Mention an industrial estate in Slough and it may well bring to mind an image of David Brent, the uncomfortably weird boss of a paper merchant, played by Ricky Gervais in BBC comedy The Office. However, the particular industrial estate on this occasion is home to speciality bread-maker Montana Bakery and, thankfully, has not a single Brent-like character in sight.
Being awarded the accolade of Baker of the Year is certainly something to write home about, although self-proclaimed workaholic Piero Scacco admits he’d rather be sitting in the back row than out in the limelight. Thankfully, a bit of persistent nudging finally got through to him and he sent off his application form. And he does admit that it was a great experience to be acknowledged by the industry when he was crowned top baker in the Vandemoortele-sponsored category at the Baking Industry Awards last year.
What shines through with Scacco is his passion for the whole industry. He has had a varied career in terms of jobs and location, and the effect of this is evident in the range of Continental-inspired products from his current firm Montana Bakery, where he is chairman.
Born in Sicily, Scacco’s family then moved to Rome where he started his illustrious career in food, in the hotel and catering industry. Starting out as a commis chef, he developed an interest in becoming a patissier and went on to work as a pastry chef at various locations, including the Grand Hotel in Rome, and a stint in Venice, before getting a job in Paris at The Ritz. In 1958, he moved to London, where he worked at The Savoy and The Waldorf hotels.
But it wasn’t until 1964 that his entrepreneurial streak shone through, when he decided to open a bakery shop in Trinity Road, Tooting Bec, London. "With the knowledge I had from Italian and French restaurants, I began by baking products for the restaurant and catering industry," he explains.
As the business grew year-on-year, he was approached by Marks & Spencer (M&S), which asked him to produce a variety of speciality bread rolls. He then moved the business to Wembley Trading Estate and progressed with M&S, as well as supplying Tesco and Waitrose. Deciding to bow out at the top, he sold the business to Northern Foods in 1990, after successfully growing it to a £55m turnover.
"I had seven fully-fledged production bakeries at that point, and I stayed with Northern for two-and-a-half years, before digressing into the area of bakery machinery. I realised that was not my gift, but I had a contract with Northern that I couldn’t compete with them. But by 1998, I was able to come back and I started Montana Bakery. I am a very passionate baker, manufacturer and confectioner and it was a most enjoyable time, creating a business from scratch that could grow; that’s why I came back to it," says Scacco. "I’m still very hands-on in the bakery, as that’s my passion."
He admits that, when he sold his business to Northern Foods, he didn’t need to come back to work for financial reasons, but because he loves his work. "At 71, I still enjoy doing 12-hour shifts," he says - and he’s not joking.
Upon creating artisan bakery Montana, he approached M&S, which was happy for him to create some new products for them. Montana now also supplies Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, has a turnover of around £18m and employs around 290 people. A large part of its business is supplying the foodservice industry and it also exports to countries, including Holland and Ireland - an area Scacco sees as having potential to expand in the near future and which led the company to exhibit at IFE this year.
Experience has taught him that the price and timing have to be right for him to invest, as there is no point taking risks if you are not under any pressure. For example, Montana has a separate unit all ready to go for the production of handmade biscuits and biscotti but, due to the recession, its launch has been postponed.
This doesn’t mean to say that Montana has put the stoppers on new product development - far from it. Scacco says it’s important to continually innovate and develop your product range, but that there is no point in launching products that customers will view as being too expensive in the current climate.
The bakery manufactures in a nut- and GM-free environment and "handcrafts, but on an industrial scale". It supplies ambient (20%), chilled (30%) and frozen (45%), with a bit of capacity to spare says Scacco. In terms of trends, he says there has been a noticeable increase in the popularity of frozen over the last five years. Frozen pizza bases now make up a large portion of its sales and the factory is capable of producing 10,000 bases per hour. Other big sellers are stromboli, ciabatta, garlic bread and the cheese rolls it produces for Waitrose. Montana also produces "normal things", says Scacco, including laminated bakery products such as a croissants and pains au chocolat, but speciality bread is what it’s known for.
In terms of the Baker of the Year Award, Scacco admits that, as he has a huge past history in the industry, it was a great thing to achieve. His staff are also appreciative, as it brings more recognition to the company, and Scacco’s win is publicised on Montana’s literature. The judges described him as an icon and agreed that his passion for the industry and everything in it singled him out as the winner. "It was a thrill and I felt very special and very privileged to have achieved that," he says of his moment in the spotlight, despite his reticence to stand in it.
That’s not to say he is quiet when it comes to his view on things. You only have to start talking about the effects on the taste of pro-ducts from reducing salt, the current situation regarding bakery training or the issue of food wastage, and you realise he’s passionate not just about his business but about the food industry in general. For example, he believes one good thing that may come of the recession is that consumers will think twice about sell-by dates and will throw less food away. Obviously, he says, he wants people to continue buying bread - and often. But if they use it all up, rather than throwing away half a loaf after a couple of days, then that’s no bad thing.
Scacco seems far from finished with the industry yet - and probably wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he wasn’t working. His aim has always been to look after his business as best he can and he knows he is lucky to have found he could turn his passion into a successful career. His parting comment is more a motto for life: "If you find something you love doing, stick to it."
=== How did you feel on the night? ===
"It was a thrill to win. I felt very special and very privileged to have achieved it"
=== Why he does what he does ===
"I am a very passionate baker, manufacturer and confectioner and it was a most enjoyable time, creating a business from scratch that could grow; that’s why I came back to it."