More than any other cate-gory within food manufacturing markets, bakery has experienced a high level of new product development (NPD) over the past two years. This has largely been influenced by the healthy eating agenda, which has driven the demand for a range of low-fat, gluten-free or low-carb options.

However, the premiumisation of the market, such as the increasing levels of high-end artisan breads offered at retailers such as M&S and Waitrose, and the rising demand for food provenance, as a growing number of products are sourced from outside the UK, have also had a role to play.

As the demand for new and innovative products has grown, the need for companies to employ talented NPD personnel has increased concurrently. At Ellis Fairbank, for example, we have helped to deliver over 85 NPD assignments since 2005, which is a marked increase on previous years and approximately a 60% year-on-year increase in the number of vacancies.

Historically, bakery has been deemed less interesting to candidates than categories that are perceived as more fashionable, such as ready meals. But there has been a reversal in candidate opinion over the past 18 months. Because of the very high-profile development agenda, that has been running through the bakery category, it has become a market which is attracting an increasing number of NPD specialists.

As levels of classically trained bakery personnel are now reaching an all-time low, just when the demand for this specific level of expertise is at an all-time high, the UK baking industry needs to look to other sectors to fill its NPD roles. Now, more than ever, bakery manufacturers will only maintain a competitive edge over other food suppliers by looking outside their category for suitable talent.

By using competency-based recruitment techniques, companies can identify the key skills needed for a particular role, thus enabling a scientific and intelligent methodology to be adopted, upon which sound recruitment decisions and career choices can be made. There must be a real understanding about what a company is looking to deliver and achieve from a business perspective. By getting a sound grip on these objectives, and by being able to communicate and demonstrate the long-term bene-fits of working within the bakery field, companies will be able to make positive recruitment choices that offer real business benefits.

Bakery employers also need to ensure the retention of talent already present within the industry. By understanding not only the financial ambitions of an individual or group of employees, but also their desires in terms of career progression and development, a company will be far better placed to engage with its staff and offer them an environment in which they are able to grow and contribute towards the success of the business.

l Rob Devlin is a recruitment consultant, specialising in bakery, at Ellis Fairbank