My recipe for success

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Baker

Lise Madsen, md, Honeyrose Bakery
Lise Madsen, md, Honeyrose Bakery
Honeyrose Bakery is delivering in own-label while staying true to its brand principles, boss Lise Madsen tells Gary Scattergood

I was 18 when I left Denmark to undergo my pastry training at Ecole Lenôtre in Paris and, at Christmas, we would work from 8am until midnight the following day.

You are not afraid of hard work after that you just do what you have to do. Also, the Danish, protestant ethic means you work hard you can't be idle and enjoy life! It stands you in good stead for running your own business, so I set up Honeyrose Bakery in 2000.

It grew quickly at the beginning, then we hit the recession, but last year was a good one. In 2008 when Lehman Brothers crashed, we saw sales dive in the August but, by spring 2010, we were doing well. In 2011 it started accelerating and 2012 was our best year yet.

We had 25% growth last year. We are labour-intensive, craft, hand bakers, so when this happens it is not the case of a machine doing more, but of us needing more people. We've recently introduced a night shift to cope with demand.

We've really hit our stride in terms of filling out the capacity of the factory. We've had existing customers ordering more and new customers coming on board too. One of the main drivers for this is that last year we caved in and accepted that we have to produce conventional products as well as organic ones. There are still no nasties, they are still all natural, but some of the organic recipes were converted to natural, conventional recipes.

The Honeyrose brand is still dedicated to organic though. When I set up the business, I thought organic was going to be the most important factor, but, in fact, it was the quality of the cake that was more important.

Sadly, we have to recognise that British consumers are not looking for organic food right now, which is a shame because I am a great believer in the merits of organic and I believe, over time, conventional products will become as expensive as organic ones are.

At the moment, slightly over half of our production is own-label and, to be honest, that is a little bit more than we would like.

We've not been able to devote quite as much time as we would like to our branded products, but that is something we will be looking at over the coming months.

Gluten-free

We're also at a crossroads where we are considering if we should focus on gluten-free, gluten-free natural, gluten-free organic, or a combination of these three that is something we will be spending a lot of time on. It is going to be a very exciting time.

We make own-label products for Waitrose under the Duchy brand and we supply Café Nero. We've also recently been audited by Marks & Spencer because they are really interested in our gluten-free capabilities.

Gluten-free is a big growth area for us but the key point is that the products have to be as good as any conventional cake.

They have got to be good enough for a conventional consumer to eat without batting an eyelid and not even realising they are gluten-free. That is our test.

It is not easy from a product development perspective; it is more difficult to balance ingredients and you really have to work on texture. There are many sides to a rewarding product: there's the taste, the chew and the feel, all of which are so important.

Manufacturing organic is not for the weak hearted, but that experience has stood us in good stead for gluten-free manufacturing.

Being a pastry chef and because I'm difficult by nature I have very high standards and will send things back time and time again to make sure they are perfect.

You need to have the ability to pick up what is behind the flavour and be strong enough to say: "No, that isn't good enough."​ My tasting criteria has always been: when I am full, do I still want another bite? If I do, then I know we've got a good product.

Cakes need to be enjoyable that is their sole purpose. They are high in fat, high in sugar and not balanced. They just need to taste great.

We are in a very interesting position we are like a Swiss Army knife. We can make gluten-free, organic, conventional and hybrids of all three. There are very few other companies that can do that we know that because we see many big brands coming to us for help.

We started to produce conventional products because it was what the own-label customers wanted. I agreed because it is not my brand and we still produce a great-quality, great-tasting cake. The one thing we would not compromise on is the quality of the ingredients.

It did lead to quite a change in the way we work, though. It required more planning, because we have to segregate our raw materials, but that was no worse than the allergen methods we already had in place. We are almost considering conventional as an allergen when it comes to organic production.

When the ingredients come in they are quality inspected, batch numbered, allergen segregated and then we have a team to put all the raw materials in containers for the bakers. The bakers weigh the ingredients on good, old-fashioned scales, take the goods by trolley to the mixing room and do their work.

On the next table along they are put into tins or trays, depending on the product, or deposited the only sophisticated bit of equipment we have is a depositor because it is a boring, repetitive process to do that entirely by hand, as well as being very cost-ineffective.

The product then goes into the oven before being cooled and quality assessed we have two people tasting the product because there is more to quality control than food safety then it is packed. We do some unwrapped products and some flow-wrap products, which are then put on the pallets, ready for distribution. In general, the timescale is 24 hours because the cakes need to rest and cool down. We can pack cookies within eight hours, but we would not make a cake in the morning and pack it in the afternoon.

Traditional skills

I would never compromise on the hand craft elements of production. I worked for one of the world's finest bakers in Paris where 500 people were baking by hand. If we needed more products, we repeated the process, so it can be done you do not need to automate.

The only areas where it makes sense to automate is where there is no skill involved or where it is an unsatisfying job to carry out. Where quality is affected or where a skill is lost, I will not automate. We have tried some machinery and it just did not work, it would have required us to change the recipe.

We dictate the recipe, not a machine. We always have full control of what we do. There is a skill in adding eggs to butter without having it coagulate, there really is. You will have a better crumb and a much softer, more velvety texture.

We have always survived, despite our relatively high price point because we stick to quality and there will always be a core group of consumers who recognise that and appreciate it.

At some point the world will realise that it is going to be more expensive to eat, but we are not there yet.

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