IAWS Foods UK – the company behind Cuisine de France, Delice de France and La Brea Bakery – has reinforced its commitment to the Scottish market by locating its latest baking academy in Bellshill near Glasgow.

The facility, which launched last month, has been designed to become a centre of training and development excellence for all IAWS staff, as well as for its foodservice and retail customers.

Incorporated into an existing building at IAWS Foods’ premises in Bellshill, the new academy accommodates the full range of baking and bake-off facilities. Specialist instruction covers all IAWS products, including those sold under the Delice de France, Cuisine de France, Hiestand and La Brea Bakery banners. The aim, says IAWS, is to “ensure that everything, from quality French and artisan breads to Viennoiserie, patisserie and desserts, will be baked to perfection every time”.

Attendees are guided on everything from storage to presentation of the company’s products, including merchandising and point of sale. It is in the best commercial interests of both IAWS and its customers to have the company’s products prepared and presented in the best possible light, comments IAWS Foods UK MD Stephen Silvester.

Tailor-made training

He also emphasises that tailor-made training programmes will be available through the academy. These will cover, for example, baking guidelines; new legislation; product preparation, including use of equipment; storage methods; temperature control; and hygiene. The £250,000-plus project at Bellshill has also involved the development of on-site offices, meeting rooms and storage capacity. The expansion programme has led to further recruitment within the sales, operations and baking academy functions.

According to Mr Silvester, workforce numbers have risen from 10 to 60 since IAWS established its presence in Bellshill a decade ago. “The academy will help grow the volume of our business and, by implication, more jobs will come with that,” he adds.

It was in the mid-1990s that IAWS Foods established its first academy in Britain – in Southall, London – and another was created several years later at IAWS’ Stone premises in Staffordshire. The new facility at Bellshill, which is capable of training up to a dozen people at one time, has incorporated the best features of the other two, according to Mr Silvester.

“It was logical for us to open our third academy in Bellshill,” he comments. “Scotland is the fastest-growing region for IAWS Foods UK – our products have been very well received there and the market is growing. We have made a commitment of manpower and money to Scotland, and the academy is part of that.” With a core range of some 800 products, the group also has products that are unique to the Scottish market, he adds.

The opening ceremony at Bellshill was performed on November 10 by local MSP Michael McMahon in front of some 150 guests, including existing and prospective customers. However, several dozen people had already undergone training at the academy in the weeks leading up to its official launch. According to Mr Silvester, many thousands have now attended one or other of the company’s academies in the UK.

“We get fantastic feedback from the customers, but also from the staff the companies send for training,” he observes. “We try to make it interesting, informative and very practical for them, with a little bit of humour involved too. Whenever we open a new account, we encourage customers to take up what we consider to be this unique proposition.”

IAWS Foods UK’s three academies come under the remit of director of food standards Roger Banfield. An academy manager has yet to be appointed at Bellshill, but he or she will be supported by training and category development staff, whose role will include visiting customers’ premises and offering advice on, for example, presentation and merchandising.

Irish connection

IAWS Foods UK is part of Dublin-based IAWS Group – a major food and agri-business concern with operations in Ireland, Britain, continental Europe, Canada and the US. Employing over 3,000 people, the group turned over more than e1,400m in the year to July 31, 2005.

Food is the largest division within the group and encompasses brands such as Cuisine de France (retail), Delice de France (foodservice) and US-based artisan bread specialist La Brea Bakery. Divisional turnover in the 2004/05 period increased by 22.6% to just short of e900m, with sales in the UK improving by 13%.

IAWS has launched La Brea Bakery in the UK over the last year. According to Mr Silvester, consideration is still being given to the possibility of introducing La Brea Bakery production capacity at its Stone facility in Staffordshire.

Earlier this year, IAWS acquired the UK business of Swiss company Hiestand, which makes breads confectionary and savouries. These “niche, gourmet products” are proving particularly popular with hotels, notes Mr Silvester.