We judge the Baking Industry Awards 2019

Bread winners

With a batch of awards up for grabs, the prestigious Baking Industry Awards is an annual gathering to honour excellence within the category. Visual Thinking founder Karl McKeever once again joined the judging panel to decide who would be awarded the coveted title of ‘Best Supermarket Bakery’.

One of the most hotly contested awards of the night, this year it was Marks & Spencer’s Northumberland Street store in Newcastle that scooped the top accolade.

So why did I think this store had the necessary ingredients to walk off with this year’s prize?

The selling point for any in-store bakery is often deemed to be ‘fresh’

At first glance, it’s a choice that seems to go against conventional thinking. The key selling point for any in-store bakery is often deemed to be ‘fresh’. That means producing baked on-site – right? Traditionally, that’s been the case. However, the Best Supermarket Bakery award exists to not only recognise the quality of the products produced but also for being consistently good, sustainable and innovative.

In all three of these areas, Marks and Spencer score highly. Its products are of a consistent standard. And, like the business as whole; its bakery department is making great strides in minimising the environmental impact of its operations. Better waste management was also high on their agenda as part of its commitments to cut food waste and improve overall profitability for the food business.

…delivering ‘artisan-like’ quality while achieving the scale and efficiency that a modern retail business demands

But it’s in the area of innovation that the business really stands out. Yes, its products may not be baked fresh in-store (likely to prove a particular gripe among peers). However, with its bake-off model, the Newcastle store is a fine example of the high standards that can be achieved with an operation that’s all about delivering ‘artisan-like’ quality while achieving the scale and efficiency that a modern retail business demands to deliver sustained profitability.

Marks and Spencer is on a journey to broaden the appeal of its Food offer, building on their recognised credentials for quality and innovation.

…visible determination (…) to re-examine all aspects of how the category operates

In meeting the In-store Bakery (ISB) team, it was evident that everyone involved was highly focused, motivated and working at pace to deliver transformational improvements for the category. There was visible determination and action to re-examine all aspects of how the ISB category operates. From product range and choice to key production perspectives, as well as both displays and marketing.

The result of their hard work was clearly on display. Significant progress was evident in editing product choice to focus on category winners, introducing exciting new ranges, improving fresh bread availability and pricing throughout the whole day.

Most importantly of all, retail performance confirms that commercial progress is really starting to show through. Delivering the finest quality product possible is all well and good but commerciality is king. That’s why applying new thinking to a traditional category in a way that ensures availability at a competitive price point, while still delivering a product that customers love deserves to be recognised.

…strategy to make products relevant and accessible is there for all to see, and taste

As one of the UK’s ‘national treasure’ retailers within the food category – having previously and consistently won high praise for its exclusivity and quality credentials – the strategy to make its products more relevant and accessible is there for all to see, and taste.

From the purists view, this year’s winner may not be viewed as ‘better’. It is certainly not the traditional (or accepted) way of doing things. But that’s the whole point of innovation: thinking and operating differently to achieve improved outcomes. The ultimate judge in retail, however, remains the customer. And right now, the proof is most definitely in the eating.

Congratulations to the whole M&S Bakery Category team!

By Karl McKeever

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