British Baker speaks to former Unilever marketing chief Laurence Smith about his acquisition of Fatherson Bakery and his plans for the business.

Laurence Smith, his wife Megan and business partner Mark Lewis purchased family-owned Fatherson Bakery at the beginning of the year.

The Alcester-based bakery was founded in 2007 by two fathers and two sons. With the acquisition, the fathers have retired and one son has left the business while the other, Sean Geary, remains as sales, marketing and logistics director.

A veteran of FMCG businesses, including Unilever and Pladis, Smith’s experience has proven invaluable in setting the strategy for Fatherson, but he is also determined to stay true to the bakery’s core values, which he says align with his own.

“We’re using the finest, locally sourced ingredients, baking in small batches to deliver the taste of homemade,” he tells us.

“Everything is very much handmade and decorated. We have slightly larger mixers and ovens than you’d have at home, but they’re not big conveyor ovens, and then we have a team to fill and decorate by hand.”

While much has remained the same, Smith has undertaken a rebrand and launched new gluten-free products.

The latter comes in the form of its 2Go bars, which launched in March this year. The range comprises four flavours – Salted Caramel Sensation, Chocolate Honeycomb Tiffin, Fruity Granola and Chocolate Rocky Road – and is currently produced at a separate gluten-free facility away from Fatherson’s head office.

“As we look to grow the range of gluten-free products, we will look at expanding our current facility,” Smith says, adding that it sees opportunity in its existing product range for gluten-free alternatives.

The company has also begun switching up the packaging for the products in a bid to make everything eco-friendly and recyclable.

“We want to be the leaders and innovators with packaging in the bakery market,” he explains.

So far, the business has switched to 100% recycled and recyclable plastic on all its cupcakes, butterfly cakes, mince pies and other products in blister-packs, and is working with its cardboard supplier to take away waste card to be recycled and returned as delivery boxes.

By autumn, it plans to replace all cellophane with 100% sustainable and biodegradable plant-based material.

Smith explains that his 10 years at Unilever have helped him develop a marketing strategy for the business.

“My FMCG experience was important, but working with a strong creative team to complete the brand redesign and the implementation of consumer-led innovation, such as the 2Go bars, was also key.

“Putting the consumer at the heart of what we do ensures we deliver activity and products in a way that develops the category.”

Smith also believes there is room for improvement in the way the baking industry as a whole is marketed, but adds that a desire to change would be essential in achieving this.

“In the coming months we have a number of exciting initiatives in place, including eco packs, new product launches and consumer activity,” he concludes.

For tips from the experts on marketing vegan bakery, see our latest piece on making vegan products stand out.