While most people will be aware of the major bakery wholesalers such as Bako and BFP lesser known are the smaller regional suppliers that are making inroads into craft bakery. Walker Humphrey, which supplies esteemed retailers like Bettys of Harrogate and Cooplands of Doncaster, is a case in point.
It has succeeded by targeting the many one-shop craft bakers and patisseries, chocolatiers, sugarcraft shops and, to a lesser extent, hotels such as Radissons in the north of England. Now, it is looking to expand over to Lancashire and other areas with the appointment of a new sales manager next month.
In the past 10 years, ingredients distribution company Walker Humphrey has developed customer accounts and better relationships with key suppliers, which have resulted in a doubling of its turnover from £1m to £2m.
"I feel a unique aspect of our company is our active involvement with clients," says purchasing director Martin Humphrey. "Approximately 60% of our 250 customer accounts are visited 12 times a year. I believe very few companies, if any, in our market can state this."
Clearly it works, since in 2007, it became apparent that Walker Humphrey had outgrown its previous site and, with a higher customer demand on suppliers obtaining third party accreditation, relocation to a larger, purpose-built site became a pressing issue.
The move to Sherburn, which took place in the spring of 2009, hails a new era in this lively family business. The 6,000sq ft premises have been in operation for just six months, but with the inclusion of new chilled and ambient ingredient ranges, the company’s turnover has seen record figures.
Martin Humphrey is convinced that the family aspects of the business give it the edge when it comes to customer interface. "The mid-90s saw our competitors sustain a strong hold on the bakery market share and we were in danger of losing out," he recalls. "Realising the requirement for new product lines and improved buying power, we leased four 20ft containers and used additional warehouse storage in Morley. This allowed the business to achieve improved purchase prices and compete in the buying and selling markets. The lesson is to anticipate such changes and not sit around waiting for them to happen.
To achieve good business relationships with customers, you have to start from within, he adds: "The personnel employed through Walker Humphrey have remained with us, on average, well over 15 years. We learned early on that employees can frequently hold positive ideas and important customer feedback, which we can often overlook."
As the company kicks on, the next step will be investing in marketing as well as harbouring plans to branch into the frozen market in the near future.