Latest UK retail figures suggest that demand for long-life Indian breads is increasing by some 2.3% per annum, whereas consumption of fresh products is enjoying significantly higher year-on-year growth of 7%.
Leading producer Patak’s Foods has responded to this strong demand for fresh ethnic breads by releasing new versions of its plain and garlic & coriander naans in distinctive laminated paper packaging. Since their launch last summer, these new products have been enjoying a better rate of sales than their long-life counterparts.
"It has shown that there is a market for fresh and a market in fresh for the Patak’s brand," comments Neil Gibson, group manager - marketing. Early sales data support his contention that the new products will deliver incremental volume and value.
The new fresh naans are now listed by Waitrose and wider distribution is expected to result from ongoing discussions with other major multiples.
While fresh product with a shelf life of 10 to 20 days has been a point of emphasis for Patak’s of late, the Indian food specialist has also succeeded in extending its export sales - in both a pure turnover and a geographical sense - following the development of a longer-life bread offering. Previously, the company could offer a shelf life of 13 weeks and duly opted to restrict its overseas deliveries to countries on the near Continent - notably France and the Netherlands - in order to eliminate any concern over possible deterioration of quality. By creating products with a shelf life of 26 weeks, Patak’s has begun to march deeper into Europe. As well as developing sales opportunities in the major southern European markets of Italy and Spain, Patak’s has recently sold its first breads into Portugal and Austria.
The Patak’s brand can also be seen on shop shelves as far away as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The product sold in these far-flung markets is manufactured locally, rather than at the company’s bread manufacturing base at Cumbernauld, near Glasgow, but even so, Patak’s keeps a watchful eye on quality. The group’s new product development manager, Chris Peace, has visited and worked with the bread producers in Canada and Australasia to ensure that the quality associated with the Patak’s brand is upheld.
Patak’s widening sales horizons were also reflected when it secured a six-month contract last year with the Dutch airline KLM to supply some 600,000 Patak’s-branded folded naan breads with chicken tikka. KLM is talking about repeating the exercise and other airlines are interested in similar ventures, according to Jonathan Bye, Patak’s general manager foods & breads and group director - commercial.
For the moment, exports account for less than 10% of Patak’s £12 million of annual bread-related sales. However, the company’s efforts to boost its overseas business were rewarded late last year with the news that it had won Food from Britain’s 2006 Grocery Exporter Award.
It should be stressed that this overseas perspective is not new to Patak’s: as far back as 1996, the company scooped Food from Britain’s Best UK Exporter Award. Further export growth is "our overall strategic intention", states Bye. "The UK is crucial but the growth is international."
The domestic market for Indian breads certainly offers further growth potential, says Gibson. Compared to less than £50m in 2004, total UK retail sales now lie around £55m per annum, with fresh products accounting for £23.6m of the total, chilled for £5m-£6m and long-life for the remainder. "Only 33% of consumers buy naan breads and yet almost 50% of the population consume Indian meals at least once a month," he says.
To maximise sales opportunities, Patak’s has consciously moved the business to a point where it can supply all the elements of an Indian meal, including main dishes, sauces, breads and ready meals, across all formats - ambient, chilled and frozen. Also, as part of its bid to get the public to buy more bread and to increase the frequency of its purchases, the group undertook a TV advertising campaign in Scotland and other selected regions of the UK during a four-week period last spring.
Subsequent research revealed that 55% of survey respondents made the link between the Patak’s brand and the advertising slogan ’Cures your curry cravings’. Indeed, the results of this promotion have encouraged the firm to continue with the campaign this year.
Patak’s emphasises that the anticipated growth of its bread business will be founded on authenticity and new product development. In terms of the former, Peace stresses a key point of differentiation for Patak’s is its use of liquid milk, liquid egg and yoghurt rather than powder alternatives; and on some of its top-end products, Patak’s also uses pure butter ghee. Across all its breads, says Peace, Patak’s strives to use ingredients that the Asian community itself would favour.
INVESTMENT in EQUIPMENT
Since the start of the new Millennium, the company has invested millions of pounds in its bread-making hub on the outskirts of Cumbernauld and yet has preserved the volcanic stone plates in its ovens which, it believes, offer the best route to producing the most authentic Indian breads. The ovens also use open-flame burners - again for greater authenticity.
The investment programme has featured the installation of a Koenig bread-forming line, a purpose-built chapatti line and an upgraded packaging capability. Of the £1.5m spent over the last year or so, a large proportion has been invested in a Fritsch sheet and cut line with associated oven. Installed in March last year, the new line offers great control over the product in terms of, for example, the level of browning as well as consistency of size and shape.
The Fritsch line is capable of producing 22,000 mini naans or 10,000 large naans per hour. The Cumbernauld facility now has the capacity to produce 58 million naan breads per annum - in effect, one for every member of the UK population. On-site chapatti capacity is around 10 million units per annum.
More money is due to be spent shortly at Cumbernauld, notably on revamping the packaging area to increase the speed with which product reaches dispatch. The aim will be to maintain freshness and to reduce the amount of double handling, according to Bye.
Patak’s emphasis on new product development enables the group to be dynamic in reflecting changes in consumer trends and tastes: for example, more information is now included on its packaging in response to increased interest among consumers in what they are eating. Meanwhile, salt and fat levels have been reduced in line with latest Food Standards Agency guidelines.
Looking ahead, Bye envisages development of a wider selection of "lighter eats" to suit the UK trend towards eating on the move. The company is working with a multiple retailer on a number of snack products to suit the summer market, he notes.
Moreover, the opportunities for Patak’s lie well beyond traditional Indian bread products; the company has the resources to produce any style of flat bread - including, for example, Mediterranean-style tear-and-share options or meal components for companies without a baking resource of their own.
As reflected by last year’s contract with KLM, for Patak’s the sky is the limit. n