Pie company Peter Hunt’s has recently made a multi-million-pound investment in its bakery at Kearsley, near Bolton, while rolling out a novel range of lattice-toped slices, which it believes are the first of their kind to be manufactured in the UK for national distribution.

In terms of trying new ranges at Peter Hunt’s, managing director, Grant Inkpin, says: "You’d be amazed what things you can stick between two bits of pastry that actually work." For instance, he describes its Thai green curry slice as "sex on legs".

The total investment made at Peter Hunt’s bakery at Kearsley, this year, will reach £3.5m, which includes the installation of Peter Hunt’s second Rademaker pie line, a computerised manufacturing plant making puff pastry slices, sausage rolls and pasties. "Our new Rademaker has made it possible to manufacture a new range of lattice-topped slices," says David Love, production director at Peter Hunt’s. "These are intended to be a more ’feminine’ alternative to our existing slices, aimed at the ’hot-to-go market’." The new range includes Mediterranean vegetable, spinach & feta, cheese & onion, and tuna & sweetcorn. There is also a sweet range, including blueberry, spiced plum and mincemeat.

"Our new investment means we are looking to increase production from 160,000 dozen units a week to a capacity of 400,000 dozen. The recent investment will offer our customers better choices and improve our competitive advantage," adds Love.

== jumbo in size ==

Inkpin shouts excitedly: "Remember, you saw it here first!" He is not referring to Hunt’s innovative lattice-topped slices, but to its first successful ’cut-off’ sausage rolls, which are jumbo in size, but designed so that consumers can snap off whatever size they want. "We’re all very excited about this, it’s the first time they’ve worked," Inkpin adds.

Remembering consumer feedback, he says when asked about health concerns, one man replied: "You can’t eat salad on the hoof." Another great comment, says Inkpin, came from a man in Rochdale - when the company was trying to find out if people are price-sensitive to sausage rolls - who said: "We’re men, we don’t give a damn how much we pay."

Among the increasing product range, are Shortcrust Pastry Tarts, which can be cooked in the microwave in three minutes. These come in pancetta and Gruyère cheese; a medley of mushrooms and garlic finished with crème fraiche; and chargrilled vegetables in a tomato and mascarpone cheese sauce.

"The ranges appeal to today’s customers," says Inkpin, "who have less time on their hands and often want to eat on-the-go. Not only this, people eat with their eyes first, so our aim is to give people attractive products with quality fillings ranging from the best-selling steak slice, to vegetable tikka."

Ever wondered what’s in a chicken tikka slice? Peter Hunt’s tikka slices are made from sweet potato, parsnips and onions in an authentic creamy tikka sauce finished with a hint of coriander and wrapped in a flaky puff pastry. "We’re also thinking of seasonal products," adds Inkpin. "Now we have more flexibility with having two Rademakers. We have a whole bank of flavours we’re thinking of developing, like minced meat and spiced apple for the winter season."

This is the second time in the space of six years, that Peter Hunt’s has made a multi-million-pound investment at its bakery at Kearsley and claims turnover is set to grow by a further 15% this year. Gerald Forbes, sales director, says: "Growth has come through the major retailers, where an expanding range of products sell from the freezer and hot over the counter. In the foodservice sector, the ’food to go’ market continues to grow."

Turnover now exceeds £25m, from more than 100 million individual products.

== huge opportunities ==

Forbes says: "It works quite well because, if a customer is too small for us, then they can go through wholesalers Bako and BFP. Delice de France and Cuisine de France are our biggest foodservice customers. We’ve used them as the wheels to get into the ’food to go’ market, supplying products into the likes of the Co-op, Somerfield, Wild Bean Café and Spar. Our new products certainly fit into their range. With regards to the multiples, we’re not in bed with one, as such; we’re spread over a reasonable selection. The budget we have set for 2006/2007 is £27.3m."

Forbes says that Peter Hunt’s target customers include Tesco Express and Metro, Sainsbury’s Food To Go, Country Choice - Bake & Bite, Farmfoods, Heron and Fulton. "We haven’t started talking in any great detail to Tesco Express and the Metro as yet, but there are huge opportunities here to develop our hand-held products with them. We’re pretty confident that, within a year, we’ll be in Sainsbury’s too. With Farmfoods, Heron and Fulton, we can offer them own-label food products or we can offer our brand."


=== Peter Hunt’s history ===

Late 1960s: Warburtons acquires shops and Peter Hunt’s, and traditional van sales operation supplying fish and chip shops in north-west

Early 1970s: Pickwick Pies acquired and merged into Peter Hunt’s

70s to early 90s: Savoury production transferred from Retail shops to Peter Hunt’s Bakery at Farnworth, and Warburtons Frozen Foods (WFF) established to sell frozen savouries

1992: Peter Hunt’s and WFF combined to form Peter Hunt’s Bakery Foods

1994: Move to new 90,000 sq ft Food Factory at Lyon Road, Kearsley

1996: Warburtons demerger - to create Lyndale Foods, Peter Hunt’s Bakery Foods, Warburtons Retail Shops and Bakeries - Sayers, Hampsons, Spinks, Burtons

1998: Peter Hunt’s van sales operation sold to Peter’s Savoury Products

1999: £5m investment to pastry mixing, fluid shortening, slice/sausage roll puff pastry line and additional pie capacity

2006: £25m turnover, 70% sales external


=== The Lyndale Group ===

Peter Hunt’s was one of the founding companies of the Lyndale Group, which includes Sayers and Hampsons, the two north-west regional chains of bakers’ shops with more than 230 outlets, and the Maison Blanc chain, which supplies hand-crafted desserts and savouries in central London.


=== Hunt’s up for sale ===

Plans to sell Peter Hunt’s factory, were reported in British Baker (6 October 2006):

Sandy Birnie, chairman of the Lyndale Group, said the factory was up for sale as it "does not fit in with the strategic aims of the future of the company". A number of potential buyers had expressed an interest in the factory since it was put on sale in September, he said. The sale was likely to be completed within six months, he predicted.

The sale of Peter Hunt’s will enable Lyndale to focus on its brands, Maison Blanc, Sayers and Hampsons.

Sandy Birnie joined Lyndale three months ago. He is a company turnaround expert, having won the Society of Turnaround Professionals award for his work at London-based sandwich company Oldfields.