Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bakers Have to be Innovative With Changing Market Conditions

About 3 years ago, as I was envisioning Four Worlds Bakery, I moved to the Birkshires for 6 months and visited every small New England bakery I could find. One of the most inspiring bakeries was in Northhampton, MA. It's called Hungry Ghost, named after a Buddist teaching. It's a tiny bakery near Smith College; and when you walk in you see a big round wood-fired brick oven and a lone baker in there busy making bread; and a tiny little retail counter. I hung out there for hours talking with Jonathan who is the local bread guru and a true artisan. I picked his brain for all sorts of information I needed to get my own bakery up and running.

I also met Naftali from El Jardin in Holyoke, who is featured in this article.

So a customer (hat tip to Erin T) emailed me this article and it's all about how bakers in the Berkshires are trying to cope with rising wheat prices.

Instead of baking with organic flour grown in North Dakota that gets trucked to North Carolina for milling, Stevens said, it makes much more sense to look at growing wheat and other grains nearby and milling it locally -- especially since Massachusetts is believed to have been the site of North America's first oat harvest -- on the Elizabeth Islands -- in 1602.

'We pride ourselves on baking organic bread,' said Neftali Duran of Ashfield, who owns Holyoke-based El Jardin, with a branch bakery in Deerfield. 'Yet we buy flourfrom 1,500 miles away. It doesn't make sense.

It's hard to image a baker growing his/her own wheat. But the fact we are even thinking about it is quite an incredible phenomenon. We are lucky here in PA because we have some great local growers which don't have to travel far. The Spelt and soft wheat I use is grown locally in PA. And I save a bit by milling my own grains.

I have been thinking about ways to buy in larger quantities, transport myself, and cut down some of the ingredient costs for my breads. Because I mill my own flour, long storage times are not a problem; that's the way the grains are stored at the farm or mill anyway.

I still think that the explosion in wheat prices is an advantage to small bakers like me; especially given my propensity to think out of the box and get creative. I still have not raised my prices on my baked goods since Nov. 2006 when I started the bakery despite a 33 to 75% rise in the costs of ingredients.

I anticipated these changes; as well as more profound ones that are coming. Efficiency is the name of the game to be viable in the future: best us of energy, cut down waste, best financial margins on the baked goods. The high volume, low margin model is doomed, in my opinion.

The bakers that can bake efficiently will still be around in 10 years.

No comments: