David Powell, Deputy Master of the Worshipful Company of Bakers and former global director innovation/bakery, Rich Products
As I fade into the last few days of my current career, I have been reminiscing and having all kinds of thoughts about the last 34 years. Before you look away, I am not about to wallow in sentiment and say, "Baking is not like it used to be, the good old days etc etc." Indeed, as I always believed that my strength has been product development and innovation, even now, in my dotage, I only look forward to what can be done, where the opportunities are and how can I make something to capitalise on them.
Many of the most successful ’new products’ of the last few decades have either copied existing products perhaps from a different market or taken existing products and adapted them to a new era.
Ciabatta, which has perhaps been the most successful new bread product, was an unimportant minor regional speciality, either with no enrichment or made with some lard. It came to the UK via a shop-fitting company, which opened some bakery shops, and was championed by a national retailer, by which time it had grown into this ’rich in extra virgin olive oil’ product that we now see everywhere.
Cupcakes have been around since our grannies’ time and, while delicious, never caught the imagination. It took TV programme Sex and the City, featuring Magnolia Bakery in New York, to turn them into an international ’hot product’, elevating them to superstar status.
One of the largest coffee shop chains wanted to benefit from this trend but with a twist. So it launched butterfly cakes. If anyone had told me that, after decades working in or visiting the finest bakeries in the world, butterfly cakes would be our most successful national launch of the year
I was the first person to import brimmed muffin cases into the UK, a key part of the phenomenal success of large mushroom-topped muffins that appeared in April 1998. I came across the tulip/wrap-around muffin ’papers’ while visiting New Zealand in June 2005 and brought back 10,000 in my hand luggage. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed that they would be the next ’big thing’ and, for me, the opportunity was lost. They appeared during 2006 and have been incredibly successful.
For years I have been asked, "What will be the next muffin?" During a visit in 2006 to Wegmens supermarket in New York State, I saw my first whoopie pie. I returned with samples, photos and great enthusiasm. Four years on and you cannot open a weekend colour supplement or glossy magazine without seeing them. They have featured on the cover of Sainsbury’s magazine and those attending the Scottish Bakers’ conference will have seen a great display of interesting variations, developed by a major ingredients supplier, that looked innovative and colourful, while tasting delicious.
The principles of so much of what is seen as interesting and innovative is out there. The job of the product developer is to go out and find it, bring it home and adapt it to their market and their time and convince their more conservative colleagues! Timing and speed are crucial as my mum always told me, be quick or be dead.