David Roberts, chairman, plant bakery Frank Roberts and Sons

It is always essential when attempting to predict the future to look to the past to judge whether any event was sufficiently catastrophic to change the way we see the future.

From the baking industry’s perspective the slide into administration of New Rathbones may be seen as such an event. But those with long memories will remember one weekend in 1977 when Spillers closed over 30 bakeries. By comparison, New Rathbones’ demise, except for the participants and those who lost money, did not have any national significance.

The word ‘catastrophic’ certainly applied to the destruction by fire of Warburtons’ Wednesbury bakery in 2004 and, more recently, Aulds in Hamilton. The former has now been fully rebuilt and the latter re-incarnated through the extraordinary talents and commitment of Alan Marr and his team. Let’s hope we can learn the lesson from Lightbody Celebration Cakes with its award-winning fire prevention system and that its wide adoption helps to significantly reduce the incidence of fires in our industry.

The way in which the harsh lessons from New Rathbones’ insolvency affects the prosperity of our industry remains to be seen. But that insightful and incisive commentator David Lang from Investec suggested it would lead to a recovery in industry profitability. If there is going to be a winner, it is already abundantly clear that Warburtons will continue to grow and penetrate the far corners of the land. Its success is a genuine antidote to below-cost selling and, make no mistake, it benefits all parts of the industry, craft included.

Will there be a ‘third coming’ of Harry Kear? It is a brave person who denies, like I do, that there will be no such event. But you will notice my prediction is hedged with the religious metaphor. He has the understated passion, persistence and access to that most indispensable ingredient – financial backing.

So finally, 2006 will certainly see the development of what superficially seems like a denial of everything we stand for in customer appeal – the crustless loaf. Like Victor Meldrew would say, “I DON’T believe it!”