We are living in an age when consumers want to be associated with outer beauty and inner vitality, and just like the guests on the Channel 4 TV show 10 Years Younger, Waterfields bakery has been undergoing a dramatic facelift.

Reaching out to the young, affluent and urban professionals, Waterfields has completely rebranded to Waterfields Choice and has changed its signage, staff overalls, introduced new presentation displays and is offering a range of revised products. "We had a great story to tell," says MD John Waterfield. "That is why we entered the Baking Industry Awards in 2007, because we were in the middle of rejuvenating our image. Some of our shops have had minimal changes, others have been completely overhauled."

John is the third generation managing director in the family business. He studied at Salford College before travelling around the bakeries of Britain and Europe.

"We want the shops to feel modern, young and fresh," he adds. "With increased competition from Caffè Nero, Starbucks, Costa and a whole raft of coffee shops, customers have different expectations. We still want to be associated with the local village bakery, but we thought a facelift was the way forward."

All of its 39 bakery shops changed their outside bakery sign and had new menus, while four of its retail shops were given a ’mini-refit’. These saw new lighting, the walls were painted from blue to a deep brown-red colour, laminated flooring was put down on the customers’ side, and a local artist was commissioned to design posters and pictures for the stores. An extra two shops were completely refitted, which included all of these changes, but also new counters and window displays.

The like-for-like retail sales increases for the two years prior to the changes had been around 2%. But after the refits, sales increased by 5%. The initial investment was £350,000. The judges said that they were not only impressed by the investment and new look at Waterfields, but also by the company’s ’green credentials’.

What is refreshing about John is his common-sense attitude towards green initiatives within the company. At a time when certain companies are asserting their greener moral stance for promotional activity, John explains that the company’s efforts made in reducing waste and recycling simply save the company money. "It makes perfect business sense to want to reduce waste sent to landfill," he says, "because of the increasing taxes imposed."

Over the year, Waterfields has reduced waste sent to landfill by 75%. "To recycle, our staff must segregate waste into foil, cardboard and plastic," says John. "It was tricky at first, but now they have really taken to the scheme and some even recycle at home." The company is also currently working with Yield UK to find a way of converting the remaining 25% into agricultural compost.

Staff also separate meat bakery waste from meat-free bakery waste. Farmers can come and collect the meat-free waste, at their own expense, to feed their pigs, again reducing the amount of tax paid on landfill waste. "As well as reducing landfill and boosting our green credentials, it makes commercial sense," he says.

Waterfields has also cut down on its use of plastic by 90% by switching to a lightweight, biodegradable corn starch plastic. "Although it is much more expensive to use," says John, "it is a lightweight material, so we use 90% less, so the expense of using it balances out."

At Waterfields bakery, there is also a system in place where pipes collect rain from the roof of the bakery and deposit the water in a large grey container. It is then used to wash its delivery vans. Other energy-saving/money-saving activities at the bakery include, the installation of light motion sensors and a monthly energy report to measure efficiency and performance. "At a time when energy and gas prices are rapidly increasing, every saving counts," adds John. "We have been taking advice from the Carbon Trust to achieve this."

It is such initiatives at the bakery and investment into the retail outlets that reinforce Waterfields’ commitment to be the best. It earned Waterfields the Baker of the Year award.

But, for the judges, the admiration did not stop there. Simon Oddie, operations manager at Waterfields, won the Craft Bakery Award, scooping the bakery its second 2007 Baking Industry Award. The judges said they were impressed with the quality and consistency of the products served at Waterfields shops and Oddie was praised for the handmade methods used in the bakery, such as the hand-mixed apple strudel on sale.

Products are made overnight at the bakery for early distribution to the company’s 39 retail outlets. These include cream cakes, slices, confectionery items, bread, fruit salads, pasta and savouries. The savouries are later baked in-store from early morning until late afternoon. Its range of sandwiches and filled rolls are prepared in the shops throughout the day and are made to suit the needs of individual customers.

At some of its stores, especially the three tea rooms, Waterfields is experimenting with new menus. It is serving baked potatoes with a range of fillings and has a breakfast menu, serving bacon butties and toast.

As well as offering a range of speciality celebration cakes and a buffet service, Waterfields has a small wholesale business. It serves several local and national companies, manufacturing a range of bespoke products on their behalf, including pork pies made and baked for several pork butchers.

Frozen savouries are also made to specific recipes for bakers throughout the region, who demand high quality but do not have the production facilities to cope with current legislation. But its biggest wholesale customer is Booths supermarket. It supplies unwrapped bread to the retailer.

"What we have at Waterfields," John sums up, "is a great family business and our loyal, hard-working staff make the business the success that it is. Thanks to their efforts we were able to win Baker of Year."


=== Waterfields at a glance ===

Established: 1926

Shops: 39 shops dotted around the north east, in Liverpool, Cheshire, Merseyside, Southport, Lancashire and the Wirral; Waterfields is one of the largest employers in the local area

Van sales: the bakery has five vans that take sandwiches and snacks to workplaces. It picks up stock from local Waterfields outlets

Buffet service: this includes baked bread, savouries and confectionery. Menus are designed and tailored to individual requirements

New format: Its ’Select’ shop, in Bradshawgate, Leigh, won Bakery Sandwich Shop of the Year at the annual British Sandwich Awards. The shop serves a range of fresh sandwiches and rolls that are made in-store. It also serves Fairtrade coffee along with cakes and individual confectionery lines

Products: last year, it won the New Sandwich of the Year, with a Creamy Lancashire Cheese & Real Ale Chutney served on Fruit Bread


=== What the judges said ===

About Waterfields and John

"John’s talent, dynamism and sustained commitment to the highest standards of quality set him apart.

"He is exceptional in terms of innovation and is a great example to the individuals our industry needs to continue to grow and prosper. John is a credit to his business and thoroughly deserves this recognition."


=== What the judges said ===

About Waterfields and Simon

"All the competition was great, which goes to show what great bakers we have in the UK. But Simon Oddie and Waterfields stood out on the day. They tick every box in terms of training, innovation and marketing. We really admire the work they do for the environment; that’s what stood out most."