Adapting to a new normal: The UK’s microbakeries are seeing new possibilities, thanks to lockdown

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Some of the UK's microbakeries are getting a new lease on life by adapting to the new 'norm' created by the coronavirus lockdown. Pic: GettyImages/nerodol
Some of the UK's microbakeries are getting a new lease on life by adapting to the new 'norm' created by the coronavirus lockdown. Pic: GettyImages/nerodol

Related tags Two Magpies Bakery Newlands Bakery JB Christie Bakery The Bridge Bakehouse Bayne's the Family Bakers Macleans Bakery St Pierre Groupe coronavirus artisanal bakeries

While many of the UK’s family-owned and run artisanal bakeries have been hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak, several have modified their business models to ensure their freshly-baked treats continue to get out to consumers.

JB Christie Bakery’s virtual success


The Scotland-based bakery – which operates two shops as well as a bakery employing 50 staff in Airdrie and Coatbridge – has reported a huge success with its online ordering system.

The service was initially set up a very low-cost option with just the basics, creating a shopping page with six products and a checkout, but the first order pinged through within minutes.

After a short shutdown, the online shop was reopened and this was the start of an “avalanche of orders”,​ according to JB Christie’s owner Andrew Chisholm.

“Never ones to give up, we saw how the lockdown was affecting our community and how difficult those who were isolated were finding things, so we decided to re-open JB Christie's online and to try and make a go of it despite the challenges.”

At the end of the first full week of trading, the online shop’s takings almost matched the takings JB Christie’s two shops pre-COVID 19, with takings on one of the days exceeding high street levels by approximately 20%.

“This run of orders has  not slowed down and it has created its own pressures in terms of baking in a safe way and ensuring deliveries were made on time and safely socially distanced. It’s been a huge learning curve, but we are delighted to have been able to pull it off for the good of our isolated and vulnerable customers,”​ added Chisholm.

Two Magpies’ Click & Collect service

Two Magpies Bakery has already served more than 2,000 customers through the Click & Collect service it established just last month to sustain operations during the pandemic.

The bakery has been offering the delivery service from its Norwich, Darsham, Aldeburgh and Southwold sites, as well as from Wenhaston Village and Saxmundham, selling its range of baked goods, as well as items like meat, veg and dairy. 

“Since the start of April, we’ve had to close all four branches and furlough 105 of our staff,”​ said Steve Magnall, co-owner of Two Magpies Bakery.

“However, with demand for our fresh bread still very high due to shortages in the major supermarkets, we decided to start our Click & Collect service to give customers easy access to all those everyday essentials that were impossible to buy.

“We’re finding now that 40% of our sales come from non-bakery items, proving just how differently people are shopping right now. Many don’t want to go to their supermarket, so we’re offering something that allows them to social distance easily, have access to great quality produce, and still feel very safe.”

Two Magpies’ 2,000th customer – Sean Chap from Aldeburgh – received an extra treat of baked goodies and Prosecco.

“There is so much bad news in the press at the moment, that it is nice to have something positive to say,”​ said Magnall.

“We are just hoping that when things return to normal, more customers will continue to support us and remember those small businesses who made a real difference during a difficult time.”

Customers convince Newlands Bakery to keep baking

The Glasgow-based bakery initially took the step of shutting up shop to comply with the government’s social distancing guidelines, but maintained its operations to keep up with demand.

“When the lockdown was announced, we decided to close our shops, however, we received several customer requests asking if we were still open for business,” ​said owner Alisdair Irvine.

“With management working in the main bakery, no public access to the site and a large space available to us, it was possible to continue creating freshly baked breads, cakes and pastry products every day.”

The bakery decided to offer a small selection of its most popular products for local home delivery.

“It has been really interesting seeing what bakery basics and treats people are craving at this time though. Most popular has been our sourdough bread and we have also been supplying a sourdough starter pack for customers to make at home. Flour has also been popular as so many of our customers are baking at home,”​ added Irvine.

Newland Bakery has taken its services a step further and has donated cakes and pastries to Kilbryde Hospice to say thank you to the National Health Services (NHS) personnel working hard during this difficult time.

The Bridge Bakehouse goes global

Whaley Bridge bakery

The Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, artisanal bakery and shop has morphed into an online business and created an international cake and brownie operation to overcome the challenges presented by the outbreak.

Camilla and Courtney Dignan opened the bakery in 2013, but like many others, have been hard hit by the coronavirus lockdown. Not wanting to just give up, the duo used their entrepreneurial know-how to adapt the business into a super-fast online delivery service.

They enlisted the help of The Dot Factory to create packaging, leaflets and menu cards, along with mouth-watering imagery to support the new website, ensuring the artisan ‘family’ feel of their brand was maintained.

An additional challenge was to design packaging that was robust enough to protect the contents during delivery.

According to the bakery, the results have been astounding, with orders coming in from around the UK.

“We’ve grown as a business over the last few years, but not at this scale,”​ said Camilla Dignan.

“It’s really opened our eyes to the possibilities. This really seems like the future for our bakery.”

Bayne’s the Family Bakers reopens shops and delivery service

The family baker – which closed all its stores across Fife and Edinburgh as an initial response to the COVID 19 pandemic – has reopened 42 of its shops to provide fresh baked goods to the local community and a delivery service for those isolating at home.

“We are continuing to implement changes to our format as the safety and wellbeing of our staff and customers remains the highest priority,”​ said John Bayne, joint MD of Bayne’s.

“We are delighted to have been able to safely re-open in 42 locations and, when our other shops can, we will continue to open them with extra safety measures in place.”

In addition to its programme of store re-openings, the baker has also implemented a home delivery service in the KY12, KY11 KY7, KY6, KY5, KY4, KY2  & KY1 postal code areas, with goods delivered within two working days of ordering.

“We hope to add more areas soon,”​ said Bayne.

Macleans Bakery reveals secrets of success on BBC

Macleans Bakery in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides has been featured in a BBC Alba series, looking back at its early days when its people popped by in the early hours of the morn for a pie.

Brothers Allan and Ewen Maclean opened Maclean’s Bakery on the Isle of Benbecula in 1987. Today, it has grown into one of the largest private businesses on the Western Isles.

According to the duo, they knew nothing about baking before starting the business, but word spread about the new food outlet that would serve customers after the pubs closed.

“We used to work nightshift at that time and someone started coming in once the pubs closed to ask if they could have a pie to eat,”​ said Allan Maclean.

“When you have a few drams you feel hungry, so what better than to stop here and get a pie hot out of the oven. It was perfect timing.

“Within a few months, it was so busy … [we] might have about 80 people in the space of a few hours.”

This was only one aspect of the business, as the Uachdar-based bakery also caters for many large and small scale events and produces cakes, oatcakes, biscuits and breads that are distributed across Scotland.

Since the six-part BBC Alba programmes were made, the bakery has closed its take-away due to coronavirus but it still has its full team of staff working in the bakery. It also continues to provide the community with hot food from its catering trailer.

The Bakery was produced by MacTV for BBC Alba and will be airing every Thursday from May 14. The episode featuring Maclean’s is also available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days after its airing.

St Pierre Groupe lends a hand

St Pierre

St Pierre Groupe has donated more than 175,000 St Pierre Brioche Swirls – with a retail value of around £130k – to FareShare for distribution around the UK.

The Manchester-based bakery business has also supported Wythenshawe Food Bank for the past five years and is sending them another 2,700 St brioche swirls to hand out to vulnerable persons.

It has also been raising funds for local charities; for example, Paul Baker, founder of St Pierre Groupe, recently raised £1,500 for Forever Manchester by sharing his rather dramatic new haircut on LinkedIn.

The bakery also supports charities further from home, including donating products to the Care Bags for Care Homes scheme and the “Coffee for Heroes” initiative organised by Scottish restaurant group, Monterey Jack’s.

“As a business that was born and continues to be based in the North West, it’s really important to us to work with and support our local and wider communities – and that support has never been as vital as it is now,”​ said Baker.

“This is very much the time to do what we can, to help others and to look after each other.”

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