Since winning a Baking Industry Award in September last year, you’d expect potential new customers to be making a beeline for Kent-based Monty’s Bakehouse, banging on the bakery’s doors. Except there is no Bakehouse as such; the firm outsources its manufacturing to a third party. Anyone setting their Sat Nav for the bakery would likely find themselves in Cornwall.
And just like the mythical Mr Kipling, the eponymous Monty is a figment of a marketer’s imagination. Nevertheless, Monty’s Bakehouse does make exceedingly good Food-to-go Innovations - though thankfully it hasn’t adopted this as its tagline - having won the Baking Industry Award of the same name.
Monty’s has its own, bluntly succinct strap - ’hot, posh pastries’ - a tag that surely fits well with the handful of sporting arenas already selling Monty’s packaged bake-off products to upper-crust fans: Twickenham, The Oval, and the billionaire’s playground, also known as Chelsea FC.
But confident branding alone was not enough to scoop the Christian Salvesen-sponsored Food-to-go Innovations Award at September 2007’s Baking Industry Awards (BIA). Clever packaging, a quality product and CSR principles were all crucial to this pastry-maker seeing off tough competition from giants Brambles Foods and Country Choice. "We’re a small business competing in a marketplace that’s represented by very large companies," says MD Matt Crane (above), whose CV lists stints with ad agencies and supermarket Safeway as a buyer and marketer.
"Trying to get yourself heard with smaller resources is not always easy. We’re now able to turn around and say we’ve won an award for innovation, and actually have evidence that what we’ve been doing is being recognised by the industry - both in terms of product development and the quality of the product itself. From that point of view the Baking Industry Awards accolade has been extremely useful."
Monty’s is the brainchild of Crane and Jacqui Davidson, who provide the marketing and product development drive. The pair met fortuitously at a party in 2003 and are both creators of the brand and the twin propellers behind the business. This aviation analogy is all the more fitting given that the young firm - which has yet to celebrate its fourth birthday - took off when it ditched its first incarnation, supplying motorway service stations, and focused instead on airlines.
Crane says he wasn’t afraid to pull the plug on clients Little Chef and Road Chef. "We realised that unless we were in an environment where the uptake of the product was rapid - that is, where service was quick - we couldn’t guarantee the product’s quality. So we withdrew."
BUSINESS TAKES FLIGHT
Crane and Davidson then dabbled with a kiosk concept, but the breakthrough came when they were introduced to an airline - a meeting that saved the business. "We’ve always had the belief that what we’re doing is good enough; we just had to find a place where it would work. So much of life is chance and tenacity. You’ve got to network yourself in the best way possible, and if we hadn’t been introduced to the right people at the right time, within two months the business would have been in an utterly different position."
Airlines ticked the boxes for quick service and handheld products and the business took off. "We now know where our business model will work and where it won’t work," says Crane.
The idea was carried into sporting venues, which have proven successful avenues. "Why? Because you can slip a Monty’s in your pocket and get a round of drinks. It’s thinking those little things through that have helped us."
Brand-building, done in-house with advice from branding contacts, has also sparked interest in the product. "We really try to encourage customers to get in touch with us. We hear from Air Canada passengers every week, sometimes every day. And every time they serve a Monty’s on an aeroplane it’s like a focus group! People are bored on a plane, so they’ll key a message into their Blackberry, tell us how much they enjoy the product or ask where can they buy it," says Crane.
So what’s the story behind the clever packaging, noted by the BIA judges? "We realised that if we could develop a product that didn’t require any food handling or preparation - and could be baked in-packet - we could save on costs, as well as protecting product quality for the retailer or foodservice partner," says Crane.
Rather than choose one packaging developer, different suppliers from across Europe were sourced for each element of the packaging. The board takes temperatures upwards of 250?C; the lining prevents sticking; the inks don’t bubble or degrade with heat, nor present any contaminant to the food; and the packet is vented to release moisture. The process took a year to get right.
MOVE TO GREEN PACKAGING
The next step will be to make that packaging 100% recyclable, biodegradable and compostable. "It’s really important to us," says Crane. "We’re selling 50,000 Monty’s a week, so how many cardboard cartons, how many trees is that? The beauty of our business is that we can make that decision and sort it out quickly."
The product itself was developed with clean labels, quirky flavour profiles and carriers with international appeal in mind. Monty’s does plenty of its own market research and develops exclusive products for different clients. In November, Davidson launched new product ranges aimed at European tastes, including Italian chicken, Spanish tortilla, and dauphinoise and beef stroganoff in a pastry or yeast-free oblong carrier. "There are so many standard flavour profiles out there - especially vegetarian products - so we try to do something different, such as a bubble and squeak filling. That’s gone down a storm," says Davidson, who joined the business having previously owned her own catering business.
With the product and packaging nailed, the next move for the brand could be into retail. Monty’s was approached by a major convenience store chain on the back of the Awards exposure, and retail remains a real possibility in the frozen aisles. But Crane is not getting carried away.
"As a small business, we have to be quite careful now: do we focus primarily on airlines or diversify into other areas? Our challenge is to stay very close to the bits that are working and maximise out where we’re winning before we spread ourselves too thinly.
"I look at the frozen food aisle and how that’s changing. Frozen food shouldn’t just be dominated by own-label. There’s room for us in there in the fullness of time - a premium product using the right ingredients with recyclable packaging, a quick snack for mums to give kids. It’s just a question of when. So long as we can build the brand carefully, we will get there.
"That’s the challenge, that’s the buzz. I don’t think any of us are very good at standing still." n
=== What winning the award meant to their business ===
Matt: "Having the industry turn around and recognise you gives you huge credibility.
"It enables us to move faster down the channels that are already working well for us. Other people have contacted us purely from having read about our award in the magazine. It’s a high-profile way of pulling in leads."
Jacqui: "When I made the announcement to our existing clients that we’d won, the encouragement and support that came back was really great."