Article by Robert Marlowe, Cafe Culture International
As well as being skilled beer brewers, the Egyptian’s were making breads in 800BC, using a grindstone to make what you might recognise as a chapati in India or a tortilla in Mexico. This style of bread-making went through many transformations to become what we enjoy as our smashed avo on Turkish today. The Romans to the Brits to the Persians have all played their part. Don’t underestimate the power of bread in history. It’s said a baker started the Great Fire of London in 1666! Even Jesus got in on the act by turning 5-loaves and 2-fish into enough food to feed 5,000!
Meet Darren O’Brien
I had the great pleasure today of having a Zoom hook up with Darren O’Brien, the new Bakery Innovation Manager at Tip Top Foodservice. I asked Darren, who lives on the Northern Beaches of NSW, about his morning coffee routine. Darren, born and raised on the beaches chooses to surf the waves each morning, rather than the old school walk on water, followed by a Belaroma Coffee at his local Ocean Bake House, where he orders his bread, always making a point of supporting local businesses.
Darren tells me he has been with Tip Top Foodservice for 14 years. As a young man, Darren cut his teeth as a baker – working in small artisan bakeries and patisseries, then a production foreman in a large croissant and pastry factory, followed by working for 2-multinational food companies before Tip Top.
Darren has now moved to a new and exciting role within the business that fits his experience and skillset down to a tee. Now Tip Top Foodservice’s Bakery Innovation Manager! What does this new role mean?
Foodservice leads the way
Tip Top Bakeries are renowned, within both retail and foodservice, for premium bakery products at a good price point. Darren explains to me that even though retail makes up much of the lions share of the business, it’s Foodservice that leads the way, sometimes by a couple of years. As the Bakery Innovation Manager it is very much on Darren’s shoulders to have his finger on the pulse of current trends, products and consumer demands.
I have worked in Foodservice distribution before and recognise Tip Top Bakeries and Speedibake to be in direct competition, however today I learnt through Darren that George Western Foods, owns both brands. I asked how they work in competition with each other? Darren explained that it used to act as a separate division, whereas now there’s a much more holistic approach of working together, and Darren sits across it all.
Bread is essential
Bread is essential to our lives and as such Darren is allowed to work in the Test Bakery some days during Covid-19 restrictions. I asked about the challenges and barriers the business has faced during these restrictions? He said “We are pushing through on a number of R&D projects. It’s tricky to do, but we have somehow found a way through really good collaboration and trust in our people. We’ve been able to keep these projects rolling and have successfully launched products with Tip Top Foodservice’s large QSR partners and in the broader foodservice café market. It’s the same as everybody else in Australia, just roll with the punches and adapt where necessary. Otherwise, we would be just sitting here doing nothing!”
Darren explained that since the beginning of Covid-19 2020, they have managed to launch a number of exciting new products and grow them successfully. On reflection, nobody has sat still. “I have been going digital, offering recipe clips with celebrity chef Mal Gill. The website facility is a tremendous tool to support our end user cafe businesses, being on the ground, staying ahead of the consumer demands and inspiring café menus.”
Exciting new products
I understand from working in the cafe industry that Plant Based Milks are now becoming more of the norm and I asked Darren whether he thought it would grow to include plant based options on the menu? For sure! Darren agrees, “through global data around the world and chefs’ panels, we’ve been voicing the need for plant based options for 3-years plus. I have this saying ‘back in the day when people used to eat at restaurants, if 6-people walked into a cafe (this is not the beginning of a joke), amongst those, 3-people will have normal dietary requirements, 1-person will be a vegan, 1-person G/F and the final person might have a low carb demand of the day’.
“What we try and do is make sure across each category we have an option for everybody. For example in the burger bun category, we have our potato bun as a vegan option. Now the beauty of that is it’s a practical, premium style option that can also work for those non-vegans. Every time we create a new product we have to ask the question how do we make this vegan or vegetarian friendly?
Trends and consumer demands
“By following trends and consumer demands, we are able to build a pipeline. Concentrating on our strengths, which is obviously bread, we need a continuous evolution around normal sorts of breads. For example, from loaves for everyday bread used years ago, there is now the drive for sourdough bread. As well, sourdough needs to be made into a loaf and shaped by not pointing the ends too much so the cafe can get as many slices as possible! In the burger space, we look at what is the premium burger bun? What’s resonating with customers? Then in the same vein we look at our own factories and how we can do things differently.
“The biggest trend I have noticed in recent years is the demand for premium products in cafes. Consumers are moving the bar up all the time! For example 5-years ago a cafe might have served a toasty on white bread, it then progressed to offering a light rye sliced option, now it has progressed to sourdough or Turkish.”
What the future holds
So where will Tip Top Foodservice be in the future? “Tip Top Foodservice is already a large part of the overall business, however I envisage that growth to continue. The Foodservice side is very strong and drives R&D, which flows on nicely to our retail division who benefit from what the cafe market is displaying on their menus. I don’t believe we will have a vastly increased range of products but we will always be reaching for more premium products. Constantly needing to raise the bar!”
To complete the interview, Darren said he would like to see accessibility for everybody to have Tip Top Foodservice products without food waste. “Cafes have ongoing challenges with having little space to store food and to run the business efficiently and I would like to see solutions to these problems, from distribution routes to maybe inventing the perfect Unicorn bread that ticks all dietary boxes while also having a long shelf life.”
Thank you to Darren, for his time today. It was a great pleasure to speak with him and if you are a cafe owner, I strongly recommend you follow this LINK to explore Tip Top Foodservice’s fantastic website with inspirational menu ideas.