Ceo Stephen Crossley, who took over from Andrew Johnson last year, told FoodManufacture.co.uk the firm was predominantly focused on making retailers’ own-label cakes, including Christmas cakes and mince pies.
However, its deal to make branded ambient cakes under licence for Aunt Bessie’s, announced last week and expected to generate millions of pounds in sales, underlined its future direction, said Crossley.
“We are 95% own-label,” he said. “We have significant partnerships with Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Marks & Spencer and a growing relationship with Aldi and Lidl. But we see a big opportunity to work with a small number of high quality brands. We have a plan to grow the branded business to 20% of total sales over the next three to four years, driven by our relationship with Aunt Bessie’s and Mars.”
Bright Blue Foods had also clinched an agreement in 2014 to make Mars-branded cakes under licence, including M&M’s sofa cake as well as Malteser and Mars lines, Crossley explained. This, together with the Aunt Bessie’s deal, would substantially boost overall turnover, he believed.
“Mars sees this as an opportunity to expand its brand and distribution is increasing every week. We aim to break through £100M in terms of total sales and our business plan, agreed with our private equity stakeholders, has that target. Our current sales are just shy of £80M.”
The company underwent a restructure last year, resulting in the closure of its Wiltshire operations and its Jesse Oldfield factory in Manchester, and disrupting service to retail customers, he said.
But Crossley added: “We have spent a significant amount of money on our Shadsworth bakery – £2M – moving lines and creating volume capacity.
“We have also spent a significant amount of money in Poland creating a decorated cake facility to high care standards and that has allowed us to grow our business in celebration cake. We are investing further money potentially next year to increase capacity in chocolate enrobing.”
Increased production capacity
Despite the closures, Bright Blue Foods had increased production capacity by about 20%, transferring lines from the Manchester plant into the Shadsworth facility, and added 100 jobs at its two Blackburn factories, he said. Service levels were now returning to where they should be, he claimed.
In line with plans previously outlined by Johnson, the company has continued to establish bakery centres of excellence, with dedicated hand-crafted decorated cake expertise at its Polish operation.
Its first Blackburn plant focuses on mince pies and small tarts, with additional automated chocolate enrobing lines making chocolate mini rolls.
In addition, its Shadsworth facility, also at Blackburn, which makes mince pies, has three large ovens producing slab, unit and loaf cakes.
Aunt Bessie’s deal
Commenting on the Aunt Bessie’s deal, which initially involves launching nine lines, including tarts, loaf cakes and round sharing cakes, into Tesco stores nationwide this week, Crossley said: “We have worked closely with Aunt Bessie’s in the past year, making sure our range fits Aunt Bessie’s credentials and what shoppers would expect from Aunt Bessie’s products.
“We have worked hard with consumer groups to come up with products that your grandma would bake and we have targets over the next two to three years to grow this particular part of the Aunt Bessie’s brand to over £20M.”
The development represented the first time Aunt Bessie’s had entered the ambient cake category, he said.
Aunt Bessie’s and Bright Blue Foods believed the fixture needed shaking up and that there was an opening for players offering genuine innovation, Crossley claimed.
Extend the range
He expected other top supermarkets to sign up to the Aunt Bessie’s ambient cake range in September. This would be followed by plans to refresh and extend the range in 2016.
Bright Blue Foods has two Blackburn bakeries, one referred to as Shadsworth and the other called Blackburn, both at Shadsworth Industrial Estate. It also operates a plant at Bradford and another at Szczecin in Poland. The company employs 1,350 to 1,800 people, depending on the season.
It was bought by NGBI Private Equity in 2012 and was previously McCambridge Foods’s cake business.