It seems fitting that Asda’s Boldon Colliery got the gong for best in-store bakery at BIA07 - gongs being something of a recurring theme at Asda’s in-stores. Remember the advertising campaign earlier this year, featuring Victoria Wood ringing a bell to tell customers that freshly baked bread was on-shelf - part of Asda’s novel approach to promoting its scratch baking? Well that was filmed in Boldon, Asda’s flagship bakery, and deemed the best in-store in the UK by the BIA judges.
The ads also featured Wood learning how to bake. Or was that just a bit of ’television magic’? "No she really did!" pleads then co-manager Chris Spoors. "She started at 6am and worked very hard - she genuinely trained on the machines and the mixes." Woods was seen making tiger breads, bloomers, hot cross buns... but were they any good? "Yeah, she was alright! She said she enjoyed it and we hope she did."
Members of the team appeared in the series of seven adverts, filmed over three days. Unsurprisingly, production was massively affected by the film crew traipsing around the bakery, but that made keeping standards up all the more important. "We’re not just talking one guy and a camera," he recalls. "We’re talking 40 people walking around the bakery. A lot of hard work went into it: you’re the flagship for the company, you’re trying to promote the baking industry, and so we tried to make sure everything was right."
Boldon was selected because of the high standards recognised by the award, says Spoors. "The Morrisons adverts that came after were nigh on a carbon copy," he goads, in a light touch of inter-supermarket rivalry. Boldon beat off tough competition from Halfway Morrisons in Sheffield, Tesco Chesterfield and Sainsbury’s London Colney to the title at London’s glitzy Grosvenor House hotel, which "was an excellent experience that everyone enjoyed - everybody wants their 15 minutes of fame. So we’re very proud of that".
Everyone, perhaps, except then co-manager and current manager Ed Turnbull. The epitome of the humble baker, Turnbull was toiling away stock-taking, while his colleagues were glamming it up at the gala event. "I didn’t want to be in the limelight and I was quite happy to stop here and carry the stock-take through," he remembers. The team, he believes, was picked out as a winner for outstanding hygiene, freshness of product and availability. "There’s not one person that achieves that - it’s the whole team working together."
Spoors also gives huge credit to the team of 45 for embracing the high standards set. "We had a team of eight bakers who were very responsible - eight very good lads who ran the shift when the managers weren’t around. They were the backbone of the bakery. Some of them have been there over 20 years. As a manager you’re not there 24 hours a day, so it’s a case of getting the initial training right and getting the colleagues to understand what’s acceptable and what’s not. You empower them to do the job and have a massive amount of pride in the products they’re producing."
Once you’ve instilled that and you’re carrying out quality checks up to three times a day, the rest falls into place, he says; in turn, sales go up and waste goes down. "If you’re producing a high-quality product and it’s available 100% of the time, once a customer’s got the confidence that they can get what they want when they want, you build up a pretty solid sales pattern. It’s when you’re inconsistent with either your quality or your availability that you cannot judge what you’re going to sell."
Up until last month, the in-store was used as a centre of learning - a role that has since shifted to a purpose-built store in Stockton. Turnbull says: "We used to train other managers and bakers and there was prestige with that. Anybody who wanted to be fast-tracked, we could incorporate that in the store."
"The whole team had a big passion about passing knowledge on," adds Spoors, who has since been promoted within Asda. "We trained other managers. We also sent our bakers out to struggling stores, if you like, to get the standards right - the right quality and quantity of product, which is sometimes a problem."
The store, along with Bishop Auckland, will be entrusted with trialling a new line in oven-bottom breads in the region. "There’s a lot more preparation involved and the bread’s a lot more rustic. That might then get rolled out to the region or the whole chain - it’s very early doors," says Turnbull. Last year, they trialled a cheese stottie, which went into stores across the north east. "We suggest products as well," adds Spoors. "We made a tiger stottie, which didn’t get through - but it shows our bakers have a lot of creativity."
The 24-hour Boldon store is a biggie, turning over around £2m in a regular week. The in-store bakery, which bakes 24 hours a day, contributes around £30,000 to that and had the biggest sales in the group last year. "Volume-wise there’s no better bakery, and what we tried to do that year - and tried to continue this year - was make sure we were also number one for standards and training. That year was just a fantastic year and it’s something I’ll never forget."
Satisfying enough, it would seem, to endure the bell-ringing with a smile. "Obviously you can attract people to the bakery with the smell, and this was a different take on that, with sound. The customers absolutely loved it. The colleagues weren’t so keen - you hear a bell every 20 minutes in your earhole!
"We got people to go to the front of the store to ring the bell for some added theatre, but after a while it got a bit tough to find volunteers! Customers really got a hold of it, though, and it’s something we’re still doing now."
=== View from the awards night ===
"It was fantastic - I’ve never been to anything like it in my life. I’m a very competitive person, I really am. And we had done everything in our power as a bakery to win the award, so I was relieved when Joanna Lumley announced that we’d won it. But I really thought we did deserve it."
- Chris Spoors, former co-manager of Asda Boldon Colliery’s in-store bakery
"As soon as it was announced, Chris was straight on the phone. I was stock-taking at the time and feeling a bit sleepy, and that woke me up!"
- Ed Turnbull, current manager
=== What winning the Délifrance- sponsored In-store Bakery of the Year 2007 meant to us ===
Chris Spoors: "That year for the bakery - I don’t think it will ever be equalled. We entered a competition and came first. We were in a TV advertising campaign for the company... It’s the proudest moment of my career that our team won that, and got the recognition of well-respected people in the industry. I’m sure the team are going to pull out all the stops to win it again."
Ed Turnbull: "There was a massive publicity campaign around it - there were banners in the car park saying we were the best in-store, and not just in the company but in the country! We got a lot of positive feedback from our customers - and it was especially good for colleagues’ in-store bakeries. It was very positive, very motivating."