Life Membership Award Baking Industry Research Trust
I started in the Baking Industry while still at school helping a contractor deliver hot bread on a Sunday morning. From there it progressed to completing an apprenticeship in 1977 and was presented with the first Trade Certificate in Bread Baking in New Zealand in 1978.
My interest in the technical side of baking really started in 1981 when working for Peter Rewi, who at the time was Technical Manager for Fermentation Industries. I was based in Christchurch and called in on all the bakeries in the South Island. To me, this experience highlighted the number of variables in baking ranging from ingredients to equipment and most importantly to the bakers themselves.
After 3 years of this, I moved to Auckland and was the Production Manager at Findlay’s Gold Krust Bakeries. This was followed by a move to North’s Bun Company, where I was part of the team that, starting with an empty factory, constructed the first purpose built bakery to produce McDonald buns in NZ. Both roles were challenging but big learning experiences and helped me decide that my future preference was for technical baking rather than bakery management.
In 1989, John Gould offered me the opportunity to do this and I moved back to Quality Bakers as their Group Production Manager and in this role started becoming involved with BIRT. Working with the caliber of scientists like Arran Wilson and Nigel Larsen was a bit overwhelming at first but I soon realized that we were all learning from the work BIRT did and NZ was leading the way in many of the areas of research around MDD bread baking. It seemed the more you found out the more questions that were raised. I remember numerous reports on BIRT projects that had extra research requested as a result of the findings.
In 1997 I spent 5 years working for Goodman Fielder as technical support to all their bakeries in Australia and this made me realize the big advantage we had in NZ with the research done by BIRT. There was some research carried out in Australia by the BRI but seemed to be done more with individual companies rather than with the industry.
On my return to NZ I rejoined the BIRT team and remained on the committee until retirement. The highlights in this period was the much closer working relationship with the Flour Millers Research Trust, United Wheat Growers and the foundation for Arable Research. Some of the work done, with Catherine Munro and Garth Gillam on wheat varieties and growing regions, showed an unexpectedly wide range of actual baking results emphasizing the need for these groups to work together. Other highlights of working with BIRT were the people involved from the encyclopedia of knowledge and experience that was Doug Leighton through to the organisational ability of Tania Watson.
The biggest change that I have seen in the industry over the past 40 years has been the decrease in plant bread bakeries where in the 70’s there were well over 30 plant bakeries, with most large towns having their own bakery, down to now where there are only 10 supplying the country. This has been offset by nearly every supermarket having an instore bakery.
Personally, my highlights have been working with apprentices over the years and seeing the next generation of bakers emerging. BIRT has played its part in this by sponsoring the New Zealand Young Baker of the Year, along with much appreciated support from the team at NZ Bakels. The other highlight has been the people I have had the opportunity to meet and work with during my career. Visiting bakeries in other parts of the world, I have seen plants set up to make only one or two products. I was envious of this at the time thinking how much easier it would be to have a market so big you could fine tune your equipment and ingredients to this requirement. But on reflection, I think having the challenges we have in NZ helps us innovate and invent ways of doing things better.
I enjoyed my time as a baker and have many memories of my career but I am also enjoying retirement with the focus on family, friends, gardening and fishing.