Business and Operations
Good Neighbours: Bakery collaboration
By Naomi Szeben
How Brodflour bakery thrived pre- and post-COVID
By Naomi Szeben
The COVID-19 pandemic affected many businesses, but it also changed the way bakeries thought about their business. Some bakers learned how to pivot, changing their line of products to match demand and production limitations. Other bakeries teamed up with different companies to create a partnership that celebrates similar ingredients, or a shared philosophy. These are the sorts of stories you’ll hear about in Bakers Journal’s “Good Neighbours” series.
Once such Good Neighbour story is Brodflour, a bakery and fresh flour mill situated in downtown Toronto. Brodflour sells freshly baked breads and pastry, made from flour they mill themselves. “On-site stone milling is central to what Brodflour is about,” says general manager and co-founder Matt Faust. Its Liberty Village setting means that clients are largely office workers, and as the pandemic surged, clients waned. “Given it’s an office crowd, we hadn’t found people were buying a ton of bread or flour.”
The bakery’s entire reason to be is pinned on its flour. Owners Dara Gallinger and Ronnen Harary wanted to change the way commercial bakeries work with flour. To get the very best quality and the freshest possible product, they decided to build a business that was both a mill and a bakery. Brodflour stone-ground its own flour to be used within 24 hours of milling.
Though flour was what the bakery wanted to be known for, the company’s philosophy lies in making artisanal, high-end baked goods using local flour. The focus is on freshness and the quality of grain.
“During this pandemic. It’s actually brought that to light, so we’ve kind of had an inflection point. People are coming in, buying sandwiches and coffee, and that’s great, but we wanted people to see our flour and experience that fresh-milled product. And that switch flipped.”
Are they predominantly a bakery or a miller? That question was answered when Toronto consumers found it challenging to find either flour or yeast in their grocery stores. Few regular clients returned for sandwiches or breads, but Brodflour needed to continue creating revenue and keeping its profile in the public eye.
The bakery decided to sell more flour, but with the its space being limited, few customers could enter at the same time. The second problem raised involved creating a new line of clients. While Brodflour already did brisk business with local groceries and fine food retailers, they wanted to provide fresh flour to home bakers who needed it. That artisanal label wasn’t a bad thing for retail customers either.
“We’re offering flour at a higher price point than what you would normally see. It’s a special product. [Flour milling] has definitely made things a lot busier for us. In terms of a sales perspective, what we would sell in flour, in one month, pre-COVID, we now do in about two days.” The increased flour sales helped them focus on milling. During the lockdown, the bakery made a choice to keep the business running by making a flour production partnership happen. “So we would run our stone mill for two to three hours a day. Now we’ve run it seven to eight hours a day. One of the challenges is being able to keep up with that. Sometimes our bakers share the responsibility of milling, but we do have a miller full time here, milling.
The bakery continues to make breads with its freshly made flour for customers, but business is now strictly delivery or contactless pickup. “People can just call in, and they pay for their order. We have a table inside: we just leave the bread there. And that’s it. Really, those are the main ways that we’re getting product out on the retail side and then our flour is sold retail to some big grocery stores.” The real challenge lies with direct-to-consumer delivery. “We’re still such a small company. We only have one delivery truck. You know, people were just calling in asking for flour delivery,” Faust says.
Faust adds proudly that Brodflour was selected by higher-end online grocery delivery services. Companies such as Grow, Gather & Co. curate food baskets for the discerning gourmet who is sheltering in place. “You’ll get some really nice produce, some really nice meats, and they’re also featuring our bread and butter flour.”
Brodflour found that by partnering with Grow, Gather & Co., they could transition to a different clientele, and really focus their target market to a more gourmet and adventurous consumer. The deal went both ways. Produce companies that would typically distribute to restaurants could retain revenue with home delivery.
“They used the best of the best, and they’re just trying to highlight local high-end food manufacturers that are basically doing something really cool and artisanal, kind of on a smaller scale. So that’s really helped us get our name out,” Faust adds.
One advantage to partnering with other companies resulted in interesting cross-promotional advertising. Brodflour was “good neighbours” with the Greenhouse Juice Co. “We actually grew up with their owners, so we know them well,” Faust recounts. “We’ve had a good relationship. Greenhouse stocks our flour on a weekly basis, so they’re still providing fresh products. And as long as you hit their minimum of, you know, $30 or $40, clients can get our products delivered next day to their door, and [Greenhouse] also doing the same thing, working with really unique plant-based products. That allows us to expand our delivery zone and go direct to the consumer.”
Anna James of Greenhouse Juice was the one to reach out to Brodflour; however, they had “always been in conversation about how we can collaborate together.” They were already offering some of Brodflour’s breads at one or two their locations. “But, we never really had a mutual retail relationship, [prior to the COVID outbreak]. It was really us just retailing purchases,” Faust clarifies.
Greenhouse Juice Co. and Brodflour’s partnership resulted in the Plant Pantry. Subscribers were able to acquire basic pantry supplies such as Brodflour’s freshly milled flour, fresh juices or produce. Restaurants like Blondies Pizza also raised their revenue by adding their pizza kit to the Plant Pantry. “We’re always open to partnering with other brands that kind of speak to our ethos. So, anyone that kind of shares our vision for having a fresh product, something that kind of changes the way the consumer thinks about a staple that we’ve all previously seen as shelf stable.”
On top of providing fresh food, for every purchase made in April, Greenhouse donated a toonie from every order containing a Plant Pantry item to the CanadaHelps COVID-19 Community Care Fund in support of vulnerable communities across Canada affected by COVID-19.
“Part of our founders’ philosophies is a lot of giving back to the community,” Faust says. “My motto has just been, say ‘yes’ to any opportunity. Figure it out after it happens. Every day we encounter problems, and these are just challenges that can be solved easily.”
Naomi Szeben is editor of sister publication Bakers Journal.