Best of both worlds

by Dan Malovany
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Located just a short drive from the rolling Welsh hills dotted with rustic ruins from centuries ago, Village Bakery in Wrexham, North Wales, UK, revels in its past while moving full-steam ahead into the future. Founded by Chairman Alan Jones and his father, who bought a small bakery in 1964, the day-to-day affairs of the family-owned business are now overseen by Alan’s sons Robin, managing director, and Christien, projects director.

“We have bakers running the company,” noted Christien, who with his brother grew up helping their father in the bakery. “We don’t have marketers or accountants or shareholders to think about. It’s Robin, me and Dad. To be honest with you, we are about the product. It’s all about our passion for baking.”

While Village Bakery prides itself as a craft operation that specializes in making wholesome baked goods that are “born and baked in Wales,” the business is hardly a sleepy, small-town operation. Rather, the £40 million (US$63 million) company was recently recognized as one of the Top 50 fastest-growing companies in Wales, reporting more than 400% annual growth for fifth place on the list in 2014.

Not only does Village Bakery serve many of the UK’s top retailers with branded and private label products, but it also supplies independent supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, caterers and convenience stores throughout the region. Additionally, it freezes products for global distribution.

Throughout the years, Village Bakery has also earned a reputation as one of the best in the business in the UK. During the past two decades, the group was named by its peers and the British baking industry trade press as the top craft bakery — not once, but three times. Last year, it received the coveted “bakery manufacturer of the year” designation — a tribute to its size and commitment to quality.

Christien credited the business’ success to its ability to blend the best of both worlds. “We’re a craft bakery, but we can produce on scale,” he explained. “We still involve our craft principles. We’ll use automated equipment. We’ll use high-capacity equipment, but we will use people where we can add value. We can form a piece of dough if it needs a hand-finish or seeding or decoration by hand. We have a brilliant team of skilled people.”

In all, Village Bakery produces up to 200 different products a day, ranging from fresh bread, soft rolls and hearty subs to sausage rolls, meat pies and a sundry of other savory pastries. Moreover, its classic line of morning treats includes crumpets, fruit scones, luxury tea cakes, pancakes and pikelets — a Welsh variation of the crumpet — as well as its best-selling authentic Welsh cakes.

Nearly 400 people work at Village Bakery, which consists of three bakeries with a total of 16 production lines. Its bakery in Coedpoeth is a 60,000-sq-ft semi-­automated operation where it makes many of its premium breads, rolls and savories. “We do a lot of baking there using thermal oil deck ovens,” Christien said. “We do a lot of hand-finishing up there, too.”

In 2008, it opened a 30,000-sq-ft facility — Village Bakery Nutrition Ltd. — that the company touted as the largest and most automated gluten-free bakery in the UK at the time. It also has a third 40,000-sq-ft bakery that houses many of the business’ most automated lines. Both of these facilities are located in Wrexham Industrial Estate on the outskirts of the city.

As one of Wales’ burgeoning businesses, it’s not surprising that Village Bakery continues to invest in automation to keep up with demand for its products. Last year, the company spent £600,000 (US$900,000) on a production line that makes hundreds of thousands of pancakes and pikelets a week. Most recently, it invested £2.8 million (US$3 million) in a new crumpet line. And it’s currently building a £4 million (US $6 million) baking academy that will open up this year (see “Invest to stay the best” on Page 39).

“Our production methods range from a fully automated bread and roll plant to a rolling pin,” Christien said. “In many cases, we need such flexibility because of the seasonality of the products. If you automate the process, you end up throwing a sheet over the equipment for the rest of the year. There’s something to be said about a good, old-fashioned table. For some products, it’s the best option.”

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