Gary Reeve, Managing Director of Reeve the Baker of Salisbury and Chairman of The Bakers and Confectioners Association (BCA), shares his thoughts with International Confectionery about challenges in the industry right now.
A brief history of the BCA and how it has developed into what it is today?
A group of twenty-six people representing the practical craft sector of the confectionery industry, met in 1905 to form the British Confectioners Association, known as the BCA, under the guidance of Mr. H G Harris. Their main aim was to meet regularly to promote the skills of the trade and exchange ideas, to enhance their businesses “and to encourage the study of confectionery as an art form, and to promote trade interest”. They were spread throughout many regions of the United Kingdom.
The association has survived well beyond its centenary because it has not deviated from its original principles. The membership, which is limited to sixty people, has continually evolved, and has successively represented many of the outstanding craftsmen and top bakery businesses located throughout all the regions of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.
In 2019 the name of the association was changed; can you tell us why and what you hoped to achieve from this?
The name changed from British Confectioners Association to the Bakers & Confectioners Association for two main reasons. Firstly, to reflect more accurately who we now are. At heart we are an association made up of artisan bakers and confectioners making bread, cakes, biscuits, sweet and savoury pastries. The old name suggested a much more limited demographic. Secondly, we were very keen to enable the inclusion of some bakeries from Southern Ireland and of course the new name reflects this better too.
What benefits does the association give to its members?
The primary benefit is that of friendship and the willingness to share ideas. With members located across the country and of all different sizes there is always someone you can pick up the phone to ask for help and guidance. More formally, meetings take place five times a year and are initially planned by the Chairman. The organising is then delegated to different members to arrange. A typical meeting commences early on a Tuesday afternoon and comprises different craft related and technical sessions lasting no longer than one hour. Bakers are traditionally not good at sitting down for long periods! A short business meeting will follow. The emphasis for the rest of the day is members mixing socially when ideas can be exchanged on an informal basis. For the evening dinner a raffle ticket system is used to mix all the attendees thus eliminating the formation of cliques. The following morning is spent visiting the organiser’s bakery and shops. In alternate years, an overseas study tour takes place lasting two to three days.
What trends are you noticing in the bakery market at present?
The main trends in baking are vegan products and artisan baking with sourdough products now extremely popular.
How did coronavirus impact the association and its members?
There is no straight answer to this question! Some businesses have thrived due to an increased demand for local shopping, others have had to close city centre shops and suffered consequently. Wholesale business has depended upon who and what you are supplying. Overall, I do believe the support from the government with grants and furlough schemes have been a big help. We all now hope for a sustained and strong recovery.
How has the association helped its members throughout the pandemic?
We have tried to stay in touch with our members through quarterly newsletters and regular Zoom meetings where we have been able to support each other. Through this medium, ways of trading during a pandemic have been shared and helped everyone make the best of the current situation. Through the friendships made there has of course been much information shared directly between members, all helping each other make the right decisions and come out the other side.
What challenges is the bakery industry facing right now?
The main challenge is still Covid-19 and how the economy bounces back. Outside of that Brexit is a challenge both for those exporting and importing from Europe. For smaller businesses in particular Natasha’s Law and the control of allergens will take a great deal of time and energy to fully implement.
“The main trends in baking are vegan products and artisan baking with sourdough products now extremely popular”
How important is sustainability to the bakery industry?
We all aim to be as sustainable as possible, partly because that is what our customers now demand but also because this can often deliver cost savings!
What does a typical day as chairman of the BCA look like whilst running your own business?
Because of Covid I have not really had much of an opportunity to be Chairman. Like all bakery owners I have been working hard at ensuring our business gets through this period. As chair I have been keeping in touch with members and helping where I can. To keep the membership in touch with each other I have established a newsletter to communicate all the good things going on during the pandemic. It was important to me that during this most uncertain time we all stayed connected and supportive of each other.
What trends do you forecast for the future of bakery?
I believe that artisan baking will continue to go from strength to strength and for retail bakers the past 12 months has probably introduced new customers who wish to shop local as we come out of lockdown. Hopefully, we can maintain those new customers. I am sure that healthy eating will be a major focus as we move forward. Covid has really highlighted the issues around obesity, and I am sure that the government will be looking to food manufacturers to help improve the nation’s diet. I only hope that they put as much focus on education as they do on regulation of the industry.