There are a lot of bakers out there who see a light at the end of the tunnel and then go and switch it off," says Robin Jones, who was named Baker of the Year, sponsored by Vandemoortele, at the Baking Industry Awards in 2010.
Unsurprisingly, that’s not the sort of attitude that he has any time for, and it has no place in his ever-expanding family business, the Village Bakery in Coedpoeth, Wales. He says: "I have a very open mind. You have to constantly adapt and move forward, to look at new things and to stay positive even in a difficult market place."
The ethos is certainly a winning formula; the company, for example, opened a gluten-free bakery in 2008 as it saw the opportunity offered by that sector of the market. And it recently opened its third bakery, a 30,000sq ft site on the same industrial estate in Wrexham as the gluten-free operation, following a £6m investment.
The latest site specialises in morning goods and hot plate products, and will allow the Village Bakery to continue to build its business with the supermarkets. It currently supplies Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Waitrose and The Co-operative, as well as foodservice customers. The company also operates a 45,000sq ft bakery in nearby Minera, and now employs a total of 255 people. It has come a long way since it was first started as a two-man operation in 1934.
Jones is a realist. The world has changed with the demise of the high street, he says, and big business and the supermarkets are a fact of life now. He comments: "If you want to produce in volume, then that is where the supermarkets are at the moment, with the demise of the high street, and we want to develop our relationships with them."
But even though the company is now producing at scale, and even though processes are automated where possible, it remains true to craft bakery values. It is, at its heart, a family business, run by three brothers Robin, Tim and Christian. Robin looks after the baking, Tim leads on sales and Christian looks after technical matters.
"A good steady team is everything," Robin says, and that goes for the staff too. A lot of effort is put into training and apprenticeships and on retaining talent within the business. But what matters most is the quality of the products. "You are only ever as good as your last loaf. Quality is what matters, giving customers what they want. We focus on quality and traditional products adapted to today’s consumer," he explains.
The company is also committed to continuing to run its estate of five craft bakery shops and even to expand that portfolio with a couple more shops, he says. Having retail outlets allows it to stay in tune with its customers and with trends, and actually complements the main supply business. "We can put a new product on trial in our shops very quickly and then take the evidence to the multiples; it is reassuring for them that we have a direct link with customers."
Jones is a man who knows how to change with the times, while keeping the essentials in place. But don’t ask him to look too far into the future. He says: "I don’t even know what I will be doing next Friday, let alone in five years’ time. I hope we are still here, still growing and still making what the customer wants. We will see what opportunities come along."
Robin Jones’ career started when he trained in bakery at the now defunct bakery college in Wrexham. He was then apprenticed to the late Allan Smart at Greenhalgh’s Bakery in Bolton, working with him and son David.
In 1988, Jones joined the newly opened savouries part of his family business. He says he has never stopped learning taking night courses in disciplines such as management and then an MBA in 2003.
He comments: "I am still learning on a daily basis. I have never met a baker who knows everything. It is a constant road of learning and training. Bakers and business owners need to wear so many hats and have expertise in all sorts of areas technical, management, products, marketplace."
Meet the family
Robin Jones is joint MD with his brother Tim Jones. Robin looks after the baking side, while Tim focuses on sales. Brother Christian is engineering director and is the driving force behind the technical innovations at the company and its focus on automation.
The business was established in 1934 and taken over by the current generation’s father and grandfather in 1964. As for the next generation and succession planning, Jones is not going to force his children to join the family business. "The person who takes over must be right for the business. I am not going to tell my children what path to take. I say ’if you want to be a bin-man that is fine, just be the best bin-man you can possibly be.’"
"Robin Jones’ passion for baking comes through in everything that he does. He gets involved on a day-to-day basis and his business is all about quality, not just offering the cheapest product.
"Robin had already been a finalist as Baker of the Year two years previously and he put in place all the advice that the independent judges gave him that time round and upped his game, further increasing the quality of an already very good contestant. That is the sort of mindset that makes a winner and it put him ahead of the rest in 2010. He really ticked all the boxes for the independent judges."
Stephen Bickmore, UK commercial manager of Vandemoortele’s Lipids Division
About the Village Bakery (Coedpoeth)
The company has a main 45,000sq ft bakery in Minera and the two further bakeries, one for gluten-free production, located on the same industrial estate in Wrexham,
It currently employs 255 staff across the three sites, producing breads, savouries and morning goods from rye bread to pasties and Welsh cakes, as well as its gluten-free range.
The bakery’s customers include The Co-operative, Waitrose, M&S and Tesco. On the wholesale side, it mainly distributes to businesses within a 50-mile radius of Wrexham. It also operates five shops based around Wrexham.