Irish baking workshop talks innovation

From left: BBC Victorian Baker John Foster, Michele Shirlow from Food NI and Tim Andrew, Andrew Ingredients
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Innovation and quality were the focus at a recent Thinking Outside the Bap workshop held at Andrew Ingredients, Lisburn, suppliers of ingredients to the Irish baking and food industry.

Part of NI Year of Food and Drink’s bread and baking month, an initiative led by Tourism NI and Food NI, the workshop provided bakers from across Ireland with the opportunity to meet and discuss current topics of interest within the baking industry.

Guest speaker was John Foster, from Foster’s Bakery in Barnsley, who was also one of the participants in the recently aired BBC series Victorian Bakers.

Speaking exclusively to British Baker after the event, Foster said he had looked at “linear pushing, customer pull and simultaneous coupling” as key elements of his presentation. He said: “For simultaneous coupling, I gave the example of Hovis, where Richard Smith developed Smith’s Patent Wheatgerm Bread, but customers were not attracted by the name, so the brand name Hovis was born and the brand has survived for over a century.”

Foster added: “[In that vein] I challenged the guys to think about which innovations of today will become the traditions of tomorrow.”

Asked what innovations he had discovered while on his visit, Foster said that he found the sliced plant bread in Ireland had some fermentation in it and, as a result, was much more flavoursome than [similar styles] in England. He also pointed to the wheaten bread sold in Ireland, which he had not tasted before.

He added: “One of the questions asked of me today was ‘How do we avoid having ideas that don’t work?’ My answer was: ‘I have ideas all the time and most of my ideas are bad ones’.” He described this as the “ugly baby syndrome” where the parent of the baby thinks it is wonderful, but not everyone agrees.

However, he said he strongly believed in having a culture of innovation in a business that allowed mistakes. “You need openness, where people are free to express their views. Innovative time and space is needed.”

Referring to host for the session Andrew Ingredients, he noted that the company had “a fabulous demo and test bakery”, where bakers come in to do small courses, but “without them trying to sell you a bag of premix”. “They use raw ingredients and it gives local bakers creative time and space to get out of their business.”

Asked what he believed his most innovative ingredient had been, Foster said: “It was an ugly baby - a bread that went mouldy inside as it aged. So it was a bread with a vein of mould in it and it tasted divine. But, as a supermarket buyer said to me, ‘John, what makes you think I can sell mouldy bread?’ You can sell mouldy [blue] cheese, but not mouldy bread – people are not ready for it.”

Speaking about his experience on Victorian Bakers, Foster said he got involved thanks to British Baker… “A tweet came out from British Baker, and the production company was looking for a baker with technical ability. I volunteered my wife, but she refused and, initially, I said no too, but then I agreed to do it.”

Foster reveals that the series went from “hard work” in Episode 1 of the series to “a horror movie” where all the participants were ill in Episode 2 to “utter delight” in the following episode where they visited Dunns Bakery.

Foster has lectured on bread innovation and food innovation at Sheffield Hallam University. A spokesperson for Andrew Ingredients said the bakers attending the event were “buzzing” after his presentation.

Other elements of the day included an innovation workshop with Ireks, including sampling and discussion and a networking half hour

Foster’s bakery, based in Barnsley has a turnover of £11m and a 200-strong workforce including a team of five in new product development.

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