‘Baking back better’ after Covid’s shock impact on sales

A Barnsley bakery which saw sales to cafes, coffee shops and canteens across the country disappear during the pandemic has bounced back with improved production processes and new products.

White’s Bakery delivers bread, cakes, cookies and flapjacks to eateries in hundreds of schools, colleges, universities, museums and visitor attractions across the UK.

When everything closed for months during the COVID-19 lockdowns, the wholesale orders stopped coming in and the bakery’s turnover dropped from an average of £3m a year to £1m, resulting in a business loss of £132,000 in 2020-21.

Managing director David White said: “It was a worrying time and, I admit, in those early days I thought ‘Are we going to have to shut the doors and walk away?’ but the level of support that’s been given to businesses like ours has been phenomenal.

“We’ve used the furlough scheme to keep our staff on board and we’ve been helped, through Enterprising Barnsley, to use the quiet time that was forced on us to focus all our energies on transforming the business and making us better prepared for the future.

“We’ve embraced digital technology, reviewed the way we work and bought new machinery to speed up production and introduce a new product line. I’m now very optimistic about the future.”

White’s Bakery was helped by Enterprising Barnsley, through Barnsley Council’s COVID Recovery Scheme. The support involved securing investment and business coaching to help upgrade the 86-year-old family business’ management systems and production line.

New digital hardware and software has enabled the bakery to integrate processes connecting ingredient stock levels to recipes, to orders to sales; and improve efficiency and communication between the shop floor, the office and delivery drivers on the road.

Specialist support to review working practices in line with lean manufacturing principles has also helped save time and money and reduce waste in the bakery.

In addition, match-funded investment in two new pieces of equipment has enabled the company to speed up biscuit production, which has helped it gain a new cookie contract, and introduce a new product line – panini rolls.

The company’s new machine is fulfilling orders for more than 16,000 panini a week. This is set to add £250,000 worth of income to the business over this year.

White added: “We wouldn’t have done any of this without the support of Enterprising Barnsley. Plus, to be honest, without the downtime time forced on us by the coronavirus lockdowns. The combination has given us the space, time and means to transform the business.

“The shock of COVID-19 did make me consider if the bakery had a future last year, but we’re now in a very strong position and looking forward to growth.”

Weekly sales at White’s are already back to 70% of pre-COVID levels and set to rise more soon as universities return to full capacity and annual production starts on the bakery’s festive Tesco order for 150,000 Madeira cakes for Scotland – where the cake is a traditional Christmas staple.

White’s Bakery is a family business established in 1934 by David White’s grandparents Albert and Elsie White.

David took over as MD in 1996. His son Mathew now heads production and his daughter Georgina is focused on securing new sales leads amongst schools and public sector customers across the north.

The business employs 34 people at its Worsbrough Bridge base and has recently taken on an engineering apprentice, with a baking apprentice due to be recruited soon.

Councillor Tim Cheetham, Barnsley’s cabinet spokesman for regeneration and culture, said: “White’s Bakery is a long-established Barnsley business which is always evolving to respond to the times and we’re very pleased to have helped them through the crisis of COVID-19 to come out stronger and fitter for future.”