Archive for October, 2015

Freezing Baked Goods, FAQ

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Cranberry loaves sell especially well and freeze well. They're perfect for advanced production.

Now that holiday baking has started I often receive questions about using the freezer to jump start production. I always respond that freezers might be a good way to stock products for later sales.

Most large commercial bakeries schedule their production so most of their products go directly into the freezer. Their display cases are then stocked daily, from the freezer. Smaller bakeries bake and sell some of their products fresh, but also utilize the freezer to help keep their cases full and ease the daily workload.

The home baker can definitely utilize a freezer to manage production and sales. But it depends upon what type of freezer you own. In a refrigerator freezer, I wouldn’t keep baked goods longer than a couple of weeks. Frost-free (self-defrost) refrigerator freezers go through a thaw-freeze-thaw cycle. This removes the need for manual defrost, but it has a negative effect upon baked goods. In a manual defrost freezer, however, such as some upright or chest freezers, the temperature is constant so you can safely freeze baked goods for several months.

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Home-Based Baking at its Best! Most baked goods freeze well. But it’s important to do shelf life testing to determine if freezing is right for each of your products.

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Bakery Tour: Importance of Customer Service

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

On a chilly fall morning, we set off for two bakeries in West Concord, MA.

First stop, Nashoba Brook Bakery. There was a huge construction area in front of Nashoba so the shop and parking lot were not visible from the street. I parked several blocks away and had to ask directions; it surprised me there was no sign to direct customers to the front door. Although a good share of their business is wholesale, a sign would have been a nice gesture for their retail business.

Hidden entrance to Nashoba Brook Bakery.

Inside the entrance is a large window where customers can look down on the production area.

I visited this bakery five years ago and loved it. There are several display cases, self-service displays, and numerous tables and chairs.

During my last visit the counter clerk had been a bubbly gem who answered questions and dutifully promoted their products.

This morning, however, although it wasn’t very busy, service was quite different. Three counter clerks were chatting with each other about personal issues and ignored customers. I stood in front of the cases for five minutes and none of the clerks acknowledged me. I stood under the sign for customer service, but still nothing. I made eye contact with two of them but they chose to ignore me.

My granddaughter had picked out the family treats and still, no one came to greet us.

Eventually, I interrupted their conversation to ask for service. We got a box for home, a loaf of bread, and a Morning Glory muffin to share.

Our not-so-delicious muffin. It was very dry (either overbaked or day old) with a strong chemical taste from too much baking soda. We ate some, and threw away the rest.

Next, we walked down the quaint and lovely main street to Concord Teacakes.

Concord Teacakes

It was fairly quiet inside, with only two customers at the tables. But business seemed good with a slow steady stream of customers, mostly moms with young kids.

In the display cases there were only a few cakes that looked as if they’d been there a while.

But we saw a lot of attractive, colorful cupcakes in different sizes.

And many large decorated cookies throughout the store - on trays in the display cases and individually wrapped, set in baskets around the shop.

This store clearly knew their customer: children! Concord Teacakes is located in a small neighborhood community and clearly understands that children have a central role in purchasing baked goods. My grandaughter picked out an Elmo cupcake for after lunch, and we split a bagel while sitting at a table.

But the customer service was simply okay, nothing remarkable, no smiles, no friendliness. The clerks just moved on to the next customer.

Elmo was a ring that kids could keep long after the cupcake was gone. Nice!

Think about your own customer service. At both bakeries, the lack of good customer service really impacted our experience. Shoppers will remember how they were treated, long after they remember if they liked your products.

And do your market research. Who are your target customers? Concord Teacakes, located in a small family-oriented community, clearly understands that children have a central role in purchasing baked goods.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! We can learn a lot by visiting other bakeries. Do your market research and think about your customer service.

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Do We Need Insurance?

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

In our current world, most of us assume that insurance is a necessity. Motor vehicle laws require it, as do mortgages and other types of bank loans. Most farmers’ markets also require vendors to carry insurance.

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But for small legal home-based food businesses, there is no requirement, so you have some leeway. Think about your personal comfort level and the products you make. Only non-potentially hazardous baked goods (products that do not require refrigeration) are allowed for most home-processor permits. These types of baked goods are the lowest risk food category and have less risk (for food borne illness) than organic spinach.

Assess your risk and think about your products. For example, if you make gluten-free or other allergy-related  items, your risk is greater than someone who only bakes plain breads and rolls.

If I was legal (had a permit or license), did not make allergy-related products, and only made foods allowed under the cottage food law, I would not purchase insurance. I’m a rule-follower and not a risk taker, but I’m also a pragmatist. I would only purchase insurance if I was a farmers’ market vendor. My preference has always been to sell wholesale, which is allowed under some CFL permits. If your permit allows you to sell wholesale, any store you approach would already have insurance. Stores carry it to cover all their vendors’ products. If an owner or manager tells you that you must have insurance, either they do not carry insurance (red flag alert) or it’s their way of telling you good-bye.

If you decide to purchase insurance, call around and ask local agents for quotes. And look at the Food Liability Insurance Program (FLIP). Be aware that insurance companies only insure legal businesses.

I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what I would do in your situation. I think, for the most part, the people who really benefit from home processors buying insurance, are the insurance companies. They might be the ones in a no-risk category.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Remember, assess your products. For small legal home-based food businesses, insurance is a matter of personal comfort.

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Join SweetAmbs and Baking Fix

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

 

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How To Start A Home-Based Baking Business And Cookie Decorating Workshop! The day will be split up into two parts. In the morning, Amber of SweetAmbs will teach you some of her favorite cookie decorating techniques to make beautiful holiday designs.

In the afternoon, we’ll learn about the Home-Based Baking Business: Do you love to bake, decorate, and give away holiday cookies? Have you ever thought about selling your cookies? More than forty states have a cottage food law that permits individuals to run a home-based baking business. This class is an introduction and overview of the necessary steps to running a profitable business; students will leave class with a checklist for getting started. For anyone interested in learning about the business of home baking, this class is for you.

The decorating portion of the class is suitable for beginners as well as those with some experience in cookie decorating. We will provide all materials as well as lunch and refreshments. You don’t need to bring anything with you to class.

To register, visit SweetAmbs Classes

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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