A group of star bakers in North Wales are proving their worth as they meet demand for quality baked bread. Dave Rothnie reports.
There is nothing quite like the taste and smell of freshly baked bread filling your home. But if you haven’t got the time or skill to hand-mould a cob, bake a bloomer or flour a farm house loaf, then fear not: North Wales has its fair share of star bakers on hand to produce home-baked high-quality products for you.
Craft bakers bake bread and bakery products on their own premises and, until recently, the sector had been in decline in the face of tough competition from retailers and big producers. But now they are fighting back as consumers want more local, inventive food made from natural ingredients.
The UK bakery market is worth £3.6 billion and is one of the largest segments of the food industry, according to the Federation of British Bakers. The big industry players take the biggest slice of that and the sector is increasingly dominated by supermarkets offering low prices. But small, family-owned bakeries are fighting back and craft baking is on the rise, accounting for 5% of the market compared with just 2% a year ago.
According to the Craft Bakers Association (CBA) there are about 350 medium sized bakeries and 150 large bakeries (more than 100 people) in the UK. There are also 4,500 small craft bakeries. Sales from the artisanal bread sector are set to rise to £780.7 million in 2019, from £682 million at the end of 2014, according to the CBA.
A number of North Wales bakers have – through skill, patience and determination – put the region on the map by offering customers something they can’t find on the supermarket shelves – hand-made freshly baked produce using local ingredients containing no additives.
Back in 2003, Dean Geldart returned from London where he had worked as a pastry chef at the Café Royale to set up a bakery in Llanrwst. Today, Dean’s Tan Lan Bakery employs 22 people with shops in Conwy and Rhos-On-Sea, and a full production facility in Llandudno Junction. He has developed the business to supply to local restaurants and hotels but, in order to retain the novelty value, he doesn’t sell to supermarkets. He supplies to the Deganwy Quay Hotel as well as Bryn Williams at Porth Eirias. “I work in close co-operation with clients to provide something unique,” said Dean, whose traditional hand-moulding technique means he can produce virtually any design, such as ships rope bread at the Quay.
The challenge for any craft baker when faced with the might of big supermarkets and conglomerates is to retain a distinctive offering and remain at the forefront of shifting customers tastes which are centred more around healthier options such as sourdough, which has a has a lower glycemic index than that of other breads.
“People want healthy foods using pure ingredients,” said Dean. “And we have to stay ahead of the game in producing new flavours. For example, we’ve recently made a turmeric bread which is very popular because it’s seen as a super-food.”
Around the corner from Tan Lan is Becws Alun, which is based in Morfa Conwy and was established in 2008 by Alun Williams. The company employs five people and supplies its range of products, from wild yeast sourdough to French bread, which uses flour from a mill in Paris, to local shops such as the Farm Shop in Rhos-on-Sea and the Spar in Conwy.
Henllan Bakery in Denbigh has also been expanding rapidly over the last five years and, after seeing staff numbers grow from 40 to 72, plans to boost them to beyond 100 within the next three years.
Henllan, which first set up in Denbighshire as Henllan Bread in 1908, re-branded itself as Henllan Bakery last year as part of the expansion of its site on Colomendy Industrial Estate. Henllan provides a range of breads, pies and pastries as well as morning goods. It has supplied its Welsh cakes and Bara Brith to Tesco since 2009 and, in April, it signed a deal to expand put more of its products on the supermarket shelves across North Wales. While its roots are local, it has plans to expand its offering overseas, and already sells its bara brith in the United States.
One of the biggest bakers in North Wales is The Village Bakery. Named Wales’ fastest growing company in 2013, The Village Bakery makes six and a half million Welsh Cakes every year alone and it can boast royalty among its customers. In 2015, the Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall officially opened its new £4m Baking Academy and Innovation Centre built on its site on the Wrexham Industrial Estate. The family firm, which was founded 82 years ago, now employs around 400 people and is the midst of further expansion, after submitting a planning application to create Wales’ biggest ‘super-bakery’ at a cost of £16 million. The Village bakery is also embracing the healthier eating trend with its new range of wheat-free products.
Given its nickname as the bread basket of Wales, it’s not surprise that Anglesey boasts one of the newest artisan bakers. Launched last year by Benjamin Lee and Richard Lewis, Becws Môn now supplies more than 70 outlets on the island and employs 16 staff. They also sell their products through Benjamin’s Llangefni stores Becws Mefus and Becws Bont.
So next time you’re thinking about what bread to buy, go the extra mile – and slice – and head to your local baker.
Dave Rothnie is a comedy promoter and compere of Stand-up at the Seaside, a monthly comedy club that takes place at The Station in Colwyn Bay.