Local Artisan Bread & Patisserie

2016

Money money money – it’s just not funny

Money money money – it’s just not funny

“Great food but expensive” (*cue spirited response from owners*)

“I warn you that their prices are up there with the likes of Costa but worth a treat….” (Costa! bahaha!  *cue even more spirited response* )

In amongst a lot of amazing reviews which we LOVE reading, thank you so much – our dear Friends of Rex and reviewers on Google & Tripadvisor prove that they think about pricing & the cost of living, and the value of what they buy on a daily basis.  Well, great minds think aike 🙂   Like many small business owneSunday opening, Rex Artisan Bakery, Rex bakery little chalfontrs in Britain, we obsess about these issues ALL THE TIME!!   We really have no choice if we want to keep opening the Rex doors.   Readers of our earlier blogs will remember what a steep climb it was to launch the bakery…  we now know is that the challenges are on a never-ending escalator, they just keep coming.

They are both big & global but also micro & local.  We are facing unprecedented developments in this country: UK government debt, local council underfunding, Brexit, exchange rate collapse, predicted inflation & interest rate rises in US post-Trump election… here are some of the ways that we already see these landing on Rex Bakery.

 

  1. Ingredients

One of our 4 principles is to always select the best, premium ingredients we can find.  We’ve explained how we exhaustively selected our sausagemeat for our sausage rolls, that we will only use organic flour with no cheating additives across the bakery, about the special creme-fraiche Normandy patisserie butter that we use.

croxton unsalted butterUnfortunately we have seen price increases in many of the ingredients we select, and we have been unable to find any cheaper alternative that passed our standards.  There is rampant food inflation in:

    • Butter.  You may have noticed yourselves how even traditional unsalted butter prices have gone up +30% in some supermarkets.  That’s because there is a demand & supply issue in Britain and our country imports a lot of butter from France & beyond.  At Rex, we use a LOT of butter…. 🙁
    • Fruits & vegetables.  Many of the fresh produce we buy every week is imported from Spain & Holland

Apples ready for our Apple & Cinnamon layer cake

A photo posted by Rex Artisan Bakery (@rexbakery) on

  • Nuts & seeds.  Britian doesn’t even produce all the ingredients we use (sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts…)  so are highly subject to dollar & euro exchange rate changes

The truth is that for a best selling product like gluten-free Boiled Orange Cake, the orange & ground almond we use makes the cake now far more expensive than a traditional flour-based cake.

2/ Staff costs

We are proud to now employ >25 talented, lovely people in Rex – we suspect that’s more than anybody else on the parade.  We have permanent full timers, part timers and a roster of occasional hours weekend & holidays staff.  We have always had a policy of paying above the minimum wage for each age group so the announcements regarding Living Wage don’t change anything on paper… although they do in reality, because we of course need to move all the pay scales each Budget.  Our wage bill is some +70% higher today than the day we opened but ahem, that’s not true of our bottom line!!

Rex baker making sourdough, real breadIn particular we hope we can continue to attract our skilled craft bakers into Rex.    With the demise of British bakery colleges & qualifications coupled with the prevalence in “pushing a button” mass production line baking operations in this country – we have found that it is harder & harder to find, attract to Little Chalfont and then keep the right artisan bakers.  Thank goodness for our European highly skilled  neighbours who love Real Bread & know how to make it!   Although we do fear that the Home Office is pretty unlikely to recognise that they must include Artisan Baker as one of the skilled welcomed professions for new arrivals once UK exits from the EU – perhaps we need to start sending a Rex Sourdough or two to Theresa May in her nearby Maidenhead constituency to make the case!!

The government is pushing more & more labour costs on to the small employer – we already have to pay Employers’ National Insurance on top of wages, we need to provide a pension with contributions from next tax year, and must fund sickness benefit claims (of course on top of replacement staff costs).  Not sure the local GPs fully know that it’s no longer the Government picking up the bill when they issue sick notes….

3/ Red tape

What we never guessed was how much of our precious bread sales would be absorbed by admin – nothing is free or value-added for a small business.  Here’s some of the costs we have to fund:

  • bank charges.  Hundreds of pounds every month on contactless & card payment fees; a fee for every deposit & every payment, this would all be free of charge in your home bank account.  We need to sell a lot of baguettes to cover just those!
  • Business rates.  Somehow our shop is charged more thousands of pounds every year than any other shop in the parade, and the rateable value set by some quango or other appears to be unchallengeable.  Some bakeries have lost their discount in other parts of the country, which could be the difference between profit and loss, staying in their shop or choosing to go elewhere for them.  Note – this is just a tax on being in business, that the local council collects & passes to central government.  It provides NO VALUE  EXCHANGE WHATSOEVER to the business paying it.
  • Waste disposal.  Whilst we have a fantastic arrangement with both the Epilepsy Centre & a local pig farmer to reuse our leftover bread each day, we have a lot of process-production & packaging rubbish, all the time.  No friendly council bin men to pick it all up unfortunately, instead this is a big money spinner for companies like Grundon.  New statutory recycling & waste limit targets mean that we have seen our waste collection fees rocket to thousands of pounds per year and we have become zealots about our bin systems to try to contain them.
  • Our business is governed by rigorous local inspectors & councillors.  We even had to pay hundreds in a retrospective “planning fee” just to site a couple of tables & chairs right outside of our shop on warmer days…

Now.  Have we put off anybody out there from opening up (yet another) food business anywhere near the Parade hahaha??    But never fear, we have invested a LOT  – money, time, effort, heart, heads… into No 4 Chenies Parade to recoup, so we’ll just carry on rolling with these many costs & pressures.  All the time that our many & lovely Friends of Rex come looking for Real Bread, we will proudly continue to be in a similar price range of other premium, healthy foods.
Given our ingredients are undoubtedly much higher quality than other local food businesses, this means we will continue to offer outstanding value to shoppers.  Hope this gives you some insight to the challenges of balancing the books in Rex – and how we NEED & thank you for your continued support more than ever before!!

xx

Bread on holiday?   Ugh.  We were happy to come back home to Rex!

Bread on holiday?   Ugh.  We were happy to come back home to Rex!

The Rex Baker managed to get away for a couple of weeks to Barcelona & Catalunya in August 🙂

As always, the family knew to expect some fieldwork with side-trips to Spanish artisan bakeries.  Unfortunately – not only are real bakeries as few & far between as they are in the UK, but they tend to close down for 2 weeks in August themselves, so we didn’t manage to find too many exciting new loaves.

As it’s hard to imaginspanish chain bakery; spain breade a Rex family meal without a basket of bread or not sandwich-based, this meant exploring what presumably so many people consume on a daily basis – pre-part-baked baguettes with their telltale dots all over the base, supermarket “artisan” loaves (yuk) and chain bakeries where OK appearances prove deceptive & disappointing.

 

 

 

 

 

Our best discovery was that the Catalans do like to cut up white loaves & top each slice with juice & seeds from fresh tomato plus chopped spain tomato juice breadonion, then drizzle olive oil over before eating with cured charcuterie & fresh cheese – that’s common for breakfast, lunch & supper and what in theory should ever taste better than that when well made?

 

But because of the bread available, very rarely was a simple meal converted into the delight it should & could have been with a delicious real bread centrepiece.  Most breads we tried did not even contribute any added desirable taste & texture themselves, they at best worked as carriers.  Some were actually net detractors from the meal – too dry & dense, too uniform & woolly textured, too bulky, largely inedible.

Ironically, at the same time as trying these disappointing daily fast-made breads, we were seeing enquiries into our Rex inbox regarding “gluten-free” bread.  One was on TripAdvisor here (click on image to see in new window):

tripadvisor review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This leads us to spell out a few home truths comparing & contrasting fast-made fashionable gluten-free bread with Rex:

Rex certified Real Bread sourdough   Factory gluten-free Bread
Only organic flour, natural leaven, water, a little salt
And plenty of time
Typically more than a dozen ingredients
Added raising agents to fast develop Wheat flour alternatives with chemical additives such as improver, accelerators, preservatives
Hand-shaped Heavy or all machine-use
3-days to allow full fermentation.  The leaven naturally, slowly denatures the wheat & gluten in the flour & dough rises in this time Chemicals force fast dough rise within a few hours.  Unfermented.
Resulting bread has delicious taste & texture Resulting bread can be dense, cloying.  A filler.
Clinicals have shown real bread (slowly made, fully fermented) sourdough is so benign to eat, it doesn’t even raise the blood sugar.  Highly tolerable & easy to digest, doesn’t bloat. Spreading across industry with big bread brands like Allinson’s & Warburton’s investing in gluten-free production facilities & charging premium prices
Gluten-sensitives find they can tolerate Gluten-sensitives & coeliacs can tolerate

Whilst it’s reassuringly healthy for all Friends of Rex including gluten-sensitives to know that they can comfortably digest Rex without bloating thanks to our long fermentation principles – the real benefit for all of us is that the taste & texture of real bread is so, so much better than any factory made bread (be it gluten free or not).    We really can’t see the value of consuming anything so inferior – couldn’t be given away free to us now 🙂

We were happy to return to Blighty just for our Rex breads !!!  Did you have the same experience?  Or was it more bread-y where you were? Enjoy this Indian summer back home all of you…

“What’s in a name? Helpful ways for you to recognise real Sourdough”

“What’s in a name?  Helpful ways for you to recognise real Sourdough”

 

Did you know that there is no legal definition for “Sourdough”?  That means that practically any old loaf can be called a sourdough.   Unfortunately there’s so many bogus claims in the food industrpotato sourdoughy, it can be difficult for the public to work out what’s truly authentic.  To help, the Real Bread Campaign has been calling on Defra for Sourdough to be formally defined & the name restricted to real Sourdough.

While we wait, here’s some “pseudough” examples to recognise & even avoid:

  • Supermarket plastic wrapped “sourdough” can even be a loaf with added “sourdough flavour”. Artificially recreating the taste doesn’t make real Sourdough!!
  • Sourdough with long life ingredients that’s frozen & delivered part baked to be browned off, often just refers to the rustic look of the bread in appearance.
  • “Artisan bread brands” that aren’t what they seem. Some are owned by private equity firms, and one famous name sourdough specialist is even financed by Warburton’s, the big bagged sliced bread brand.    This can mean a long corporate supply chain between production & delivery to outlets like markets – we’ve bought a 2 day old sourdough this way, too dry to enjoy
  • Even many traditional bakers choose to add commercial yeast, citric acid or “improver” (even called “organic improver” sometimes!) to their Sourdough recipe, or buy flour with artificial “improver” in it to speed up their bread development pace & size.  They don’t have to declare this in the labelling, even though 71% of the British public think they should. We know this is common practice because
    1. A well known local craft bakery approached us asking us to loan them some “improver” as their stocks were running low. We don’t use it so couldn’t help J
    2. If you use anything artificial like that, you can’t use the phrase “Real Bread”. We challenged that the local chain bakery brand was using flour with improver & as this was confirmed in correspondence, by the Advertising Standards Authority, so that they’re no longer allowed to use that phrase.
    3. Last month EAT (the sandwich firm) was challenged via the Advertising Standards Authority for adding commercial yeast to its sourdough toastie mix. It turns out they can still call these sourdough, as there’s no legal definition…
    4. These breads often fail the press-back test that the Rex Baker described on the BBC – the construction is so poor that the crumb stays compressed & tacky if pushed hard. Real Bread will bounce back because the structure is so strong.

When we opened Rex, our best selling breads were our white tin breads & baguettes (that’s still true with the Rex children btw J) but today, Sourdoughs are bringing Friends to Rex from far & wide.

 

Preparing new wholesale – SOOOH PWETTY!!!!

A photo posted by Rex Artisan Bakery (@rexbakery) on

What is Real Sourdough?:

  • Made with Sourdough starter or natural leaven. In Rex, this is a non-commercial mix that we made ourselves from Misbourne honey originally, and nurture every day.    This is mixed with our organic flour, salt & water to make Rex Sourdough breads.
  • Allow time to ferment the dough & rise naturally. The sourdough starter works naturally, over time, to ferment all our organic flour wheats & grains and is thought to denature the gluten they contain during this process.  A side benefit is that over time, the leaven causes the bread dough to naturally rise.   In Rex, we allow at least 24 hours for all breads & a full 3 days for Sourdoughs to mature.

Why should you seek out authentic Sourdough?

Well first, most of our loyal Friends will tell you that Sourdough is delicious.  It shouldn’t taste sour, but it should be more complex & interesting than tinned bread loaves.  If it’s not real sourdough… you’ve been seduced by the marketing, not the real taste.

Next, some of you tell us that carbohydrates bloat you.  We always recommend to try a slice of Rex Sourdough because our organic flour, natural leaven & time to ferment means the bread is highly tolerable & easy to digest.  Many people think they’re wheat or gluten-intolerant – when in fact they are intolerant of poorly fermented wheat & gluten.  They can enjoy Rex Sourdough with comfort.

So if you have tried something that you thought was sourdough, and tasted & looked ok to you – can you be sure that it took 3 days to make naturally with an organic leaven?  If not, you may face the digestion & bloating difficulties of fast bread.  Anyways, why pay artisan skills prices for yet another fast food bread?

3 seed levain, seeded sourdough, three seed

So even though the law doesn’t yet define & protect Real “sourdough”, we do in Rex!!  Every single one of our breads complies with all Read Bread Campaign criteria for Real Bread … and you can trust our pure approach & provenance.  If you have any questions, we love to answer them….

See you in Rex over Easter we hope!!