“Ever more appreciation for local craftsmanship”
Going to the bakery was for many people the only outing during the year of coronavirus. Getting a breath of fresh air, picking up something tasty, having a chat. That does a lot of good for people. You could say that we bakers, like caregivers, became local heroes.
Let’s give the word to: Inspired Bakers Calvel, a Belgian non-profit association for and by bakers. The association was named after the French master baker and pastry chef Raymond Calvel, and consists of a motivated group of professionals that includes Kristof Cloet in Bruges, Marnik Van Isacker from Delecta in Waregem and Dean Hoste in Wetteren. All passionate artisans who share their passion and knowledge within this meeting-place for bakers and pastry chefs. Together with Debic, they look back on the first coronavirus year.
What was the past year like for you?
"At first, it was a question of adapting. People were afraid to go outside, and didn’t know what was and wasn’t allowed. Bakers also had to adjust a number of things. But we weathered the storm successfully. The first turnaround came around Easter: suddenly, things got extremely hectic. Mother’s Day was also a huge success. I think that we had clearly grasped how to make the most of the circumstances.”
“People bought many more little pastries and cakes for a maximum of four people. The temporary decrease in more classic pastries was largely offset by more bread sales. That is probably the consequence of working from home, but I think that people also enjoyed coming to the store for a chat. Take-away options were also a success in our stores.”
Do you offer take-away via online orders?
“During the lockdown, many professionals turned their full attention to their website and webshop. You can no longer do business without these, but it is not always commercially advantageous for an average bakery and pastry shop. It takes a lot of time – and also quite a bit of money. That remains a challenge: what do you do with all that investment after the pandemic? Naturally, there is a new generation who wants to order everything online, but in our sector, impulse purchases are very important. These are lost if you move completely online. A combination of the two is ideal. For example, Dean Hoste, one of our members, set up his second store as a sort of drive-in, where people can pick up their online orders. And yet most customers prefer to come to the shop in person. It’s all about social contact. And patisserie looks much more attractive in a shop window than online.”
“We see growth in demand for gluten-free and lactose-free creations, but profitability is still difficult. This is still a limited market, and it must be distributed among several channels, including supermarkets. That does not always lead to the best quality. Vegan, for example, is often a synonym of margarine-based pastry. At Calvel, we carefully keep an eye on the latest trends, but we are also quite conservative. We consider that as a healthy strategy for the moment. There is also a huge shift under way as regards colourings. Non-AZO colourings have a healthier image than AZO colourings, but it’s a matter of finding the right balance in our chocolate products or glazes.”
Do you see increasing competition from supermarkets?
“Not really. As an artisanal bakery and pastry shop, we serve a different public. Only if supermarkets succeeded in producing products that are just as fresh and of the same quality will we start to worry. The freshness of our products, our flexibility and service in the shop make the difference. Over the past ten years, our sector has been catching up in terms of pricing, so that we can offer special prices. There are many customers who find the prices in our shops appropriate. Moreover, there is ever more appreciation for local craftsmanship. You can see this, for example, from the enormous success of sourdough bread. And the popularity of buying local is not only about the ingredients. Because of the coronavirus, people have rediscovered the advantages of shopping locally. Going to the bakery suddenly became an outing that people look forward to.”
“The major challenge will lie in further rationalizing production without sacrificing the quality or freshness. The profit margin is not bad, but the forecasts have become difficult. One day, you’ve sold everything two hours before closing time; the next, you have twenty per cent left over. Both of those mean losses. Pricing is a major challenge to us, artisans. We are very creative and productive, but we often don’t know exactly how cost-effective a product will be. The vocational schools pay no attention to this at all.”
Find out why pastry chef Daniel Álvarez loves to work with Debic butter.Discover more