Innovative Retailer: Bread Ahead

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Name: Bread Ahead

The Place: Started in the oldest market in London (or pretty much anywhere) Borough Market   but now has several sites in the West End and has just opened up a big old emporium at Wembley (but more of that later).

The Story:  Bread – the staff of life innit. And hasn’t it taken on a whole new role during Covid-19 in the nation’s hearts. Just when you think it couldn’t get any more in love with baking than it already was, it did. And then we ran out of flour, which was, like, properly scary wasn’t it…

Get back to the point please: Sorry. There’s something about bread isn’t there – makes you suddenly digress on to weightier matters like life, death, belonging, Mary Berry vs Prue Leith.

Small… the stall in Borough Market

Get back to the point please: Yes. So the founder is Matthew Jones. His background is firmly in the best restaurant kitchens of Britain where he spent a lot of his working life. However, in 2013 he decided to go it alone and founded Bread Ahead in the aforementioned foodie market under the railway arches of London Bridge.

And how did that go? It really tapped into something. You know there’s something about feeding your family good bread…

Yes, yes.  Don’t start all that again: Fine. Let’s talk money then. 2019’s turnover will be around £5-6m, according to an interview Jones gave to the Propel newsletter.

That’s a lot of sourdough starter: It’s obviously a mix of things. Right from the start there was also a baking school on the Borough site so he was quite up there with the whole home baking thing from the get-go. You could do day/half-day courses in British baking, seasonal baking, Italian baking, doughnut making workshops – the list is long and it’s a good earner. Most lessons are around £90-100. Shops followed in both Soho and Chelsea. Books were published. And it was all ticking along very nicely indeed.

And let me guess, then Covid struck? Reader, it did. And really and honestly we have mainly included Bread Ahead in our illustrious list of Innovative Retailers for its exploits this year during the pandemic.

Bigger… the first standalone shop/cafe in Soho

Fleet of foot was it? Unbelievably so really. Literally on day one of the full lockdown in March the cookery/bakery school had to close and on day two of the full lockdown in March Matthew Jones was coming into our homes via the wonders of Instagram to give us baking tutorials. A common theme on Retail Insider at the moment is the pace of change forced on retailers by Covid-19 – some of them rise to the challenge and others not so much.

Is that a bread pun? No. The next thing that happened was that the flour shelves in the supermarkets began to be suspiciously empty all of a sudden. It took a while, the toilet roll definitely went first but after a bit the lack of flour was definitely a thing.

Ah yes, I well remember the sense of rising panic as customers travelled from supermarket to supermarket or began to buy strange foreign-language labelled packets of something floury in the convenience store with no real idea what it was: Yes and again Bread Ahead with presumably large volumes of flour and yeast in stock for its bakery school was in yer face quick off the mark. It began selling both those items to the discerning public and still is.

Nice: And then came the whole e-learning thing. With regulations on indoor mixing changing quicker than you can say Jack Robinson the online learning is definitely a winner.

What’s the deal? For £25 a session you get the access code to a Zoom meeting where you will be taught how to make the cinnamon rolls of your dreams for example. Also an e-workbook with the recipes so you are prepped and ready to cook along with the expert. And the recording of the tutorial will also be sent over afterwards so if you perchance suffer a soggy bottom or worse.

Moving right along: And the beauty is that online there is no end to the number of customers that can take part. The sky’s the limit.

Biggest… Bread Ahead’s new premises in Wembley

I’ll tell you what though. They’re missing a trick with the kiddies: Ah, now that’s where you’re wrong. Again. There is a junior baking club. It’s a bit like a ‘Saturday morning pictures’ kind of time slot. And for the paltry sum of £10 a pop your little one – already completely used to the online learning thing from lockdown school – can make Christmas tree biscuits or witches fingers in time for Hallowe’en. Catch ‘em young.

Tip top: Jones is on record as saying that online classes was something the company had long wanted to do in order to capitalise on the company’s large followings in the US and Middle East but we have Covid-19 to thank for its rapid realisation.

How else can this company get us to part with our money? Well, it’s got plans to get quite a lot bigger. The largest site yet has just opened as part of a huge new development in Wembley. All 11,000 square feet of it is now open and (in due course) will be operating from 7am until 11pm. The baking school there has capacity for 15,000 students a year plus there is the first Bread Ahead restaurant, a 220-cover restaurant which will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and those famous doughnuts. There is a deli and a wholesale bakery too. It’s literally bread heaven.

It’s a big step up: Yup. But Jones has already said that he wants more of these bigger sites in future. It’s come a long way from its beginnings in a railway arch – but in terms of innovation Bread Ahead has already proved itself.

Is that a bread pun? No.

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