Baking the best of it: bakers and pastry chefs on coping in times of corona

They provide us with our daily bread, tempt us with sweet delicacies to treat ourselves, and help us celebrate the significant moments in our lives: bakers are an integral part of our lives. But what happens when life as we know it suddenly grinds to a halt? When mouth masks and social distancing become the new normal? How can bakers and pastry chefs keep doing their jobs now that COVID-19 has altered our daily realities? Debic reached out (virtually) to professionals at home and abroad to find out how they are coping in times of corona. 

Baking the best of it

Surviving in hard times

Like many other food professionals, bakers and pastry chefs are known for their grit, passion and determination. Characteristics that come in handy now that they have been forced to change the way they work due to COVID-19. From one day to the next, they were forced to creatively deal with changing consumer behaviour and strict government guidelines regarding working conditions. It was clear the corona crisis would have a lasting impact on the sector, with severe financial consequences. Yet, every single professional we contacted talked in terms of ‘solutions’ rather than ‘problems’. Many quickly spotted new opportunities and managed to reinvent themselves and their business.

Reorganising the work floor

With social distancing becoming the norm, most shops reorganised the shop floor, using floor stickers, hand gels and plexi screens to protect both customers and staff. Bakery Excellence in Roeselare (BE) even provide customers with individual plastic tools to form their pin code when paying. As atelier protocols are already very strict within the sector, with the consistent use of disinfectants and bactericides, less drastic changes were needed there. Yet, the corona crisis has had a huge impact on staffing. Some businesses, such as Pastelería Calitos (SP) saw their sales drop by 70%, which meant they had to resort to the system of temporary unemployment. Others, like Patisserie Bijenkorf (NL) divided the workforce into teams working different time slots. Boss Mark Potma decided on strict measures such as taking staff temperatures at the beginning of every shift, the consistent use of mouth masks and gloves, and several disinfectant moments a day.

Boosting online business

Challenging times ask for bold moves. Several businesses therefore decided to change tactics and go for a stronger online presence than before the outbreak of COVID-19. Websites have been created or upgraded, online ordering and delivery services installed and social media such as Facebook and Instagram are seeing a boost as well, mainly for marketing purposes and client contacts. For instance, to communicate on safety measures taken, or to inform customers on changing opening times and about take-away options. Or to showcase mouth-watering creations, that incite people to buy. 

A carefully considered online approach works, as witnessed by bakery Excellence (BE) and Bussu (BE) who are seeing a steady increase in online orders. This system, coupled with home deliveries, has been many a bakery’s saving grace. With people spending more time at home, the convenience of a home delivery is much appreciated and therefore a guarantee for success. So much so, that some businesses, such as Habaziro (SP), have had to use external delivery services to handle all orders on Mother’s day. Patisserie Bijenkorf in Amsterdam (NL) teamed up with Uber Eats and is now working at 90% capacity again. Beautiful examples of how a crisis creates new opportunities. Not only during the tough times, but also for when things go back to normal.

Updating the product range

Has the corona crisis had an impact on what is selling? Have bakers changed their product ranges? Bread remains the top seller, of course, but with events and celebrations on hold, many businesses are concentrating on smaller, more savoury creations. Bakery Van Dijk (BE), for instance, is seeing an increase in the sales of their sausage rolls. Habaziro (SP) and 100 x 100 Pan y Pastelería  have expanded their range with ready-made lunch and brunch boxes, containing sandwiches and fruit juices. The options are regularly updated, which is much appreciated by their customers. Bakery Excellence (BE) is noticing a clear shift towards products that are easy to transport, such as breakfast and gift baskets, both very popular at Easter and Mother’s Day. Not only are new strategies helping bakers cope with the current changes, they also show clients the motivation and drive to adapt, which helps build client loyalty and will also serve businesses well after the crisis. 

Changing customer behaviour

Baker/pastry chef Wouter Hanssens in De Pinte (BE) has noticed that peak sales for pastry have shifted from the weekend to weekdays. People are still looking for ways to treat themselves, especially in these difficult times. However, they have become more careful with their spending, which is why Hanssens has adapted his product range. The focus now lies on classic creations people don’t really make themselves, such as eclairs, apple pie and tiramisu. Treats such as pancakes and cake, which are now massively being baked at home, have been temporarily removed. Also healthy options, like nut and sports bar, are selling well. Raffel Putto of Hop & Stork advises those who don’t offer chocolates yet, to start doing so. Chocolates do not only have a long expiration date, they are also extremely easy to package and transport.

Advice for colleagues

When asked for advice for colleagues, Raúl Bernal of Chocolatería La Paca (SP) sums it up beautifully: “Keep calm and carry on.” Business that have consistently innovated and stayed flexible over the past few months are the ones that are doing well, agree others such as Sammy Bossu (BE) and Tiny Joosen (BE). Even though the future remains uncertain, creativity and a sense of calm can save the day. This means anticipating on consumer behaviour and adapting accordingly. Coby Knoop of Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin knows that creative solutions, constant quality and excellent service - even in the most difficult of times – are what make customers come back for more, whether it be online or in an actual shop. So today is not the time to give up or relax standards. On the contrary, now more than ever, client is king. As long as we keep remembering that, the sector will keep baking the best of it.

We would like to thank the following businesses for their cooperation:

La Dacquoise, Dimitri Salmon, Gozée
Bakkerij Excellence, Bart Vanhooren, Roeselare
Bakkerij Emmerix, Roland Emmerix, Riemst
Hanssens, Wouter Hansens, De Pinte
Bakkerij Tiny, Tiny Joosen, Sint-Leenaerts
Patisserie Bossu, Sammy Bossu, Nazareth 

The Netherlands
Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin, Coby Knoop, Noordwijk aan Zee
Hop & Stork, Raffel Putto, Den Haag
Patisserie Bijenkorf, Mark Potma, Amsterdam
Banketbakkerij Van Dijk, Don Frederiks, Gouda

100 x 100 Pan y Pastelería, Alexis Garcia, Guía de Isora
Habaziro concept, Pablo Morales Melendrez, A Coruña
Pastelería Calitos, Ramon Morante, Guadahortuna
Chocolatería La Paca, Raúl Bernal, Huesca