As a boy, Chris Jenkins would occasionally ride horses. It was an experience that taught him a valuable lesson in life.
“When riding, I quickly learned that you had to accelerate when approaching obstacles, because if you slowed down you would often end up in the bottom of a ditch,” he says. “As a result, my mantra in life is to ‘kick-on’ – don’t slow down, because invariably you will suffer.”
It’s an approach to life you might expect from a man who, by his own admission “was desperate to succeed” having had a relatively tough upbringing on a small farm in Wales.
And Jenkins, the newly-appointed cluster director at bakery ingredients and finished products manufacturer Dawn Foods, is clearly a man who likes to put actions behind his words.
Just shy of three months into his new role, he is responsible for overseeing the launch of a plethora of new products in 2016 – including a doughnut mix that comes with a five-day shelf-life guarantee – while making plans that will be instrumental in helping Dawn double the size of its business over the next five years.
Formed in Jackson, Michigan in 1920, Dawn Foods brands itself the ‘original old-style American bakery’. A $3bn family-owned firm, it has grown to become the leading bakery supplier in the US, and globally, it employs 5,000 people across 53 sites.
Responsible for both the UK and Ireland arm of Dawn’s £180M (250M) European business, which is based in Evesham, Worcestershire, Jenkins believes his experience in a number of buying, sales and marketing roles for the likes of Asda, Mars and the Compass Group puts him in an ideal position to propel Dawn forward.
“My time at Asda [as head bakery buyer] gave me an understanding of how to take an idea and drive it through to completion,” he explains.
“In those days, we would take a product from concept to having it on the shelf within 10 weeks. So, it really was innovation at a pace.”
Growth potential (Return to top)
Displaying an air of restlessness, Jenkins is keen to exploit the growth areas in bakery, which he describes as numerous.
Claiming Dawn to be the only company in the UK to offer “authentic American bakery products”, he believes the business has benefitted from the trend for US-style food in recent years.
Domestics: Divorced, with two daughters (18 and 15).
Previous roles include: European commercial manager, Marlow Foods (Quorn); commercial director, Uhrenholt Group UK; sales and marketing director, Monkhill Confectionery; buying manager, Asda; senior buyer, Compass Group; regional manager, Mars Confectionery.
Hobbies: Jenkins describes himself as a self-confessed rugby fanatic and a keen mountaineerer. He also once trained as a chef and continues to enjoy cooking.
“Too many companies sit on their laurels and don’t recognise the emerging trends. Dawn, on the other hand, has been fortunate enough to achieve double-digit growth over the past four years in a number of areas, including the artisanal, in-store bakery, retail and foodservice markets,” he says.
The company’s product portfolio is split into three areas. “There are the dry-mixes, there’s what we call wet – frostings and numerous other fillings – and there’s our frozen finished products, which are essentially items such as cookies, muffins, doughnuts and brownies.”
Under what has been coined Project Sunrise, the entire product range, which used to include brand names such as Sucrea, Fruibel and Caullet, are being rebadged as Dawn products. It’s a gradual process that started a year ago and is likely to run until autumn.
Allied with this has been ongoing innovation. A new ‘chewie fudge’ mix for brownies is a notable highlight, but the standout new product development has to be a doughnut mix that gives the finished product a guaranteed shelf-life of five days.
Expected to be available at the end of this month, it’s a product that Jenkins is understandably excited about.
“When I was at Asda, my doughnuts only had a one-day shelf-life. So, once they were cooked in-store, I had to sell them that day or put them in the bin,” he says.
“Imagine that I’m now able to take that up to five days, and for them to deliver the same quality taste on day five as on day one. For me, that’s a massive leap forward – not to mention a huge way to alleviate food waste.”
Jenkins claims the reformulation took more than two years to create and involved substantial company investment.
“I know our competitors have been striving to make a similar product, but I don’t think anyone is close.”
Nut-free site (Return to top)
Away from the doughnut mix, most of Dawn’s products are made at the Evesham site (including no fewer than 30M muffins a year) – with the notable exception of cookies. Not making cookies allows the factory to be completely nut-free, which Jenkins says is a “massive selling-point” in terms of traceability.
Another strength of the 3.7 acre site is its technical capabilities. “We are very fortunate in having both the European research and development team and the food safety and regulatory team based here, which is fantastic in terms of jobs, specialist knowledge and the ability to influence things quickly.
“Our sales team is divided into two groups. Alongside the more traditional key account managers, we have a team of technical sales managers, who were all former bakers.
“With their knowledge, we are able to inspire our customers to make the right products for their customers. It’s all about taking a base product and turning it into something special.”
Despite the site operating a 24-hour shift system, Jenkins dismisses the idea that the company’s ambitious growth target could result in capacity problems. “I won’t pretend that there aren’t times when we would like to have more ‘sprint’ capability, but we’re certainly not challenged in terms of overall capacity,” he says.
Presence around the world (Return to top)
“And, by having so many factories around the world, we have the ability to move production around as well. Therefore, I don’t envisage any immediate need to increase our footprint here.”
On touring the site, it is noticeable how manual the production process is – cake trays, for instance, are filled entirely by hand. Jenkins defends this approach as way of helping to create added-value.
“We have a factory in Groningen that has barely a soul there – it’s just robots churning products out. That works for what they do, but at Evesham having a manual operation means we are able to do a lot of bespoke hand finishing. We see that as a major benefit of the site.”
Employing just short of 200 people – around 60% of whom are from eastern Europe – Jenkins says Dawn’s commitment to pay “above industry standards” has resulted in 56% of staff having been at the company for longer than five years, and 27% for longer than 10.
“It leads me to believe we’re a pretty good employer and the reception I’ve had since I’ve been here tends to suggest that the staff are well-motivated, engaged and enthusiastic. Once you’ve got that, it makes the job of the senior teams that much easier,” he claims.
“Our pay rates also mean the arrival of the living wage [in April] will have a minimal impact.”
However, Jenkins says there will be some “significant” business investments later in the year – particularly in the area of tray bakes.
“Without being able to go into too much detail, we’re also putting in a brand new computerised system to run the factory more efficiently – but we’re not looking to take people out of the site and replace them with robots. This will remain very much an artisanal base,” he adds.
With so much in the pipeline, the phrase ‘kick-on’ will no doubt be uttered a few more times at Dawn Foods throughout 2016.
In this exclusive video, Jenkins explains how retaining staff is integral to his business.