned, we own Bertrand-Puma, which makes mixers and dividers, and CFI, which supplies dough retarders and provers in France. In Italy, we have a mixer company called Esmach. We have also opened a sales office in China and the
Q. Are you still on the lookout for more acquisitions?
A. We’re always looking around Europe and the US. From a product point of view, we are pretty well established and we have the bulk of the equipment side sorted out.
We’ve already got over 50% of the French market and we’re very strong in the UK. If we could find a company that had good coverage in a country where, perhaps, we are not so strong, or had a customer base that we had not been able to access, then we would clearly look at it.
We’ve been working very hard in the last year to bring the businesses together, so we are now building on the skills, the products and the customers that we already deal with.
Some of the things that have been happening are very exciting. For example, we won the Tesco contract for Europe, which takes us into Poland, Romania and the Far East.
Both the supermarkets and craft bakers are investing, and Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King hinted recently at the Baking Industry Summit that continued investment in bakery was a very important ambition. That is echoed by other supermarkets that we deal with.
There is a growing understanding that freshly baked bread attracts customers into stores and to buy other products. But it has to be really good bread. At Sainsbury’s, which is now doing four bakes a day, it has changed its bakery operations significantly, and it has worked.
Q. What are Aga’s ambitions for the UK market?
A. One is to provide a better all-round package. We have invested heavily in Mono, backed up with a service and maintenance package from Miller’s, which is now our bakery service empire with nearly 200 engineers. It also has a general service, maintenance and repair workshop, where we have invested in state-of-the-art facilities and built new premises.
Infestation is a big issue and mice are a real problem around bakeries. There was a dreadful case recently where mice were found in Somerfield’s bread. Miller’s has a specialist cleaning division, which is growing quickly because everyone is becoming more aware of the need to control infestations.
Q. What sort of equipment are your customers buying at the moment?
A. Supermarkets are fitting more deck than rack ovens. When it comes to variety, then five decks with different temperatures and different times, baking a wider selection of products, is the answer.
We are starting to fit more and more of them in the UK, including Jamie Oliver’s Flour Station bakery in London. Through our Bongard company in France, we have the market leader in steam tube ovens, which are seen by the French as the ultimate for baking artisan breads. Super-heated steam is passed through tubes around the decks of the oven, which gives a very even heat.
Q. Why are consumers increasingly keen to buy artisan-style breads?
A. I suppose it is a backlash against the Atkins’ bread ban. It is incredible how the media can influence people’s thinking, even though they know, deep down, that bread is good for them. As soon as the Atkins empire collapsed, I think people came flooding back.
Q. How does bakery equipment fit into the health debate?
A. Levels of acrylamide (which may yet be classified as a carcinogen) in dark bread increase very quickly. I think it is something that is getting more attention than it really needs in a bread context – it is more of an issue with French fries. Acrylamide only forms at the last moments of baking, so you can control it through the length of firing time. Golden brown breads, which most people like, are fine.
In terms of manufacturing equipment for healthier foods, doughnuts are a case in point. We have produced a product called Thermo-glaze, where frozen doughnuts are put in a prover and thawed. They then pass through a conveyor oven with a tightly controlled temperature and time. This produces a doughnut without frying with around 50% less fat, and most people can’t tell the difference. Wal-Mart has picked it up in a big way in the US and Tesco is trialling it.
Q. Finally, how do you unwind when you are not at work?
A. I like good food and wine, so we tend to eat out. I also like to keep fit – I run and row at the weekends. I have got a passion for cars and I enjoy driving. My children are now working so I do not have to run them around any more. But I used to enjoy taking them to sporting events. And I have a nice house with a bit of land so I potter around that!