When it comes to pastry, Pidy may not be the most recognised name in the UK, but this looks set to change as the Belgium-based firm embarks on expansion this side of the channel. Based in the once war-torn town of Ypres, the company already produces pastry products in as many sizes and shapes as you could imagine, so you might think NPD could pose a problem but you’d be wrong.
Pidy, an acronym for Patisserie Industrielle Dehaeck Ypres, is an independent family business, set up in 1967 by the late pastry baker Andre Dehaeck , the father of current chairman Thierry. While working at the family bakery and patisserie, he secured his first business customer when approached by a lady from Gant, who had a wine and cheese shop and was interested in selling his pastry products to complement her offering. He also discovered a market for gift-packs of unfilled pastry, which were purchased by tourists visiting the battlefields surrounding Ypres. Enquiries from wholesalers then started rolling in, and the business grew and grew, with the company’s first production unit created in a bakery of only 520sq m.
A series of acquisitions and a number of years later, Pidy now produces over 300 million pieces per year, from its three production sites in Ypres, Halluin in France and Inwood, USA.
Foodservice has been its core business since it began in the 1960s, but Pidy also manufactures ready-to-fill pastry products for sectors including manufacturing and industrial; contract and event catering; cash-and-carry; and retail. It produces six different types of dough: puff pastry, shortcrust dough, choux buns, sponge dough, pâte à foncer (the French version of a basic pie dough, but with an extra-fine texture) and croustade.
For the production of its puff pastry Pidy uses both the French and Dutch method of production. With the French method, the fat is placed between the layers of dough, whereas with the Dutch method the fat is mixed with the dough and then layered. As an example of output, the Ypres factory produces approximately 29,500 pieces of its 4.5cm sized bouchées similar to a vol-au-vent an hour.
Pidy already has a presence in the UK, with ambient products in Brakes, its biggest foodservice customer. It also supplies Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Harrods, Waitrose, Délifrance and Spar. But the firm isn’t as well represented on the high street and has put the wheels in motion to change this.
Recently appointed UK general manager Robert Whittle says the firm sees an opportunity to increase its presence in high street bakeries, patisseries and cafés. "We’re also looking to talk to the likes of Pret A Manger and Starbucks in the UK and Europe," he adds. Whittle’s aim is to double the firm’s overall growth in the UK over a period of two years, which will involve expansion in the majority of the markets in which it operates, not just bakery retail.
The majority of the sales thrust in the UK bakery and café sector will be through targeted product launches. These have been designed to address problems such as lack of time, space and skilled staff, as well as the view that sales are often made based on the visual appeal of products. Pidy has already launched easy-to-use kits, such as Tarto Presto. This contains pastry tartelettes and crème patissière, which can be combined with fruits or chocolate, for example, to create eye-catching "window candy", says Whittle.
Pidy is hoping to introduce other kits as well and Whittle says plans are already afoot, although "still under wraps", to join forces with partners in the industry. "We see an opportunity to increase our presence in independent bakeries by working with partner companies, such as Unifine, to get our products to that market," he explains.
Chairman Thierry Dehaeck says that "finding skilled staff is getting to be a nightmare" and that products such as Pidy’s pastry cases can be promoted as "a perfect substitute for a handmade product", leaving the baker time to concentrate on the filling and presentation.
"We can also offer frozen dough to the UK bakery sector, as we now have adequate storage facilities we haven’t had the capability to do this before," says Whittle, adding that the firm is currently in talks with Brakes about distributing its frozen range.
Dehaeck says that although the company has competitors, when comparing individual types of pastry, there are no other companies that have the ’all-under-one-roof’ claim. "Pidy is at an advantage as it manufactures such a variety of products," he adds.
Moreover, the company certainly hasn’t been resting on its laurels when it comes to innovation. With around 30 new product launches in the last year, and plenty more to come, how does it come up with new ideas? "Question everything this is the most important thing," answers Dehaeck. To rethink and optimise the original idea, to reshape any shape and to apply trends proactively, are key parts of Pidy’s new product development. But it’s not enough just to sell the products, you need to sell the ideas to go with it, adds Dehaeck.
Pidy likes to be ahead of the game. "We are focused on quality and customer-driven thinking. We always try to be proactive," explains corporate sales director Robin Van Oudenhove. For example, the firm introduced products containing non-hydrogenated fat around two years ago, despite that fact it isn’t a necessary requirement in Belgium, he explains. Areas the company is now looking at include low-fat and gluten-free options. "If we can have a production facility ahead of a competitor in terms of trends, then we’re at an advantage," explains Dehaeck.
Recent innovation includes the creation of a vol-au-vent that keeps its crispiness without needing to be reheated; a tart with a vegetable coating that stops it going soggy and allows users to prepare finished products in advance; and canapé products such as mini-cones and ’spoonettes’ an area Dehaeck says is seeing real growth in the UK. However, in one case, its recently launched edible coffee cups needed to come with a warning. Oudenhove explains that at a trade show in Dubai, a gentlemen decked out entirely in white took a bite out of the pastry cup before he had finished drinking the coffee and ended up wearing it instead.
The family aspect of the business is very important to Dehaeck, who says the secret to keeping your staff happy and retaining them is by listening to what they have to say. And as some of his employees have worked at the company for over 25 years, that philosophy appears to be working.