Five Minutes With Mary Varnier

As a baker or pastry chef, you already know the hard work that goes on in the kitchen to create incredible products for the customer. However, equally important in turning those goods to sales is a brilliant marketing brain. Mary Varnier is the director of Little Secrets Bakehouse, and gives us a rare glimpse into the world of food marketing.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your baking/pastry background:

I’ve been working in the Foodservice Industry now for approximately 20 years. My main roles have been in sales and marketing; working alongside brands to develop products from conception to commercialisation and everything in-between. After selling my interest in my previous wholesale bakery business in 2018, I was in search for inspiring and innovative products to excite the industry. I’m not a baker but I am a lover of all things sweet and savoury with a strong knowledge of food trends and consumer spending.

Tell us about Little Secrets Bakehouse:

Little Secrets Bakehouse is a boutique wholesale bakery specialising in the manufacturing and distribution of gluten-free products with a very unique flair and maintaining our particular signature style, which sets us apart from others. We strongly believe that the baking industry has evolved and no longer are the ordinary “same ol’, same ol’” products acceptable. Consumers are looking for quality innovation and new food experiences that excite and create new memories – something they can post about!

Little Secrets Bakehouse is the brainchild of our Executive Chef Daniel Collins; a graduate of Westminster College London who settled in Australia from the UK in 2007, bringing with him European knowledge and experience gained during his career in such organisations as Gordon Ramsay Holdings and Conran Restaurants. He developed a core range of products and, in 2015, Little Secrets Bakehouse was born. Through his passion, dedication and commitment to manufacturing superior quality products and providing outstanding customer service, the popularity of the range organically grew by word of mouth.

In 2020, I was fortunate enough to meet Daniel and despite the pandemic and the disruption this caused to the industry, we believed in the product range and future possibilities with new product development. Together and along with our mentor/investor Gerhard Langreiter (who has 25-plus years of experience owning and operating wholesale bakery businesses) we decided to invest and market the brand.

Firstly we looked at distribution and expanded our network to ensure we could supply throughout NSW five days. A new look logo, a full colour catalogue and e-commerce website was then launched which included two new core product ranges: Muffins and Tarts. The response to the new products has been overwhelming. Our customers love them and cemented our decision to take the business further by relocating to larger premises which can support scaling up the business.

Are you wholesale-only?

Our main focus is to support the local foodservice industry by strictly supplying wholesale only. The local cafés, caterers and restaurant segments are our main focus so we direct general public enquires to their local stockist.

What led you to the gluten-free path?

After sometime working and traveling around Australia, Daniel identified a gap in the market for quality gluten-free products. There was a somewhat negative misconception about gluten-free desserts and Daniel set himself a challenge to develop gluten-free recipes/products that would be equal if not better than the traditional flour-based recipes. In order to achieve this, Daniel only uses premium ingredients. All products are made from scratch recipes, no premixes allowed. This includes our signature decorative inclusions.

What the challenges of producing (exclusively) gluten-free products?

The biggest challenge would be raw material cost and developing products that are cost competitive with standard gluten products. We manage that as best we can by streamlining processes. Daniel is hands-on to ensure best manufacturing practices are maintained and to ensure product quality meets the standards as set by him from day one. Maintaining a gluten-free production only eliminates any challenges with cross contamination. There is also a sense of product limitations, however Daniel continues to challenge himself through product development. A great example of this is our recently launched range of tarts. The shortcrust pastry case can stand up and challenge any conventional flour based recipe. Dare I say it, but I believe it’s far superior! We have a number of new products in the pipeline ready for launch in the coming months and we can’t wait to hear our customers’ feedback.

Is demand for gluten-free desserts high?

We have definitely seen an incline in the demand for gluten-free products. Especially in the past six months with consumers now adopting a gluten-free life style. Our customers recognise that it’s a requirement now to stock gluten-free options as it’s additional revenue that they would otherwise miss out on.

What are your most in demand products?

This is really a tricky question, as our products seem to be as popular as each other. I’d say our signature products would be the Lime, Yoghurt and Coconut Cake, Passionfruit and Raspberry Cake, Lychee and Strawberry Cake and our Spiced Carrot Cake. Our slices seem to be a staple in our customers’ cabinets. The Chocolate, Hazelnut and Cranberry Brownie is second-to-none. In October of 2020 we launched a new range of muffins and tarts and we did not predict the demand would be as high as it. The muffins have far exceeded our expectations.

Daniel has developed a number of new products, again to challenge the market. We will gradually launch these in the coming months and we can’t wait to share them with our customers and followers.

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