Awrey Bakeries, LLC, one of the largest independent bakeries in the United States, boasts strong sales despite the struggling economy. The company, which is dedicated to quality, service, and safety, prides itself on its ability to produce high-quality baked goods and customized products to meet ever-changing customer needs. Janice Gable Bashman reports.
Founded in 1910 in the home of Fletcher and Elizabeth Awrey, Awrey Bakeries, LLC has grown from a one-woman shop to a company boasting close to $75 million in sales per year with over 300 different products. Today, Awrey Bakeries is one of the largest independent bakeries in America, and its business continues to grow.
To understand the success of this company is to understand its history. When the Awreys moved to Detroit, Mich. from Canada in 1910, Elizabeth Awrey baked breads and pastries in her wood-fired stove and sold them to her neighbors to supplement the family income. Soon, her sons sold the baked goods door-to-door, and demand for the breads and pastries grew.
In 1914, the Awreys opened a retail outlet. As business grew, so too did the number of employees, bringing the total to 25 by 1923. Mechanized baking equipment was installed in 1929, and by the end of the decade the company operated 32 stores.
“The Great Depression did not slow the company’s expansion,” says Marketing Manager John Awrey (the great grandson of Fletcher and Elizabeth Awrey). “But, during World War II, growth was put on hold, in part because of a shortage of sugar due to rationing. However, after the war, the company’s growth resumed, aided by the increasing popularity of supermarkets. By 1950, the company had 120 locations, including both individual stores and supermarket concessions, and was also operating a home delivery service.”
A line of frozen baked goods aimed at the food service market was introduced in 1968, and Awrey Bakeries continued to experience ongoing growth throughout the 1970s and 1980s. By 1990, revenues topped $50 million, with the food service business accounting for 70 percent of total revenues. “Retail sales contributed one-quarter of the revenue, and contract baking made up the remainder,” Awrey says. “At that time, the company had 700 food service distributors and a national network of brokers that distributed its products to institutional accounts such as hospitals, schools, and restaurants.”
In 1995, Awrey Bakeries captured several major national baking accounts, which led to increased production and an expansion of the business. To meet the needs of its Kosher customers and increase business on the East Coast, the company shut down its plant for four days in 1996 and steam cleaned and sanitized the plant to meet kosher certification requirements. In 1998, the company invested $20 million into a five-year plan to modernize its 216,000-square-foot production facility located in Livonia, Mich.
The prestigious American Institute of Baking’s Bakers Quality Seal Award, given for quality and safety of baking operations, was awarded to Awrey Bakeries in 2002. “We were one of the first companies in the United States to receive the award,” Awrey explains, “so it was really significant for us.” In 2005, the Hilco Equity/Monomoy Capital Partners group purchased Awrey Bakeries. Recently, Awrey Bakeries was awarded the Silver Award by Sysco Corporation (the largest food service distributor in the United States) for quality and service. Awrey Bakeries also received the VIP Award from Gordon Food Service (the second largest distributor in the United States) for being in the top 2 percent of its supplier base for quality and service. “That’s a good calling card for us,” says President & CEO Bob Wallace. “It shows that we are not making it up and that other people in the industry recognize us for our high quality products and services.”
Today, Awrey Bakeries focuses on five key product lines, and all of its products are trans fat free. Eighty-five percent of the company’s products are sold through food service operators throughout the United States, and the remainder is sold to in-store bakeries in grocery stores. Awrey Bakeries has forged successful relationships with a number of large food service and grocery chains who serve their products in their restaurants and in store bakeries, respectively. In addition, Awrey has partnered with over 350 foodservice distributors, including Sysco Corporation and Gordon Food Service.
HOMETOWN BAKERY TASTE
Although mass-produced on state-of-the-art equipment, baked, and fresh-frozen, each of Awrey’s 300 products is made from scratch, combining high-quality ingredients to create a homemade taste and appearance. Awrey Bakeries offers layer cakes, brownies, sheet cakes, biscuits, croissants, muffins, fruit-filled danish, coffee cakes, and fruit squares (date and raspberry flavored cookies). The company just launched its brownies nationally to a large bakery café chain, which began selling the four-ounce iced brownies in January 2009. “The brownies are a customized solution we developed specifically for this customer,” Wallace says. “The product was targeted to hit a price point at retail. We developed an exclusive product and packaged it, so that it was sized to meet the needs of their supply chain.”
Awrey takes great pride in its ability to develop customized solutions and services. As necessary, the company’s three dedicated research and development engineers develop products to meet the cost target of its customers and package the products in a way to meet the customer’s supply chain needs.
In May, 2009, ABI Holdings, LLC, the parent company of Awrey Bakeries, LLC acquired Atkins Elegant Desserts. From its modern 58,000-square-foot baking facility, Atkins is a recognized leader in the production and marketing of premium fully-baked frozen cheesecakes and decorated layer cakes for the foodservice and retail bakery industries.
“We are pleased with this strategic acquisition that expands Awrey’s product line and customer base,” says Wallace. “Atkins produces an excellent cheesecake solution for the foodservice and bakery markets and provides an ideal extension to Awrey’s broad portfolio of fully-baked frozen bakery products.”
BUILDING THE BUSINESS
Awrey Bakeries has experienced continued growth since its inception in 1910 and expects to realize profitable growth this year. Through better management of its inventory, the company recently reduced inventory and eliminated the use of outside warehouses – a savings of $250,000 per year. Awrey boasts a service level of 99.3 percent.
This year, the company is focused on building its business in Michigan, where the economy is difficult due to the struggling automobile industry. Awrey is partnering with groups of retail businesses to promote native Michigan products through a variety of methods, including specialized displays and specialized labeling.
Awrey is also focused on food safety and security and takes the matter very seriously. “Since 9/11, there has been a large concern in the food industry that the next attack on America will be on the food supply,” Wallace says. “Many of the major chains are worried about that, so they look for suppliers that check ingredients on the way into the plant and who also test the products before they leave, which is what we do.” Awrey Bakeries also implemented recall procedures in the event there is a problem. This enables the company to track down every case of product once it has left Awrey’s manufacturing facility. In addition, Awrey’s entire facility is secured by a fence, and cameras located inside and outside the facility monitor activity. A dedicated professional ensures the company is in compliance with its safety and security measures at all times.
Awrey Bakeries, L.L.C. has come a long way from the kitchen of Fletcher and Elizabeth Awrey, but the company has not strayed far from its roots. High-quality baked goods and a dedication to safety and service are the blocks on which this company is built.