Tell the Story and Educate your Customers
I’ve recently been reading the much acclaimed book on bread baking called Modernist Bread 2017, The Cooking Lab, by Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoja. It’s a tome of six volumes with a price tag to match.
Because I’m a professional baker and teacher, this book resonated with me, not only for the superb photography but because it goes to much length to “tell the story” of bread. Not only does the book contain technical information but it’s also punctuated with interesting side bar articles and quirky historical pieces, which rounds out the fact that bread can be not only a thing, or should I say, a food, of beauty but a food of flavour complexity.
These last 15 or so years, bread baking has seen a resurgence. Over the last seven or eight years, domestic baking has captured the imagination of ordinary mums and dads at home. This phenomenon seems to be growing in the western world.
There are various theories trying to explain this resurgence and the explosion of home baking. Theories range from people wanting to take control of making their own food to a dislike of conventional bread. Others believe it has more to do with seeking real flavour variety and perhaps a distrust of worn out dubious claims of “natural” and “healthy” by baking companies. Still others believe that its got to do with the satisfaction of mastering the biological process of a base technology—sourdough—that converts grain, with limited nutrition, to a nutritious food known as bread. It has a wholesome dimension, as well as a challenge, that cooking doesn’t have. It just captures the imagination.
In Sydney and Melbourne, with lots of places in between, there are several bakeries that have been born out of this quest for authentic baking. They say bread is back as food that tastes good! Without being enhanced with fats/margarines, bread improvers, “artisan” premixes or even filled with myriad other flavour-laden foods, which function largely to distract from the bland state of the bread part of the loaf. Don’t get me wrong; bread is a fantastic food to eat with other foods, but not as a “mask” for bland bread.
The story of bread and making bread can sometimes seem, to us who have been at it for some time, a bit familiar and we get blasé. But I’ve found in my experience that the uninitiated are fascinated at the poetry and complexity, yet at the same time, simplicity of fermenting dough and transforming grain into bread.
Many bakers overlook this asset they have in front of them; that’s right, an asset!
Our customers usually know very little but are amazed at the alchemy of sourdough bread making, or the details of how croissant and Danish pastry are made and baked. So tell the story!
There are creative ways bakers can assist customers learning about the fantastic bread that their bakeries produce, but it requires a little thinking. It’s no secret that well known bakeries are devoting resources to educating their customers about their products in several ways.
One way is to teach them through offering baking courses. In fact I’m involved in just that and, once a month, teach keen mums and dads who wish to do a short baking course. Some of them are diehard home bakers but most are just curious. They are amazed how bread is made. This sort of offering is advertising that can’t be bought. It’s building loyalty and openness between the patrons and the baking business.
Kids baking classes are a perfect opportunity to build patronage in the next generation coming up—future customers! Parents love taking kids to activities that capture the imagination of their children. It gives the parents time out in the café to have coffee in peace and enjoy a pastry or two. Not only does it bring revenue in sales but it’s building a relationship with the business. Real honest food, real people, and honest trading.
Others use excellently produced brochures that market their products by visual means. Beautiful photos reflecting beautiful bread that’s on the display shelf. Of course the point is to show not just the difference but a worthy difference.
If your business isn’t telling the story, you’re losing an opportunity to extend respect and educate your customers. If you embark on the journey with them, they’ll admire you and respect you.