Bakery products must taste fantastic and be of great quality. That, perhaps unsurprisingly, is Sainsbury’s bakery buyer Sarah Mackenzie’s advice to potential bakery suppliers.

But great products alone are no longer enough to get listed with the multiple. Suppliers must also fit in with Sainsbury’s corporate responsibility five-point plan. "We’re striving to give our customers the ’same price, different values’. Anyone wanting to supply Sainsbury’s will have to think in a similar way," says Mackenzie, who has been the in-store bakery buyer at Sainsbury’s since April last year.

The five-point plan includes:

l striving for healthy products - for example, Sainsbury’s sliced bread claims to have less salt than the Food Standards Agency target;

l sourcing with integrity - the retailer has launched a deal to support British farmers, who will supply 360 in-store bakeries with traceable flour;

l respect for the environment - the retailer’s ’Bag for Life’ initiative has seen a 10% drop in the use of plastic bags;

l making a positive difference to the community;

l and making the in-store bakery a great place to work - its 18-month bakery apprenticeship scheme has been a success and its first 10 students recently graduated, gaining NVQ Level 3. By the end of March, Sainsbury’s expect to see another 100 people on the scheme.

Since taking over responsibility for buying in-store, Mackenzie is in charge of driving sales, to offer customers a wide range of products, including bread, rolls and bakery occasions.

After conducting consumer research, Sainsbury’s found that people wanted fresh-tasting and delicious bread, says Mackenzie. The in-store bakery will be a major category for Sainsbury’s in 2008. "Baking from scratch is a major priority going forward," she says. "At the moment, we have around 360 stores that scratch-bake and our strategy is that all of our supermarkets, which stand at about 490, will look to convert through refurbishment programmes."


One of Sainsbury’s most successful products, launched a couple of years ago, is the Taste the Difference Multi-seeded Loaf, baked from scratch in-store. "It’s delicious, tasty and has various health benefits, such as low GI. We launched it by working very closely with our supplier and staff in-store, who really got behind the product after a series of taste tests. The product took off and it’s going from strength to strength."

But Sainsbury’s will still continue to develop its offering of baked-off and finished products, so that it can offer its customers the full range.

Sainsbury’s range of ’artisan’ breads under its Taste the Difference label, made by Le Pain Croustillant and launched in June 2007, is also seeing strong growth. After several customer focus groups, the supermarket identified that there was a gap in its offering, as customers wanted premium, stone-baked and traditionally artisan products. "We visited several stores in Paris and London to get the launch of this just right. These stores acted as a benchmark," says Mackenzie.

One of the breads is a Raisin and Fig Bread, which includes dark rye levain and red malt flour. "We thought that this was a very novel and unusual product. I have people saying to me, ’I didn’t even know I liked figs.’ It’s doing extremely well and it’s fabulous with Wensleydale crumbly cheese," says Mackenzie.

She explains that the best part of her job is that no two days are ever the same and she is keen to muck in on the shop floor to get a better handle on the in-store category: "One day, I will be tasting products, and another visiting or spending time in one of the stores. I’m always really impressed how enthusiastic employees are in the store.

"Good communication and understanding between in-store colleagues are extremely important. In the first few weeks of being in this job, I spent time getting to know the everyday tasks and challenges of our bakery staff. I make a lot of store visits and I even took on a shift, which started at 4 o’clock in the morning."

She adds: "I really enjoy my role in the in-store bakery, as it gives me the fantastic opportunity to work closely with suppliers in order to delight customers and drive sales." n


=== At a glance ===

Job history: Sarah Mackenzie has worked at Sainsbury’s for over seven years and has been the in-store bakery buyer there since April 2007.

Top tip to potential suppliers: Get involved in Sainsbury’s ’Supply Something New...’ programme - a way of encouraging smaller and medium-sized suppliers to gain business access to the retailer. Every year, a team from Sainsbury’s travels around the country to visit suppliers, who are given an hour’s window to convince the panel that their goods should be sold on the shelves at the supermarket.

Her favourite product: Taste the Difference artisan boule. "This is a great-tasting bread with slightly sour notes and is very versatile, ideal simply with butter or as an accompaniment to soup," she says.

Spare time: "I enjoy running to keep fit and unwind and sometimes enter races. I did the Great North Run a few months ago."


=== Spotlight on Sainsbury’s ===

? J Sainsbury comprises Sainsbury’s Supermarkets, Sainsbury’s Local, Bells Stores, Jackson’s Stores, JB Beaumont, Sainsbury’s Online and Sainsbury’s Bank

? The company employs a total of around 148,000 people

? It has 788 stores: 298 are convenience-type stores and 490 are supermarkets

? 360 of the supermarkets have in-store bakeries, with a view to converting all 490 of them to scratch baking

? In its 2007 Annual Report, the company reported underlying operating profits of £431m.