Altering the seasons
For half a century, Monk’s Bread has marched to the beat of a different drummer (a higher calling, perhaps), and the abbey-owned commercial baking business is taking an unconventional approach to its newly introduced line of seasonal products.
“In one way our seasonal products are similar to what other premium bread bakers in our space do — pumpkin spice, ginger bread, country apple spice and cranberry cinnamon,” said Kevin L. Baker, president. “What’s different is that we run them a little out of sequence from other bakers, trying to meet consumers who want these flavors other times of the year.”
For instance, the company’s pumpkin spice bread is offered in late fall, as opposed to Monk’s competitors that bring the variety out several weeks earlier.
The seasonal varieties fall into the breakfast bread category and complement Monk’s year round line.
“We bake a raisin cinnamon bread that has been a signature since the 1950s,” Mr. Baker said. “We also have a maple cinnamon, which most people call French toast bread. Ours has been out for 15 years.”
Monks at The Abbey of the Genesee devote themselves to lives of “work of their hands and prayer,” Mr. Baker, who is not a monk, said. The origins of baking date back to the admission into the monastery after World War II of Brother Sylvester, who had been a baker in the U.S. Navy. He enjoyed sharing bread with guests at the monastery’s retreat center. The monastery and bakery are located in Piffard, N.Y., about 40 miles south of Rochester.
“It became so popular, people began asking for it,” Mr. Baker said. “We started selling it locally, and Wegmans in the 1950s picked it up.”
The breakfast bread changes are part of a larger product line update under way at Monks’ bread. Also new over the past year has been the reintroduction of a rye bread.
“We picked that up again,” he said. “We had taken it out of rotation. I do have some products in the pipeline we’ll be rolling out before too long. It will be a pretty major change. Those will be different than normal pan breads. More along the line of gourmet toasting types of bread.”
As demand for Monks’ Bread has grown and the population of the monastery has aged and contracted, a larger part of the company’s workforce is represented by workers and other staff members who are not Trappist monks.
Mr. Baker joined the company nine years ago. Over this recent period, the company has experienced a major growth spurt, he said.
“Monks’ Bread is still owned by the Abbey but now has non-monk-management,” he said. “We operate a specialty foods division, which leans toward artisan products like biscotti and spreads.
Our commercial bread is sold in eight mid-Atlantic states.”
The company’s products are distributed by Bimbo Bakeries USA.
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