Fresh Start Bakeries comprises a growing family of related businesses that supply bakery products to restaurants and foodservice industries around the world. David Soyka reports on what it takes to be successful.
In this global world of business today, forward movement can be challenging. Yet some companies are “on a roll.” A case in point is Brea, Calif.-headquartered Fresh Start Bakeries, a family of bakery companies that together supply a range of baked goods through 27 operating plants to quick service restaurants (QSRs), retailers, and other foodservice operators in nine countries. The essential ingredients: strategic partnerships and joint ventures mixed briskly with high quality products that completely satisfy growing customer appetites and tastes.
The company‘s origins date back to the dawn of the fast food industry; in the 1960s, Fresh Start Bakeries, then the Harold Freund Baking Company, began supplying hamburger buns to McDonald’s, then a nascent chain in Southern California. As McDonald’s expanded, so did its need for fresh buns, and in 1969 a second bakery was built in San Jose to service Northern California. Then in 1971 a new plant was built in City of Industry, Calif. At the time it was the largest capacity hamburger bun bakery in the world. By 1974 the Hawaii bakery was added to the family. In 1982 Craig Olson took the helm of the newly formed Fresh Start Bakeries, Inc. In 1984, the company built a hamburger bun bakery in Kansas City, Kan. This led to similar approaches in establishing bakery operations around the world, beginning in Duisburg, Germany, and Sao Paulo, Brazil, and now including Australia, Chile, Guatemala, Poland, Spain and Sweden. Today, Fresh Start Bakeries continues as a main supplier of hamburger buns to McDonald’s, even as it has branched into related areas of bread and bakery products.
“When I first became president and CEO in 1982, we set upon the course to become a world-class provider of bakery and related food products,” notes Craig Olson. “Over the years, that has meant diversifying our product line while staying within the bakery category and entering into new markets, even as McDonald’s remains our largest customer. The strategy has always included establishing partnerships or joint ventures in challenging markets where there are business and ethical compatibilities and where we can become a premier supplier. Businesses who want to partner with us and share the financial risk/reward offer established value and enhance our prospects for success in new markets. We are very particular about our baking partners, and we spend a lot of time developing relationships. Should circumstances arise where it is to our mutual benefit to acquire an operation outright, we will and continue to do so.”
He emphasizes, “Our focus is supplying private labeled, quality baked goods and bakery goods for the foodservice industry. We are not interested in any categories other than bakery goods.”
Olson adds, “We continue to grow with McDonald’s through its geographic expansion and new product introductions; we grow with other customers through our expertise and customer focus and that of our baking partners.”
Currently, the corporate family comprises the original Fresh Start Bakeries (hamburger and hot dog buns, rolls and English muffins), Sweet Life (pre-portioned cookie dough, par-baked cookies, cinnamon pull-aparts, thaw and serve cookies), Pennant (specialty croissants, cinnamon rolls, Danish and puff pastry, cookie doughs and bakery mixes), Premier Bakers (breads and buns, English muffins, fruit and low carb energy bars, whole grain bagels and crumpets, organic and kosher certified) and Galasso’s Bakery (hearth-baked breads and buns, specialty breads, dinner rolls and sliced breads).
Whatever the nameplate, the end-result is the same: to provide a quality product with assured supply. “This is a value-based industry,” Olson notes. “Value is generally defined as a combination of quality and cost. But value declines if you can’t deliver to meet demand.”
Technology helps achieve all these objectives. “One of our California plants produces 120,000 buns an hour,” Olson says. “Automation allows you to produce at that kind of throughput. At the same time, automation ensures a consistent, high level of quality while reducing your labor costs.”
One thing technology can’t directly control is the cost of ingredients. “That’s one of our biggest challenges,” Olson notes. “The prices of wheat flour and soy oil have nearly tripled. So, we always partner with suppliers that can satisfy our quality standards at the lowest cost. In addition, we’re always striving to improve our own internal processes to be more cost-efficient.”
Another rising and uncontrollable expense is fuel. “Everything costs more today because transportation costs more,” Olson says. “We’ve had to increase our prices to customers to help cover the rise in our fuel costs.”
Here, however, technology may have some fresh solutions. According to Olson, “There are some new technologies for extending product shelf life. What that means for us is that instead of needing to deliver fresh product five days a week, we could instead deliver every second day or even three days a week. This reduces our transportation costs considerably, but we want to be sure that we never compromise quality in an effort to cut costs.”
Indeed, Olson points to a corporate quality policy that states, “We are committed to providing the highest quality products and services to all our customers (both internal and external) and to continually improving our products, services and the processes that create them. We will achieve these goals through teamwork and mutual respect among the individuals who are Fresh Start Bakeries.”
Equally important is staying in sync with market trends to satisfy end-user preferences. “Today’s consumer is health conscious and particular about ingredients and product integrity,” Olson points out. “One big difference between our products today and 40 years ago is the greater use of whole grains.” Another growing niche is organic-certified ingredients, which is one of the distinguishing features of the products produced by the company’s Premier Bakers unit. Olson also notes the trend towards smaller portion sizes as another health-driven trend. He adds, however, that “even as the industry has moved towards healthier products, there’s always going to be room for a little decadence. The sweet goods business isn’t going away by any means.”
What is going away is trans-fat. “That’s been a major shift, to produce a trans-fat-free product,” Olson says. “It’s not always possible to do that, but where we can make a totally trans-fat-free product, we do. It’s what everyone wants.”
He adds, “We believe innovation can, and should, be a cornerstone of the way we go about our business. In order to make that happen, we operate in a mode of constantly re-examining our business and our products. We seek to be the absolute best at delivering great value to our customers and continue to invest millions of dollars in state- of-the-art equipment and in our people to insure we accomplish this.”
By seeking to continually provide a “fresh start” in developing its business, Fresh Start Bakeries offers selections that nourish continued success, proving that the Fresh Start Bakeries family is “on a roll.”