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Breadcraft sells a key slice of operations

PHOTO/ADOBE.STOCK.COM

Much of the sliced bread on Wairarapa supermarket shelves now comes from outside the region after a local bakery sold a hunk of its operation.

Masterton company Breadcraft finalised the sale of its Quality Bakers co-operative area to Gisborne-based company Walter Findlay last week.

Both bakeries were multi-generational family companies and were part of the Quality Bakers co-operative, which produced well-known brands such as Molenberg and Nature’s Fresh.

Walter Findlay key account and communication manager Alyx Findlay with a selection of Quality Bakers bread. PHOTO/TOM TAYLOR

Breadcraft director John Cockburn said the sale opened up capacity for his company to grow into its other product lines.

“Selling the licence opens up much-needed capacity so we can focus on growing our specialty bakery product lines, which is now more than 80 per cent of our total business within both national and international markets,” he said.

“We had highly skilled staff in the sliced bread production team that we wanted to better align with the manufacture of our growth-product categories, so ensuring we got the right people in the right place at the right time became essential.”

Breadcraft’s specialty lines included its Cottage Lane Artisan Bread and Rebel Bakehouse wraps.

Since teaming up with eight other bakeries across New Zealand to form the Quality Bakers co-operative in 1968, Breadcraft had slowly transitioned to these specialty lines.

“Around 30 years ago, we reached a point where the business was 50 per cent sliced bread and 50 per cent specialty bread,” Cockburn said. “Specialty has continued to grow and had reached 80 per cent of total business at the time of the transition.”

In 1972, the Quality Bakers co-operative had extended to 18 bakeries.

However, in 1973, food companies Goodman and AS Paterson and Co – predecessors of international food company Goodman Fielder – began acquiring the member bakeries.

With Breadcraft selling their co-operative area, Walter Findlay was the only independent member of the co-operative left.

“Ultimately, at some point, one of us was going to be the last independent,” Walter Findlay key account and communication manager Alyx Findlay said.

“I think the most inspiring thing for me is that it was by choice. They were choosing to focus on growing another successful part of their business.”

Walter Findlay’s sliced bread sales had declined by about 3 per cent every year due to changing dietary habits. However, the addition of the Wairarapa bread tally would increase the output of the Gisborne plant by 50 per cent.

“That’s huge for the sustainability of our business,” Findlay said. “We’re in the process of recruiting more people for our Gisborne plant to be able to cope with the numbers.”

The company had also hired Wairarapa people for its Masterton depot.

Findlay said that although the two companies had been in talks for most of the year, the changeover happened very quickly once the agreement was finalised.

“It’s been a very full-on week.”

She said Walter Findlay and Breadcraft had a lot of similarities.

“We are both family-owned businesses; both have multiple generations of family working in the businesses.

“I’ve known John and Julie-Anne [Cockburn] most of my life and sat in boardroom meetings within the co-operative with them.”

Unloading bread at Walter Findlay’s warehouse in Masterton. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

In the changeover, seven members of Breadcraft’s sales team moved across to Walter Findlay.

Cockburn said all other staff had remained with Breadcraft, and the company was even looking for additional team members to help continue its growth.

Meanwhile, Walter Findlay would continue to fulfil Breadcraft’s various community commitments to foodbanks and charities.

And Findlay said the product on supermarket shelves would still be just as fresh.

Bakers at the Gisborne plant started work at 5am to accommodate the Wairarapa bread tally.

The Walter Findlay truck would leave Gisborne fully loaded by 2.30pm to end up on Wairarapa shelves the following day.

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