Once again I have been on my travels, getting ideas from my successful peers. The latest of these have come from David Smart of Greenhalgh’s, based in Bolton.
Neville, Janes Pantry MD, and I went up there for the day - Neville to learn as much as possible about making fresh soup and me just to get as many good ideas as possible.
Well, I won’t say it was a very large bakery, but when we were left alone for a few minutes, Neville said, "How will we ever find our way out?" So I would suggest to David that, in future, he issues all his guests with Sat Nav.
That is the problem with many of these large bakers up north - they just do not realise that we small simple bakers from the West Country get over-awed when visiting their large premises.
After being shown so much, I began to think David must own half of Bolton. Nat Lofthouse, the famous centre forward, and Bolton were one in my mind and now I have to add David Smart to that shortlist.
When I arrived home, my wife Barbara asked, "Well what did you think of it, and what did you learn?"
"Very impressive," I said. The bakeries - three of them - all contained an enormous amount of equipment and were incredibly clean and although people were working, they all appeared to be working without making any mess.
The quality of the goods was extremely high, which, as we all know, is so difficult to achieve and maintain when you have such a large business. We were so pleased they are way up north - away from us - as I really wouldn’t enjoy competing against them.
While all our questions were answered, it is a little difficult writing about them as you never know what should be considered confidential when someone is so open and helpful, but we learnt a huge amount and - as we always do when we go to the north west - we left impressed with the high standard and competitiveness of the marketplace there.
Someone once asked me why did I write about Greenhalgh’s and Waterfields so often? Well the answer is simple: both have been so generous to Neville and me, with advice when asked. And, quite honestly, they renew my enthusiasm for the bakery trade and set a target for what we should aim for.
We also visited two shops - one recently rebranded for the current market and one traditional.
I found it infuriating that I could not really decide which I preferred. That made me think that, as you get older, you have to move on and let the younger folk have their way or the business would stagnate.
Oh, one last comment, they even have their own automatic car and van wash, which sure as hell beats our hose and sponge.
- Tony Phillips owns Gloucester bakery chain Janes Pantry