Crumbs of Comfort

Vanrooy

The Australian taste for bread is improving, but varies very much from state to state. And that is the verdict of someone who should know…

David Van Rooy is Managing Director of the company that bears his name – or more precisely, his father’s name, for he established Vanrooy Machinery in 1978. The company supplies commercial bakery machines and equipment, ovens, mixers, pizza ovens and just about everything else you can think of that relates to baking, and it has become rather good at it. So good in fact that the company has been awarded Bakery Equipment Supplier of the Year for 2011, 2012 and 2013 by the Foodservice Suppliers Association Australia.

David suggests that the Australian palate has not yet approached that of the Europeans, for whom bread in particular, even more than pastry or other baked treats is such a staple. But we are getting better at it, he believes. “In terms of caring about bread, Melbourne and Adelaide definitely understand it, while the rest of Australia is starting to understand it now.” But then it is difficult to define the perfect loaf – for David, it’s simple: “Made with time. Time gives it flavour and flavour is what gives good bread that can be digested properly,” in comparison to the ‘fast’ bread nowadays produced by the average bakery.

If you are looking for the traditional loaf made with care, it may be hard to find in a lot of country towns; David says Victoria is probably the most favoured state here, and that is not just because Vanrooy’s head office and factory are in Dandenong. But the supermarkets themselves are actually driving change. They are increasingly using a range of artisan breads par-baked in a large central factory before being distributed to the shops themselves where they are then baked off on site. “So you are able to get a good quality loaf of bread at a good price almost anywhere in the country now,” says David. The consumer trend is for bread that is more easily digested, prompting change in the flour used and the grains; the mix then tends to be stickier and the high-end machinery copes with such a mix better. On the sweeter side of baking, David says the “humble éclair” is making something of a comeback, as is the simple cupcake. “But I don’t see anything kicking off in the same way as the macaron,” he shares.

One of Vanrooy’s major customers is Woolworths, which is currently putting great emphasis on its bakery. “It is one of the toughest [departments] for them to run – very expensive to set up and uses a lot of floor space. It is also difficult to find good bakers. But they also know that the smell of fresh-baked bread is unique.” It is a top selling point and a demonstration of the freshness of the produce on sale.

Vanrooy imports the finest baking equipment ranges from Europe but David is aware that people are vital – put a bad driver in a Ferrari and it’s still a bad driver – so you still need well-trained and dedicated staff to produce quality goods. “However, all other things being equal, the best equipment will give you the best results.” Vanrooy has two fulltime bakers on its staff who get involved in training clients on the equipment. “This is a key advantage we have over our competitors,” David says. “Our guys are not just good bakers but also good trainers. We have our own test bakeries and do demonstrations here for clients and then, after a machine is installed, they can go and spend whatever time is needed to get the line up and running and the customer’s staff properly acquainted.”

David says that while the best equipment – names represented in Australia include Salva, Agriflex, Tekno and Bertuetti – inevitably comes with a high price tag, Vanrooy mitigates the cost because it sells direct to its clients, while ranges from other suppliers are usually marketed via agents. “So although you would pay more than you would for a Chinese piece of equipment, it is not hard to demonstrate the difference and the quality.”

Generally the client’s budget will determine the quality level he or she can aim for. “Are they trying to be just another bakery in the marketplace or are they trying to make the best bread they can?” The latter, of course, is Vanrooy’s customer. While nearly all machinery is imported, Vanrooy’s factory is often called upon to customise and fabricate to suit individual applications and customer requirements. Vanrooy also supplies some very classy brick and wood fired pizza ovens.

David makes a perhaps surprising observation about consumer tastes and trends: “Where a lot of bakeries go wrong is in making their products too big.” The customer takes a look and would love to eat it but it’s so big that – increasingly for heath and dietary reasons – he or she resists the temptation. “For example, there are muffins now that are almost the size of a birthday cake. You might better buy one to share between two of you.” Many bakers are actually losing revenue because they would actually make more money selling two smaller items. Accordingly, some of his biggest customers are now starting to downsize their products. “It’s not a question of cheating their market, more that consumers are starting to demand something less massive – perhaps just a little something sweet to go with a coffee.” In this discretionary area, most consumers value quality above price – in other words, a baker is able to charge a premium for a premium product, “a reward for effort,” as David puts it.

Not content with winning the top supplier award three times in a row, Vanrooy has also garnered the gong for international distributor of the year twice – for 2010 and 2012 – from leading Spanish baker and confectionery equipment manufacturer, Salva Group. “This is a very large company selling worldwide,” says David. “Our market in Australia is very small by their standards, so for us to have won is very impressive. They base the award not just on sales figures but also on technical support and the relationship with customers.” Vanrooy is involved with Salva in much of their research and development, giving valuable technical feedback, while Salva sends out prototypes for Vanrooy to evaluate. “There is a lot of trust and mutual respect – it’s not just about dollars sold.”

David has a substantial customer in Singapore, where the humid climate provides a challenge (as humidity and a toothsome crusty texture are fundamentally incompatible), and another in Indonesia, and Vanrooy markets its equipment throughout the Pacific islands as well as to New Zealand. “But it’s a little bit more than just selling equipment. If someone in any of these areas needs some expertise, we can help.” You don’t have to be the size of a Woolworths, either. “Our client base stretches from the small corner bakery through to automated lines for major wholesale bakeries with much higher flow rates, lots of automation and electronic controls. They are much more challenging from the technical point of view,” and require care in the aftersales sector, “but they are very rewarding.” Vanrooy, mindful of the way a bakery needs above all else to never have downtime, carries what for most companies would be an excess of stock of spares, because lead times from Europe are simply too long for a customer to wait.

Confidence generally across markets is low, he believes (we were speaking in the run-up to the federal election) and this has affected the bakery industry especially at the smaller end where investment is at a premium. But at the higher end, business remains brisk. “In any case this is a very mature market – there are enough retail bakeries out there. There are also enough franchised stores around.”

Yet against this background Vanrooy has managed startling growth this year – 20 per cent so far. This has come from some of the company’s larger clients and David is confident there is more to come, although he concedes that 20 per cent is not sustainable every year. In short, he says, the company must be doing something good – but he wants to keep secret just what it is. As with anything else to do with baking, the proof is in the eating.

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October 19, 2018, 6:23 AM AEDT