WMAW: 'Innovation isn’t just reinventing the wheel'

Winning a Baking Innovation Award at the 2017 BIAs for a crumpet is no mean feat, but Village Bakery succeeded in doing just that. Here’s how…

These aren’t any ordinary crumpets, these are M&S Ultimate Five Grain Crumpets.

Created by family business Village Bakery, they feature five grains – rye, spelt, linseed, sunflower and wheat – soaked in a rye sourdough, which gives depth of flavour and a soft bite to the palate.

“We wanted to develop a new product that wouldn’t cannibalise sales from our existing range of sourdough crumpets,” explains Village Bakery MD Robin Jones (pictured left). “So we came up with the idea of a five-grain crumpet which is slightly healthier.”

Working with Marks & Spencer, the Coedpoeth-based company sought to innovate, add value and ultimately make customers pick up the product. Health was a definite driver of that agenda.

“We wanted to look at what other health benefits we could add. We made it high in fibre, using chicory fibre to do that, we added a live sourdough, looked at a source of vitamin D which is naturally provided by a yeast product and then we blended a range of flours – wholemeal and a very strong white flour – to carry the soft grains.”

This, Jones notes, results in a unique taste and twist on a standard crumpet. Going into the Baking Industry Awards, Jones was confident in his product but admits he was unsure of their chances in such a strong category.

“You never know what you’re up against,” he says. “But that’s the great thing about the Baking Industry Awards.”

Confident or not, they took the award home, reinforcing the decade-long relationship between M&S and Village Bakery. “It was so nice to share the awards with Marks & Spencer,” Jones adds.

If that wasn’t enough, the Five Grain Crumpets are flying off the shelves with repeat sales in M&S’ national stores and Simply Food outlets. “That is the greatest accolade, and that it hasn’t cannibalised any of our existing sourdough crumpet sales,” he notes. “It has been a fantastic success.”

Sales are key. If consumers aren’t into the product, there’s no point in making it. Finding the sweet spot between innovation and strong sellers can be tricky – sometimes the wackiest ideas don’t have mass appeal. “The bakery market is tough. The only way we can have a point of difference is to develop new products, to add value and, in particular, value that consumers recognise,” Jones says.

He suggests starting with up-and-coming trends, but turning an eye to the past can also pay off. “We like to look at products that people have forgotten about. Who would have thought about making a sourdough crumpet three or four years ago?” he says.

“We’re trying to take those unloved products and make them special again. Innovation isn’t just about reinventing the wheel, it’s about making it better.”

Steve Merritt, managing director of award sponsor EPP; Mark Waples, food technologist at Marks & Spencer; Denise van Outen

Sponsor’s comment

There are always risks when tinkering with a well-loved product, but get it right and it delights existing consumers and brings new people into the category. This is exactly what The Village Bakery did when creating a sourdough-based Ultimate Five Grain Crumpets. 

The business overcame significant technical challenges in introducing grains into the product and has produced something that has successfully built sales within the category by bringing in new consumers. The key eating characteristics that consumers demand of a crumpet are delivered, while offering an improved flavour and eating experience.

Steve Merritt, managing director, European Process Plant (EPP)

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