Congratulations to Maple Leaf on snapping up La Fornaia (pg 4)! It’s a terrific business, which makes artisan breads for the supermarkets, with the majority of loaves still worked by hand, and great people, such as Peter Baker and Ken Glennon, at the helm.
I have followed it from its early days, when it was founded by Peggy Dannebaum who brought ciabatta to Marks & Spencer in the UK. But in those days, the company was better at breadmaking than business acumen and continued trading in administration. It was re-named Kelzed for a while, before reclaiming its original La Fornaia name and battling back to profitability under James Astor.
When he moved on, Peter Baker, ex-British Bakeries, took over and did a great job. Over the years, La Fornaia has won numerous awards, including accolades at our own Baking Industry Awards. Its rate of innovation has been truly trend-setting. It also supplies well-researched weekly market data to its demanding customers and never fails to rise to a single challenge.
So I do have just a twinge of regret that it will lose its independence. But Maple Leaf’s Guy Hall pays tribute to the company when he says Maple Leaf would only consider "really exceptional opportunities" and that "if we had not gone for La Fornaia, it may have gone forever (to someone else)". So it has ended up in a good home, which appears to acknowledge the efforts of the talented 300 workforce.
La Fornaia is known for premium speciality breads, but we should not disparage cheap bread, according to our Friday Essayist this week, Peter Martin, who makes the point that our basic, fortified loaf is good, inexpensive nutrition. That makes a change from all the comments we have heard recently.
But the prices of commodities going into bread and cakes are rising very rapidly. They are massive and unprecedented! Not just the price of flour, which Odlums is raising (pg 12), but butter, yeast, milk, gluten - they are all going through the roof. If the major multiples haggle too hard over these rises, there will be serious casualties. So may I suggest that any bakery supplier reads the Business Briefing on page 15 this week; a really basic essential is to have one’s own house - and financial accounting - in good order.