Me and my team

Fatherson Bakery: Taking homemade to heart

By Laurence Smith

- Last updated on GMT

Smith: ‘We chose to handmake our products because, once you focus on large-scale production, all of a sudden it’s high volume, low price and you end up just churning something out’
Smith: ‘We chose to handmake our products because, once you focus on large-scale production, all of a sudden it’s high volume, low price and you end up just churning something out’
Fatherson Bakery owner and managing director Laurence Smith explains how his experience of bigger businesses is helping the company ‘punch above its weight’.

At Fatherson Bakery, we use quality ingredients to bake a range of cakes, tarts, desserts, snack bars and traybakes that we believe taste just as good as homemade.

The firm was established in 2007 by Kevin Lees and David Geary and their sons Phillip Lees and Sean Geary – hence the name Fatherson. I purchased the business on 25 January this year, along with my wife Megan and business partner Mark Lewis.

Supplying to more than 1,500 stores across the UK, we bake in small batches, which – unlike manufacturers with very large ovens – gives us the flexibility to produce multiple different products at the same time. We source British where we can, including British sugar, and we also use fresh eggs. In fact, we crack more than three million fresh eggs a year.

We chose to handmake our products because, once you focus on large-scale production, all of a sudden it’s high volume, low price and you end up just churning something out. We put love into every cake we bake.

Although a smaller company, we have processes in place that I believe are equivalent to the likes of Unilever or United Biscuits, but our ability to be nimbler and more flexible to handle smaller runs or do things slightly differently sets us apart.

Experience both big and small

While most of my experience has been in bigger companies, recently I’ve managed smaller businesses, including cleaning products start-up E-cloth.

I’ve taken some of the processes and thinking from my Unilever and United Biscuits days and brought them to the party here. So, although a smaller player in the category, we punch above our weight in terms of knowledge, experience and ability.

But, having worked on a smaller scale for a number of years, I quickly realised that you have to roll your sleeves up as well. Here, that includes helping load vans in the mornings or sorting and packing products. It also allows me to identify what’s working and what’s not, and what changes we can make to be more efficient – but also ensure quality remains high.

Prior to buying the business, the former owners had got it to the level where it was growing steadily, but only by single digits year-on-year. Since I took over, we’ve implemented fairly aggressive growth plans and we’re looking to get good double-digit increases in the coming years. Even now, we are up about 7% versus the same period last year.

We’ve had a big recruitment drive in preparation for Christmas, which is going to be Fatherson’s biggest ever. Seasonal demand is important for us, with mince pies and some of our other Christmas products key to our success.

Scaling up

So, we’re scaling up staffing in the bakery and the warehouse, but we’re also in the process of recruiting eight new apprentices for the business, being trained to a Level 2 or 3 in warehousing and within the bakery as well. One started last month and a number will be starting in the next few weeks.

Whenever I’m in the office or the bakery, I make sure I spend time with all the staff and talk to them, because they’re the people at the coalface and the ones who help us to identify how we can continually improve.

As for challenges, there’s obviously the political issue of Brexit that we can’t hide from. However, we’ve future-proofed ourselves as much as we can. We’re sourcing British produce and, at present, we primarily sell into the UK market.

Beyond that, sugar reduction is always a challenge for manufacturers of snacks or sweet treats. Similar to the soft drinks industry, sugar plays an important role in cake production, so we are looking at ways to be efficient with it.

The other big concern is packaging. If you look at some of our competitors, the boxes they put their plastic blisters in are oversized. We are focusing on being the first bakery to be widely recognised as eco-friendly with packaging – and all of our plastic blisters are already 100% recycled and 100% recyclable. By autumn, we will have moved to a plant-based cellophane alternative for our products as well.

Opportunity to expand

Looking forward, we have the opportunity to expand into new areas and channels – with foodservice a big area we know we can unlock. We’ve also got a lot of headroom in retail where, with the right proposition, we could get into some of the bigger national accounts.

We’re also looking at exports and speaking to a couple of potential partners – either to bring our products to other markets or offer the Fatherson proposition under a licensing agreement.

I see myself still steering the ship here in five years’ time – and I hope it’s a bigger ship by then. We’re in a great position now and have plenty of innovations outside our core category areas coming through, such as gluten-free and vegan varieties of our best-selling cakes and snack bars.

However, the important point is to maintain and serve existing customers. We work with the garden centre market, convenience stores and symbol groups like Budgens and we’ve got a lot of opportunity to help them grow the category further, whether through product development or activation of product lines in-store.

Meanwhile, Smith talks about key bakery trends and the challenge of replacing single-use plastic packaging in our exclusive video interview. 

Fatherson Bakery

  • Location:​ Unit 28, Arden Forest Industrial Estate, Tything Rd, Alcester, Warwickshire. B49 6EP
  • Factory size:​ 650m2
  • Staff:​ 70
  • Main products:​ Regular and demi sponge cakes, loaf cakes, cupcakes, traybakes, single-serve out-of-home slices.
  • Main customers:​ Morrisons, Co-op, Budgens, Londis, Nisa, Booker, Squires, Dobbies, Silverstone (race track).
  • Number of lines:​ Three.
  • Laurence Smith:​ “I enjoy football, badminton, hockey, swimming – and going on long walks with my family.”

Related topics: Bakery, Business Leaders, People & skills

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