International Bakery sits down with Alasdair Smith, Chief Executive of Scottish Bakers, an association that works for long-term survival and growth of Scottish bakeries.
Could you give us a brief background of Scottish Bakers?
Scottish Bakers has been promoting and protecting the interests of the trade since its establishment in 1891. We represent, advise, and support all aspects of Scotland’s baking industry to ensure it remains competitive.
We achieve this by providing the widest possible range of benefits that help our members sustain and grow their businesses including: lobbying & advocacy, skills development, technical information and assistance, competitions, sector intelligence, legal advice, financial discounts, and social and business networking.
What challenges are the Scottish Bakery market facing right now?
Like many aspects of the economy, the bakery sector is working hard to recover from the impacts of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Those hardest hit include retail stores that would normally depend on high levels of food-to-go and manufacturers selling into hospitality businesses and the food service sector.
Retail bakeries with a strong presence in their communities retained much of their customer base throughout the darkest days of the crisis, while others adapted quickly to offer online ordering, click and collect, and home deliveries for the first time; sustaining these innovations will be a challenge as we escape the worst clutches of the pandemic.
The larger manufacturing bakeries also maintained levels close to normal, with broader demand being seen from the convenience store sector too.
The focus now that we appear to be exiting the harshest restrictive measures is on regaining lost ground and ensuring long-term sustainability, but there are early indications of staff shortages for those businesses needing to grow capacity.
How does the association support its members?
We have five key pillars of work.
- Our Scottish Bakers family is a close-knit community of like-minded individuals and businesses. We provide the forum for this family to come together virtually and physically.
- We actively advocate and lobby the government and other key stakeholders on issues affecting the trade. The collective strength of our members is vital in ensuring we are heard and recognised as the authoritative voice of the trade.
- We provide a range of unique member offers and services such as free access to employment law advice and food safety advice; discounted roadside assistance for commercial vehicles, access to R&D Tax credits support and much more. Many allied trades members provide unique offers or discounts open only to Scottish Bakers members making membership a “must-have” to bakeries of all sizes.
- We are the largest provider of apprenticeship training to the sector and other food manufacturing businesses in Scotland, supporting government-funded apprenticeships across the trade.
- We run industry competitions and events such as the World Championship Scotch Pie Awards, and the Scottish Baker of the Year competition linked to our two-day annual conference and awards ceremony.
What is a typical day of a CEO at Scottish Bakers like?
No two days are the same, but regardless of whatever pressures and issues come my way, my number one priority is to always ensure I’m there for our members. Throughout the pandemic I’ve been available directly to any member calling the association and it’s been my pleasure to get to know so many more of them well, even though the circumstances have been so difficult.
What trends are you seeing in bakery right now?
There is more interest in producing healthier versions of traditional products with moves to reformulate for lower salt, sugar and fat content in products. The increasing demand for food-to-go and hot drinks is also evident as an increasingly important part of any retail baker’s offering although the continued absence of many office workers from our town and city centres is challenging.
Are consumers becoming more health focused, wanting a healthier alternative to traditional baked goods?
Though there continues to be strong demand for traditional baked products, we are seeing more and more businesses explore reformulation to help produce “healthier” versions of their traditional bakes. We recognise the widespread challenge but we must continue to satisfy demand while playing our part to address the public health issues associate with excess weight. In doing so, we also very strongly advocate for a response that emphasises personal responsibility as much as it requires industry led solutions.
What has been a few notable moments in your career with Scottish Bakers?
Our Annual Conference and Scottish Baker of the Year Awards Ceremony is the usual highlight of our year, which is why we’ve missed this amazing event so much due to the pandemic. It’s a time when our industry comes together with colleagues, competitors and suppliers for business and social networking, celebration and good fun.
The postponement of your annual conference and awards must be disappointing, do you see the bakery events market coming back strong next year?
We’ve all missed being able to come together to celebrate this great trade and to meet old friends and make new ones so our events programme has left empty slots in our diaries. Right now though, we’re delighted to confirm that we’ll come back with a bang in May 2022 when our great Scottish Bakers family will come together again for the first time in two years.
What is a typical Scottish baked product that you wouldn’t see anywhere else?
The world-famous Scotch pie is ubiquitous in Scotland, though there are pockets of demand elsewhere – strangely it’s quite popular in Canada. It’s a unique tasty, savoury handheld pie with a spicy meat filling. Probably everyone in Scotland has had a Scotch pie at some point in their life. We reckon around 30 million are baked and sold every year in Scotland.
What do you hope to achieve with the association long term?
The long-term survival and growth of our sector in Scotland is at the heart of what we do. We want to see all our members, from the smallest artisan producer to the largest manufacturing wholesaler thrive in a competitive market.
Image credit: Scottish Bakers
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Editor, International Bakery
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 922