Nick Sandler has an enviable job. Without having to stress about the day-to-day hassles of running a business, Nick’s remit is to be ‘creative’. In fact, it is in his job title: ‘creative chef’ for sandwich chain Pret A Manger. This means working in the kitchen all day developing original ideas using new and interesting ingredients. Lucky for some.“Our food meetings are great fun, they really are,” he says, clearly delighting in the role, which he took up at the end of 2004. “It’s the high point of my week and I’m working up to it the whole time, trying to think of how to sell ideas to the other members of the team.”Whereas some companies are happy to trust their faithful old recipes and customer favourites to steer their business, Pret displays an almost obsessive-compulsive compunction to tinker with its products.In the first three weeks of January alone it made 28 changes to its products. These ranged from small changes in seasoning to replacing lines with new products, to introducing four own-label drinks. Creating novel yet commercial products with strong branding and company ethics – including clean labels, eco-friendly packaging and left-overs distributed among homelessness charities – has seen the company carve out a niche for itself in the high street sandwich trade, not to mention a loyal customer base.National presencePret was established as a one-off shop by university friends Julian Metcalfe and Sinclair Beecham in Victoria, London, in 1986. The chain, which now has a strong grip on the capital, has since branched out nationally. It now has 150 outlets in places such as Brighton, Manchester, Birmingham, York, Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh, as well as stores in New York and Hong Kong.Today, Pret turns over around £150m a year. In 2001 McDonald’s bought a 33% stake for £50m. Pret constantly reviews its use of ingredients and holds twice-weekly food meetings where Mr Sandler, the food team and Julian Metcalfe, now creative director, thrash out their latest ideas. One new ingredient that Pret is pioneering is a mayonnaise replacement for sandwiches and salads derived from a Lebanese recipe that uses labna – a thick yoghurt. Branded Yummy Yoghurt, it is still relatively high in fat, but contains less than mayonnaise. With a distinctive creamy flavour and slight tang, its healthy bacteria content also appeals to consumers with a probiotic bent.Food manager Ian Watson co-ordinates the whole team, and Nick works closely with development chef Richard Edney, making as many different salad and sandwich combinations as possible until they hit upon the jackpot. “If we’ve got a new roasted tomato in, we’ll try to use it in every possible way,” says Nick.The technical department tests all new sandwich creations for shelf-life, weights and measurements. The sandwiches are made fresh daily and are not stored overnight. An eight-hour shelf-life means the avocado cannot turn brown, the bread should not become soggy and the product must retain its visual appeal for the duration of its time on-shelf.The department will also check the salt content. Pret has taken a responsible approach to salt by reducing the amount in all of its key products. But Mr Sandler explains that salt is not the be-all and end-all of flavouring a product. “The thing about salt is that consumers can’t take it out, but they can add it if they want to,” he reasons. “We always look at getting other flavours into our sandwiches, such as lemon juice, or more pepper, or more spices. We’re always looking at ‘ethnic’ ingredients, whether it is a harissa (chilli) paste from Morocco or a rendang curry paste from Malaysia. We will never shy away from using these sorts of flavours.”Fishing for ideasSubtler changes to existing flavours can equally pay off. Pret recently tweaked its traditionally smoked salmon by leaving on the skin that forms during smoking (called the pellicle) for a more immediate, powerful smoky flavour. Previously the subtlety of the smokiness was lost amid the other ingredients, says Mr Sandler.The choice of bread is also important for the balance of a sandwich. Careful thought goes into getting the blend between breads and fillings right, he says. “For example, when you think of chorizo or cured meats, you think baguettes. The flavours in a wholegrain bread would be too strong. So we’re always thinking about combinations.”In recent times, the company switched bread supplier from one of the big three plant bakers to a smaller scale producer – Fosters Bakery, based in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. And when sandwiches are your stock in trade it is worth getting the bread right. Mr Sandler says he has high hopes for Pret’s Artisan Baguette, trialled in selected shops in January, with a ham, egg and Italian cheese filling for £2.70. This is the latest addition to its range of 15 baguettes, 80,000 of which are sold every week.“It’s a French bread with a bit of sourdough in it – a multi-cereal, as they call it. We hope to give it wider distribution.”The recipe was devised by French catering company Le Notre and is made by French bakery Bridor based in Brittany partly from levain, with a slow fermentation process. It is hand-finished and part-baked in a stone oven, and baked-off in-store. Slim pickingsThe company is also prepared to try out new formats, such as its Slim Pret single sandwiches, which have been successful despite initial doubts.“Are people downgrading from a normal sandwich or are they upgrading from a soup?” he speculates. “How do you assess whether they are taking away from another part of the business or adding to the business as a whole? These are the questions we have to ask ourselves. But I would say it has been a success because so many people are talking about it.” He adds that the firm is set to continue with the format.In all, Pret sells 29 sandwiches, three wraps as well as the baguettes. Classic Tuna, Super Club and All Day Breakfast are three of its mainstays, but many niche products are assured of their places on the shelves too, he says. “There are some products that sell a bit less, but we have core customers that absolutely love them.”Pret’s pecan pie – an old favourite – is a case in point. By no means a best-seller, the risk of a backlash from Pret’s vocal customers meant a move to replace it was shelved. “Julian called up and said, ‘We cannot take this off the shelf!’” he recalls. Some recent cake products have been devised by Mr Sandler, but others are developed with Pret’s suppliers, such as the mixed berry doughnut. This is baked rather than fried for a lower calorie content (165 kcal) and sells for 60p. Meanwhile, pastries are sourced from outside suppliers and baked-off in-store.He says Pret is increasingly looking to use meal names with its products, such as a Mushroom Risotto soup. The one-time sandwich-only retailer will be offering a broader range of soups in the coming months. An improved range has already seen sales of soups increase from 1% to over 5% of total sales in a good week. One of the reasons, apart from landing some fantastic recipes, he says, was finding a method of serving large volumes of soup easily.“We heat up a lot of soup, put it in cups, and keep them in a hot cupboard. The last thing you want to be doing is ladling out soup at lunchtime.” It also uses this system for a range of hot wraps. The wraps are assembled, wrapped in brown paper, put in the oven for 15 minutes and then kept in a hot cabinet for up to two hours.Future horizonsKitchen staff make up most of the products daily in the in-store kitchens and the ease with which a product can be assembled informs NPD. And there is, of course, one big limit to innovation: the customer. “I don’t think we’d ever remove mayonnaise from the business completely,” he says. “There’d be a national outcry!”So what’s next on the horizon? “We’re looking at introducing more complex carbohydrates into the food with lots of colour,” he reveals. “We’re looking at more ethnic foods, mainly Mediterranean, where a lot of the healthy foods come from, like olive oils, fresh herbs, yoghurts, chickpeas and lentils.” Pret’s main focus will still be to continually upgrade its ingredient, he adds. There is even a rallying call for small ingredients suppliers to get in touch via its website.Also published online for bakers seeking sandwich inspiration is a full list of the company’s recipes. Meanwhile a Pret A Manger recipe book is in development.Finally, what is the single best tip he could offer a baker looking to revamp their sandwiches? “Julian Metcalfe has this classic comment – he’ll look at a sandwich, shake his head and say ‘too brown’. That’s one of my major defining factors when creating new sandwiches!” Nick SandlerCo-founder of SoupWorks, which specialised in selling hot soup from retail units, Nick has been creative chef at Pret A Manger since late 2004. He previously worked as a development chef for companies such as Duchy Originals, Joubere and others, and has written three books: Soup, Mushroom, and Preserved. He is presently compiling The Duchy Originals Cookbook, due to be published in September.
Bakery equipment integrator Eurobake (stand J230) will unveil a new range of conveying, packaging and palletising equipment from Komatec, along with a range of robotic system solutions for end-of-line automation.Information will also be available on the Mondial Forni MACS oven – a multi-deck travelling convection oven – as well as on the Kemper range of spiral mixers and new President mixer, which offers intensive mixing and high dough volumes. Also on the stand will be the range of Jongerious bagging and slicing equipment, Mondial Freddo retarders provers and Kemper bread and roll plant.
Danny Kluman has become MD of ingredients supplier Kluman & Balter. He takes over from his father Geoff Kluman, who becomes chairman. The changes come as the supplier announces it has set itself a target of 25% growth over the next three years with expansion of sales into new areas, such as foodsevice. Other changes see Simon Douglas in charge of in-house sales and Jamie Kluman take over field sales. Brian Partridge is made retail sales manager.
Catering giant Compass expects revenue growth to slow in the short term as a result of its efforts to tighten financial controls and generate higher margins.The group has continued to trade in line with expectations for the year to 30 September and hit its target of £50m in overhead savings.In a trading statement, ahead of the full year results annnouncement on 29 November, Compass said that the UK business was showing positive signs of stabilising and that it was confident of delivering a similar level of revenue and overall profitability to the previous year. It added that it had made particularly good progress in the education sector where it had helped deliver meals to the UK government’s new nutritional standards.Compass completed the deal to sell its railway station, airport and roadside catering division for £1.8bn in June. It sold its Moto motorway services chain to a consortium led by Australia’s Macquarie Bank, and offloaded its fast food brands – including Upper Crust, Whistlestop and Caffè Ritazza – to a private equity group.
Packaging Summit Europe, is one of Amsterdam’s leading events, dedicated to bringing brand owners, packaging services and materials companies together. It will take place 26-27 June, 2007, at the Hotel Okura in Amsterdam.The 2007 two-day conference and accompanying exhibition is expected to attract over 300 senior-level delegates to the Dutch city. Speakers will include: Carl Olsmats, general secretary of the World Packaging Organisation; Shane Monkman, head of packaging at Asda; Mark Caul, senior packaging technologist at Marks & Spencer; Richard Inns, chairman of Unilever Packaging Group; and Nicola Ellen the head of retail at WRAP.The event promises to deliver in-depth analysis and solutions on Europe’s latest packaging trends, which include:l Pinpointing cost challenges and return on investment of sustainable business modelsl Packaging’s role in reducing carbon ’footprints’ and environmental pressuresl The impact of packaging design on purchasing behaviourl The future role of outsourcing and workflowl Retail-ready packaging updatesl New biodegradable and recycling packaging options.In July 2006, Packaging Summit Europe welcomed over 200 delegates from across many European countries. On its website, which cites several attendees, the global packaging director at Reckitt Benckiser is quoted as saying: “Packaging Summit 2006 was a great conference: lots of interesting presentations with up-to-date information and lots of interesting people in the audience.”
Retail baker Greggs said this week that its prices were increasing 4.5% a year on an ongoing basis as ingredients’ costs mounted.The company, the UK’s number one bakery chain with 1,353 shops, said cost pressures arising from increases in the price of flour and dairy products have been mitigated to some extent by forward buying.But group managing director Sir Michael Darrington told British Baker that this would not prevent prices to customers continuing to increase, with protein commodity rises also expected. Greggs’ prices had risen 4.5% over the last year and were likely to rise that much, or even more in the next year.”Our robust performance to date encourages us to believe that current and anticipated cost increases will be recoverable from the marketplace,” he added.Favourable weather in August and September coupled with a positive response to Greggs’ latest TV advertising campaign have boosted sales, the company said in a trading update to 6 October.The group saw like-for-like sales up 5.9% in the first 16 weeks of the second half of its financial year, compared with the same period of 2006, it said. Operating profit was above the comparable period in 2006, where it saw “disappointing” flat like-for-like sales.A new Greggs’ bakery in Cambuslang, outisde Glasgow, intended to boost growth in Scotland, completed last week.
The latest British Baker poll, on [http://www.bakeryinfo.co.uk], has revealed that bakers thought that skills shortages were the biggest issue facing their business in 2008.Forty-one per cent of bakers voted that skills shortages will be the major issue this year, followed by 35%, who elected for the rising cost of ingredients.Competition from larger rivals came in third, at 14%, followed by 10% who voted for the burden of regulation and legislation.The poll started on 10 December 2007 and ended on 5 February 2008.Visit [http://www.bakeryinfo.co.uk] to vote in British Baker’s next poll: ’What is the next big trend in bakery?’
According to a recent survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development and KPMG, employers who were holding off making redundancies have reconsidered their position as a result of deteriorating economic conditions.Twenty-six per cent of responding employers reported having contingency plans to make new or further redundancies in the next 12 months, in addition to those already planned. The survey also reported that every employee made redundant costs the employer on average £10,000.Redundancy law has moved on since the last downturn affected the baking industry and you will expose your business to expensive claims of unfair dismissal and discrimination if you do not follow current law and practice. The compulsory dispute resolution regulations generally apply to all dismissals, including redundancies, except where the rules on collective redundancies apply. If you do not follow the minimum three-step dismissal procedure, the redundancy will be automatically unfair, where an employee has requisite service, and compensation can be increased by up to 50%.In brief the compulsory dismissal procedure requires:Step 1: The employer to write to the employee stating the grounds for their proposed redundancy and inviting them to attend a meeting to discuss the situation before a final decision is taken.Step 2: Meeting. Step 3: Appeal.Whenever a redundancy is proposed, meaningful consultation must take place, and should be capable of being shown to have taken place, in order to avoid a negative outcome at an Employment Tribunal. Two or more meetings will normally be required to allow for meaningful consultation. The meetings should also be used to explore the possibility of alternative employment, which is another crucial element required to achieve a fair redundancy.Employees have the right to make a reasonable request to be accompanied by another employee or a trade union official of their choice at the meetings. Companions do not have the right to answer questions put to the employee, but can otherwise take an active role during a meeting. Compensation can be awarded where the right is infringed.In addition to complying with the compulsory dispute procedures, an employer must be able to show that it acted reasonably in all the circumstances (including its size and administrative resources). Fair and objective criteria and a consistent approach are key. A paper trail showing what an employer did is usually crucial to defending a claim.Where an employee is selected as being potentially redundant, subject to consultation and after the employer has applied its objective criterion to the pool of staff that were at risk, difficult questions often arise about how much information should be disclosed to the employee to explain their selection. Based on recent case decisions my advice in such situations is:l Enclose details of the individual’s own scores (based on criteria such as skills, flexibility and length of service) with the Step 1 letterl Enclose a schedule of the other pool employees’ total scores, but on an anonymised basis with the Step 1 letter.This is slightly more cautious than the cases suggest, but should provide you with substantial protection and has the benefit of allowing for any scoring mistakes to be picked up during the consultation stage rather than at the Employment Tribunals.The legal landscape looks set to change on 6 April, 2009. The compulsory dispute resolution regulations will probably be abolished and replaced by a new Acas Code of Practice, the draft form of which applies to disciplinary and grievance procedures only. Redundancy and fixed-term contracts will be beyond its scope. The extent to which Employment Tribunals apply the principles in the current procedures to redundancies from 6 April, 2009, remains to be seen.? Ray Silverstein is a partner at legal firm Browne Jacobson
Fine Lady Bakeries has announced plans to build a £20m bakery in Newton Heath, east Manchester.Planning permission has been submitted for the site, which would become Fine Lady’s northern base.Joe Street, managing director of the Banbury-based company, said the east Manchester location would offer excellent transport links both north and south. “We don’t want to anticipate the outcome of the planning application, but this is an exciting first step for us,” he said. “We see this as a long-term investment in east Manchester, creating jobs and other benefits for the local community.”If plans go ahead for the proposed site at Central Park, off Briscoe Lane, it could bring up to 250 jobs to the area.Fine Lady Bakeries produces a range of breads, rolls and fruited products, such as teacakes, which are supplied to leading supermarket chains, independent retailers, sandwich-makers and catering companies.
Bakery students at Barking College have played a starring role in an educational video commissioned by Morrisons.The supermarket recently sent a film crew to the college to capture what it takes to train the bakers of the future. The aim of the video is to inspire and inform young people about the quality of the training and the development opportunities available for a career in grocery retailing. Barking College has trained all of Morrisons’ bakery apprentices from across the south east for the past four years. The course takes nine months to complete, with students able to achieve an NVQ qualification in Bakery Skills which has been especially designed for the supermarket chain by City and Guilds,Bakery tutor Raymond Morum commented: “We’re only one of four colleges working with Morrisons, and to be featured in their film is a great privilege. As an experienced baker, it’s wonderful to have the chance to pass on my knowledge to students, and to know that the traditional skills of a baker are still valued.”