Me and my factory

British biscotti firm takes on Italian competition

By Noli Dinkovski contact

- Last updated on GMT

British biscotti boss Paul Rostand is taking on his Italian competitors in world markets
British biscotti boss Paul Rostand is taking on his Italian competitors in world markets

Related tags: Biscuit, Food

The Great British Biscotti Company has enjoyed two years of rapid growth. Boss Paul Rostand tells Noli Dinkovski what’s driving the firm’s success.

The Great British Biscotti Company hasn’t been around for long, but in a short space of time we have achieved a considerable amount.

As our name suggests, we specialise in making biscotti. It’s a traditional Italian twice-baked biscuit – typically almond-flavoured – that has been around since the Roman ages. Their dryness gives them a long shelf-life, so they were a staple food of Roman soldiers on long journeys.

The company was originally called New Forest Biscotti, and it was run by an ex-business partner, who was only selling products locally when I came on-board. I have a long background of developing new products, so I said that if I joined, I wanted to rebrand it and launch new recipes.

We moved into our first site in nearby New Milton, in March 2016. It wasn’t much more than a glorified kitchen, but it was the start we needed. Just three months later, we moved into our first proper industrial unit, also in New Milton.

We thought the 150m2​ site would last us 12 months, but our rate of growth was such that we were looking for another new site by October of that year.

It was then that I knew that we had a winning formula, so I bought the business outright. In
the past 12 months, turnover has increased by 250%, to £100,000, and in the next year it is forecast to grow to £500,000 – which will cause us a few headaches.

Flavour innovation (back to top)

Personal

NAME:​ Paul Rostand

AGE:​ 54

DOMESTICS:​ Married, with two children and a deerhound.

OUTSIDE WORK:​ I’m a passionate sailor – my dream is to sail off on a boat, never to be seen again! I was once part of a team that won an Atlantic crossing race.

Though it was quite a casual affair, there were more than 200 boats participating. I thought it would be a challenge, but being cut off from the outside world and not having to worry about work was more like therapy.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT:​ It has to be setting up a farm in Spain, closely followed by what we’ve achieved at Biscotti in such a short space of time.

ADVICE TO YOUNGER SELF:​ Put the hard work in, you can achieve a great deal. And never undersell yourself.

The secret to our success is our flavour innovation, and the fact our biscuit is slightly more brittle than the traditional variety. This means they can be eaten without being dunked.

The biscuits are still double-baked, but the way we roll the dough – plus the fact we use mould trays for the first bake – helps the loaf maintain its shape. The Italians will extrude a roll of dough straight onto a tray – so when it cooks it will collapse, which gives it a thicker crust and a harder bake inside.

All the main supermarkets sell biscotti, but before we entered the market there was little innovation and excitement in the category.

Our head chef Jon Harley has been absolutely fantastic in developing recipes. Biscotti has always been known as a sweet product, and we have six sweet varieties – but we are unique in that we also have six savoury flavours.

In fact, our savoury range outsells our sweet products by 60:40, and our top two sellers are Chorizo & Parmesan, and Parmesan & Fennel.

Our main challenge is to keep up with demand within our current factory. I bought this factory, so I’m not looking at moving soon.

Investing in machinery (back to top)

Over the next couple of months we are spending around £150,000, including investment in two new ovens and a cutting machine. Currently, we cut everything by hand, which takes two people a combined four hours a day, so a machine will reduce that time considerably.

Space is our biggest concern. Biscotti is a very space-demanding product, as every piece has to be laid out flat for the second bake. To help address this, we’ll be adding a mezzanine floor.

As sales grow, we’re not going to have the space to keep finished product here – so we’ll have to move it to outside storage. Things will be tight, if it’s managed ok we’ll be fine.

I used to run a company called French Frozen Foods, where I would travel the world looking for innovative food products that I could get manufactured abroad and then imported into the UK. We were the first people to bring sorbet products into the country, for instance.

The main thing I learned from that business was not to rely on one or two supermarkets for the majority of your sales.

Building interest in foodservice (back to top)

That’s why I am content to ignore them for now and concentrate on continuing to develop the farm shop and deli sector, while building interest in foodservice. We are currently in more than 1,000 farm shops and delis, which is very healthy for us.

I’ve also learned that you can only take certain businesses so far. I think every entrepreneur starts a business with the dream of selling it for £10M within five years.

However, after years of getting other manufacturers to make products, it’s wonderful to have a factory of my own. We’ve also got a lot long way to go before I were to get to that position.

I love running this company, and if the recognition we’ve received is anything to go by, we’ve really hit on something.

Last November, we won the Small and medium-sized enterprise Innovation of the Year category at the Food Manufacture Excellence Awards. To get the award for innovation was brilliant – it really gives us confidence in what we’re doing. It’s onwards and upwards from here.

Meanwhile, watch as the Great British Biscotti Company boss explains what winning a Food Manufacture Excellence Award means to him and his business in our exclusive video interview.

Factory facts

LOCATION:​ Unit 8, Somerford Business Park, Wilverley Road, Christchurch, Dorset. BH23 3RU

SIZE:​ 370m2

STAFF:​ Four full-time, one part-time.

TURNOVER:​ £100,000

PRODUCT RANGE:​ Simply Almond; Belgian Chunky Choc; Honey, Lemon & Ginger; Coffee & Walnut; White Choc, Cranberry & Pistachio; Chocolate Orange; Parmesan & Fennel; Chorizo & Parmesan; Indian Spice; Wild Garlic & Rosemary; Jalapeño & Cheddar; Sundried Tomato & Olives.

MAIN CUSTOMERS:​ Foodservice, farm shops, delicatessens and specialist retailers. All products are sold through wholesalers. Export markets make up around 10% of sales.

PRODUCTION AREAS:​ Mixing, baking and cutting areas. There is also a packing area with a flow-wrapper and a vertical form fill sealer.

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