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BakerSA Exclusive: Interview with Matthew Ballenden of Fresh Earth Bake House

BakerSA spoke to Matthew Ballenden of Fresh Earth Bake House in an exclusive interview about the growth of this “Free From” bakery, the top trends in the industry and his bakery success secrets.

BakerSA Exclusive: Interview with Matthew Ballenden of Fresh Earth Bake House
BakerSA spoke to Matthew Ballenden of Fresh Earth Bake House in an exclusive interview about the growth of this “Free From” bakery, the top trends in the industry and his bakery success secrets.

BakerSA: Tell us about your journey in the baking industry, how it started, the highlights and what the future holds…
Matthew: I started baking out of my restaurant kitchen, because I could not find a good quality daily bread for the restaurant. I learnt how to bake sour dough breads and that’s when the bug bit! Eventually the kitchen was too small for baking and running the restaurant. At the same time, the corner bakery next to our restaurant closed. I found myself at the auction bidding on the equipment and ended up buying most of the bakery. We started baking in this bakery only for the Fresh Earth Food Store and developed an extensive range of hand-crafted breads and confectionery.

The mainstream bakery industry is very competitive with small margins. It is also riddled with baked goods with poor nutritional values. I therefore decided to focus our bakery on the ‘Free From’ industry, specifically focusing on gluten free. The take up of the ranges of gluten free products that I developed was very positive and eventually we outgrew the small bakery.
By now, we had already started supplying Dis-Chem. It took me three years and three failed attempts to raise capital to build a purpose built ‘Free From’ bakery! Four years ago I eventually secured funding from the Independent Development Bank to build Fresh Earth Bake House. We started out baking about 500 products a day. Today we bake over 3,000 products a day for the Free From market!

The future will bring better quality and more stable ‘Free From’ fresh baked goods and confectionery. Our focus will always be optimising the consumer eating experience without compromising the nutritional integrity of the food.

BakerSA: In your opinion, what is the state of the local baking industry and how does it compare to global standards?
Matthew: I don’t have much experience in the main stream baking industry, but with regards to the “Free From” baking industry, the South African market is booming, with new bakeries popping up everywhere. After a recent trip to explore the “Free From” baking industry, I found that South African products are comparable and in some instances better. Our biggest challenge is that the market is still small.

BakerSA: In your opinion, what are the three top trends/issues in the local baking industry and how is the Fresh Earth Bake House responding to these trends?
Matthew: I believe that Gluten Free, Banting/Low Carb and clean labelling are not just trends: they are here to stay. The Free From baking industry is growing around 20% per annum. Consumers are becoming far more aware of the role poor quality food plays in their health. Fresh Earth Bake House is capitalising on this awareness and has shown tremendous growth as a result.

BakerSA: What are your top success secrets for a successful bakery?
Matthew: What is working for me right now is a big focus on quality staff who love what they do, especially the baking team. Also at Fresh Earth Bake House, the quality of our products comes before anything else and I believe that will bring loyal clients, sustainable growth and therefore guarantee our success.

BakerSA: What is your baking philosophy and what do you hope for the future of the local baking industry?
Matthew: My philosophy is ‘nutrition first’. Respect for our bodies is fundamental to a successful life. I believe we have lost touch with that important piece of information. I would like to re-instill a culture of eating high quality, nutrient dense foods and I am using my restaurant and bakery to achieve that. I believe as the consumer becomes more educated about the importance of nutrition, they will start insisting on better quality baked goods with more nutritious ingredients. Manufacturers will have to comply or run the risk of losing big segments of their market. We already seeing this happen in Europe and the US.

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With our vast experience in the Baking, Milling and Snack industries with both printed and electronic media , we will continue to supply the industry with the latest news, developments and innovations from South Africa and the World, as well as offer a platform from which to showcase your Company, Brand , Product or Service.