A Ginsters pasty or slice, displayed in the chiller cabinet of a petrol station, may not immediately conjure up thoughts of the Cornish countryside carrots and potatoes plucked fresh from the soil or local cheese producers but perhaps it should.

The West Country firm started making handmade pasties in a small bakery back in 1969, and although it’s now one of the best-known producers of convenience pastry products, it has kept the values of good quality and local ingredients close to its heart.

The business grew in the early 1970s and joined Samworth Brothers, which is made up of 14 businesses, in 1977. However, Ginsters says its values, which run through the whole of Samworth’s empire, are pivotal to what it does. It is big on family values and is keen to keep people in the business, with nearly all its staff permanent employees. It employs around 700 staff in total, around 500 of whom work at the Callington site.

Product quality

Brand communications manager Larry File says Ginsters aims to ensure the quality of the products is preserved throughout the production process. "We have significantly built up our local sourcing over the past five to six years," he explains, and the firm is set to purchase a record £12m-worth of fresh ingredients from local farms this year. "We even grow wheat in Cornwall to produce our own flour. Currently around 20% of the flour is milled from Cornish wheat and it’s something we’re looking to expand." The weather may have caused problems in the past, but the firm has dispelled the myth that it is impossible to grow wheat in that part of the country.

File says the business has worked hard with local suppliers to grow the amount of produce sourced locally as the business has increased in size. Issues such as a lack of pig farmers in the West Country have meant the firm cannot source as much local pork as it would like, but 70% of its beef is from Cornwall. It sources many of its vegetables, including potato, swede and onions, from Hay Farms, Torpoint, only 15 miles from the bakery. Bocaddon Farm supplies it with soft cheese, and the Davidstow Creamery is its source for Davidstow cheddar. Meanwhile, Jaspers of Treburley, only six miles down the road, supplies the majority of its beef.

Ginsters has also worked closely with local agricultural college Duchy, to look at what type of potato will grow best in the area.

In addition to a continued focus on ingredients, the firm has also been increasing the automation at its Lynher bakery in Callington thereby decreasing non value-added labour. The site produces over 3.5m units per week. However, head of brand mar-keting Andy Valentine says the bakery does have the capacity to produce up to 4m a record it expects to hit in the coming weeks. It has invested over £20m in automation in recent years, in order to lower the cost of production, including the recently completed commissioning of a Schubert pick-and-place machine a £1.2m investment. "We recently replaced one of our travelling ovens and will look to replace the other two in the near future, as we know now that we could get improved efficiency," explains William Wakeham, process development manager, adding that, when he visits trade shows, he is always looking at what the next big thing in ovens will be.

Wakeham says the firm is not tied to an A-list of suppliers, which gives it more flexibility. One of the many benefits of dealing with local suppliers, he says, is it that stock isn’t held for a long time. It has about 24/36 hours meat supply at any one time, and the only ingredient it freezes are herbs and spices.

A £250m brand

The pie and savoury snacks category is valued at £1.06bn and is growing at 2.2% according to the latest figures from Nielsen (52 weeks to 20 March 2010). Ginsters is the largest brand in that category, with a market share of 11%, and the retail value of the brand is worth approximately £250m.

Customer marketing controller David Bacon says the category may be steeped in heritage, but is driven by convenience. "Recently it has been the slices that have been driving the market," he says. "Pasties, hot pies, pork pies and sausage rolls are also driving growth, but quiche sales are in decline."

Ginsters has initiated a full strategy review, which is still under way. The initial findings have identified trends that have affected the category: for example ’eating in is the new going out’; online retailing; and the growth of the elderly population. Bacon says that retailers are preferring to opt for, say, £1 individual pies, rather than deals on larger pies, "which has really ripped the bottom out of the ’planned meal’ occasion" for example quiches or large box pies.

The research has prompted the firm to invest in NPD in the snacking and sharing category, which research established was the biggest occasion, with a range of new products launched last month in time for the summer (see British Baker, 7 May, pg 8). These include snack-sized two-packs of mini Ploughmans pork pies, sausage rolls and its original Cornish pasties and a new Sweet Chilli bar, a new Meat Feast Slice, a Fiery Cheese wrap and a BBQ Beef wrap. It has also made recipe improvements to its Southern Style Chicken wrap.

Valentine says that, when it comes to making the snacking occasion work at the fixture, implementing it correctly is key. "There exist some real challenges that need to be overcome. For example, the category needs to work out how to shout about the good things, such as local ingredients and no nasties," he explains.

Although Ginsters claims to have been the first business in the industry to sign up to the GreenPalm initiative, Valentine says it’s not something it actively promotes to consumers. However, when the time comes that it’s possible to manufacture all Ginsters products with sustainably produced palm oil, then that will be something the company will definitely want to shout about, he says.

Marketing vision

’Properly filling the nation with real honest food’ is Ginsters’ long-term brand vision, says File, who explains the firm will be developing its 2008/09 message of local ingredients this year and its recently relaunched website now highlights this message. It will also be rolling out the British flag more on front-of-pack, says Valentine.

Despite the fact that products such as Cornish pasties and sausage rolls are often referred to as ’trad fare’, Valentine says he doesn’t want Ginsters’ products to be pigeon-holed as that, explaining that the company’s new product development is much more forward-looking than that reference suggests.