Stuart Chadwick has been with the Co-operative Group since 1996. Among other things, he was the buyer for horti-culture for four years and then joined the bakery team as category buyer for ambient cakes last year.

He arrived in the bakery department just as his new team was working towards its recent overhaul, as part of a drive to make shops "more exciting" (see British Baker, 9 March, 2007). Co-op research had shown that while shoppers trusted the Co-op, they tended to only buy basics at its shops, not dinner-party and indulgent foods. The Co-op decided to fill in this gap by offering more premium products.

"I am responsible for buying ambient packaged cakes," says Chadwick. "Within this category, I am in charge of ranging, product development and terms for negotiations."

He says that the Co-op sources new products by firstly identifying a gap in their product offering. "Then we will approach current and new suppliers and set up meetings to discuss potential business opportunities. "I am conscious that we should have a good working relationship with our suppliers, based on mutual trust and respect."

This, he explains, is part of the Co-op ethos: "Our aim is to be the UK’s preferred community retailer and, as such, we appeal to a wide cross-section of consumers. However, as we have recently seen a shift in our customers’ needs towards more premium products, we are actively developing more indulgent goods to satisfy this requirement with our new Truly Irresistible premium range."

"This year, we have revamped all Co-op own-label bakery products and introduced 15 premium Truly Irresistible bakery lines, which include loaf and round cakes, cup cakes and tarts."

Indeed, new ranges have rolled out in stores throughout the bakery area. In the bread sector, for example, plant bread was reduced and new premium products brought in. "With our current drive on premium," says Chadwick, "we require quality products with named ingredients and provenance."

The new Co-op Truly Irresistible Pot au Chocolat, for example, is made with Belgian chocolate. Other lines in the Truly Irresistible range of desserts include the Chocolate Chip Muffin Dessert, which has layers of chocolate sponge, Belgian chocolate sauce, chocolate chips and chocolate mousse, topped with white chocolate cream and chocolate curls, Rich Fruit Cake, Chocolate and Brandy Truffle Torte, hand-baked Petit Fours and hand-baked Shortbread Rounds.

Shelf space challenge

Chadwick says that one of the biggest challenges he faces on a day-to-day basis, is shelf space, "and ensuring that we offer a breadth of range across varying store sizes and formats".

"This makes ranging decisions more important and difficult," he adds "particularly when coupled with the differing regional products that we stock. But it’s also the most rewarding part of my job. I enjoy the development of, and introducing, a new range of products. Delivering a finished product from plan inception to on-shelf delivery is very rewarding, and something I and the team are very passionate about. And I enjoy the buzz of presenting these products to colleagues and customers."

The way the Co-op judges the success of a product is by setting target rates for those products to hit. "The great thing is that we are in a position to be able to trial products and ranges in small numbers of stores," says Chadwick. "Thankfully, I have never really been disappointed by any products that I hoped would take off. I have not experienced this in the last year and I keep my fingers crossed for our new product launches!"

"We are also looking to be market-leading in new product development and delivering unique selling points, such as Fairtrade," adds Chadwick.

And he has a message for potential suppliers . "For any bakeries or manufactures wanting to supply our stores, approaches need to be via phone in the first instance, followed up by emails, detailing company structure and financial information." n


=== Vital statistics ===

WHO: stuart chadwick

WHAT: bakery buyer, ambient

packaged cakes

WHERE: the co-operative group


=== What is the Co-op? ===

The Co-operative Group has 3,000 outlets in its family of businesses with a turnover of £7.3bn in 2006. This includes the group’s biggest division, Co-operative Food Retail, with more than 1,700 food stores, which had a turnover of £3bn in 2006.