There are lots of ways to raise money for charity. And swimming 1.5 miles around London Docklands, getting straight on to a bicycle with still wobbly legs, then going for a long run is more challenging than most.

But Ian Dobbie, MD of Délifrance, enjoys a challenge. After raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support five years ago by taking part in a triathlon, his next challenge was more in the business arena: how to make Délifrance, the specialty frozen bread/Viennoiserie company of which he was MD, more profitable.

Frozen breads and Viennoiserie had been the core products made at Délifrance’s two units at Wigston, Leicestershire. But in 2007, Dobbie introduced ambient products and has seen 21m packaged items soar to 42m in 2010. So that made a mark then.

He acknowledges it is the best-ever return on investment in the history of Délifrance.

But moving swiftly on to his next challenge, he spent a brief spell as MD of Bakels in 2008 before being invited back to Délifrance to oversee the biggest challenge yet: the purchase and integration of artisan bread companies Le Pain Croustillant and France-based Sofrapain from Premier Foods in March 2009.

One year on

Now, the integration of Le Pain Croustillant is finally complete and British Baker arrives for an exclusive interview with Dobbie and key team members.

It’s no secret that it’s tough in retail and foodservice Délifrance’s two markets so what was the rationale behind the acquisition? Dobbie is very positive: "We saw an opportunity to strengthen our market position in both the UK and France. Acquiring Le Pain Croustillant and Sofrapain makes us European leader in stone-baked breads. Artisan is growing and the acquisitions double our current bread capacity.

"As well as the big changes and investment here at Le Pain, we’ve also installed a completely new stone-bake line in Dunkirk."

He explains that while Délifrance Leics has historically supplied the general foodservice market, Le Pain and Sofrapain complement this by predominantly supplying retail. "And Sofrapain has given us a more balanced portfolio, bringing in pizza bases and rustic breads," he says.


Parent company Nutrixo has a proven track record of integration and investment, with acquisitions of the E60m (three bakeries) business of Appetit de France in 2004; Krabansky, a large bakery based in Dunkirk in 2006; and the patisserie bakery of Le Touflet in 2007.

So what has the past year been like on the operations side? Operations director for Le Pain Croustillant Gary Lewis’ eyes widen as the question is asked. "Unbelievable!" he interjects. "I have never known a year like it in my life. Fantastic!"

Dobbie explains that key investments have ranged from a dedicated customer care line, to all the new plant and machinery that Gary Lewis oversees, while keeping production at 100%, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Key investments since the takeover have included Kemper mixers, new Acrivarn provers, Double D and big new Mecatherm ovens, plus de-panners, trays, tray cleaners, cutting stations. Is that it? "Oh no," says Dobbie. "In the next two months, we will be adding a new roll line and a new dustings and toppings facility. And while all this has been going on, Délifrance Wigston has had to make up for any downtime at Le Pain Croustillant in Southall. Quite a juggling act.

New products

The lifeblood of any bakery business is new product development (NPD) and Dobbie says that, supported by a central group, there are currently 200 live NPD projects for 2010. These include generic projects, such as salt reduction, as well as new breads, Viennoiserie and patisserie.

The average lead time from concept to launch is just six weeks. Gavin Payne heads up Le Pain’s NPD. Working for him is Rob Scharf, who explains that most bread products are fermented for between two and 24 hours, using sponge fermented doughs and bulk ferments. There’s not a single high-speed mixer in sight; these are specialities.

Scharf takes delight in talking about Le Pain’s mother doughs, 24-hour sponges, bread being made the slow, artisan way to retain structure, eight-hour ferments for Boules with 10% rye in the sponge, which he describes as having "lovely flavour".

Supply chain and training

But key to it all is efficient supply and this is one area that Dobbie is particularly pleased with. His colleague, supply chain director Andy Martin, oversees an 11,000 pallet coldstore, which dispatches 30,000 pallets a month. That’s a lot of pallets. There’s also a 750-pallet central store for ingredients and packaging.

Dobbie explains that ’Oscar’, a bespoke Enterprise Resource Planning system, established in 1995, is used throughout Nutrixo’s 70-plus sites. It is French/English bilingual and covers everything from process flow analysis to project planning. Le Pain employs 80 alone on this mind-boggling project, which went live before Christmas. Dobbie says: "It has given us very specific stock management, traceability and much more."

He has also recruited key people, formed management teams, invested in human resources, implemented training, set up staff forums, which he attends every six weeks, and launched a Délifrance newsletter.

But is that the end of the acquisitions for now? There’s a glint in Dobbie’s eye and a quick laugh, so we suspect not.

But perhaps the last comment belongs to operations manager Prabhjot Rajasansir. He says of Le Pain: "At last we are a key part of a bakery business and not just a footnote on a bakery report."


l Main brands are: Délifrance (including Le Pain Croustillant and Société Nouvelle Sofrapain), Grands Moulins de Paris, Euromill, Krabansky, Touflet, Appetit de France
l 4,700 employees worldwide
l E1.2bn turnover
l 50% milling, 50% frozen products (up from 30%)
l Mills approximately 1.5 million tonnes of wheat per year
l 25 mills brands include Moul-bie, Ronde des Pains, Les Campaillettes
l Five product sectors: bread (64%) Viennoiserie (30%), patisserie, traiteur, brioches
l Délifrance Bakeries Network, England and France: 8 bread, 8 Viennoiserie, 4 patisserie
l In the UK, two Délifrance units at Wigston, Leicestershire
l Plus, Le Pain Croustillant (see right)
l Sofrapain has three factories in France
Le Pain Croustillant
l Five Le Pain Croustillant production units at Southall, Middlesex plus cold-store
l 15 production lines, 200 skus
l 800 employees
l BRC Grade A version 5 (January 2010) plus Soil Association organic accreditation
l Products: speciality breads including long-ferment stonebaked, hand-crafted rolls, flatbreads, baguettes, crusty, seeded, petit pains and organic speciality