Business Profiles

Baker Pacific: How the cookie crumbles

Last summer, we spoke with Iain Davidson, founder of Baker Pacific – the go-to Asia Pacific experts on confectionery and biscuit ovens. Since we last spoke, Iain has been preparing several new books for publication, and is still working fervently on launching Baker Pacific’s charitable Biskaid endeavour. We touched base to catch up on his progress and remind you what Baker Pacific are all about.

At the start of the millennium, the Asian Pacific economy was experiencing a boom. As happens in such lucrative times, demand rose for feel-good items: money was available to spend, and appetites soared for treats to spend it on. Unsurprisingly, the snacks and confectionery industries saw an explosion of enthusiasm for their products during this time, and independent and global companies alike were eager to ride the wave. Entrepreneurial minds spotted an opportunity and seized it, collectively developing the industry far beyond what it once was.

When this window presented itself to local Asian Pacific companies, the need to compete with advanced global brands came with it. These brands had resources and technology that went far beyond what most local companies had at their disposal, and large teams with broad industry knowledge to match. This is where Iain Davidson came in.

Iain established Baker Pacific in 2000, right when the region was in the throes of confectionery mania. The company’s mission was to balance the tables between global brands and independent competitors, offering advice and support to help Asian companies close the gap: “Baker Pacific Ltd. Hong Kong is a small team of professionals, each with more than 35 years of experience with leading biscuit, chocolate, confectionery and engineering companies,” explains Iain. “We have a wide range of skills, drawing on experience in marketing, production, research and development, project management, engineering and service.”

Coming from backgrounds in every area of the industry, this small team of experts set out to provide the information and insight needed to level the playing field. Iain came to Baker Pacific with a solid and hands-on history in the industry: his career began in 1965 when he graduated from the School of Industrial Design at London’s Royal College of Art, and joined Baker Perkins Ltd. as Industrial Design Engineer; “I worked in the Technical Department on the design of new biscuit, bakery and candy processing machines until 1975, gaining a thorough technical knowledge of the machines and processes.” He stayed with Baker Perkins into the late 1990s, rising to the position of Managing Director in Hong Kong as well as becoming a Director of Baker Perkins Japan.

With this ranging experience from technical design to high-level management and leadership, Iain was in the perfect position to apply his skills to his new endeavour. At first, Baker Pacific operated solely as a consultancy, offering advice and industrial knowledge to local businesses who were looking to grow and compete. These early operations still represent a major part of Baker Pacific’s services today: the company is able to supply complete process documentation to enable their customers to make international quality products, covering not only biscuits, but also cookies, wafers, crackers, chocolate and even caramel. They also provide Asian companies with relevant market data, which they collate themselves from independent studies: “Baker Pacific has carried out several industrial market studies in China and Indonesia. For example, we have completed and published an extensive study of Indonesian snacks with details of over 150 products.”
Of the companies they work with, the majority of Baker Pacific’s customers operate in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. “Our first-hand experience in these markets provides us with an exceptional insight and range of contacts to ensure the most valuable studies, each tailored to our client’s requirements. These studies provide extensive information for both potential investors and existing manufacturers.”

This support made Baker Pacific’s name, and allowed their customers to make a significant difference in the confectionary market. The impact is ongoing, and the power between local and international sellers has notably shifted: “Competition is changing as Asian biscuit oven manufacturers improve the range and quality of their products. Competition from Europe is still strong, but is now from only a few important suppliers.”

As progress was made, Baker Pacific expanded their efforts into more hands-on forms of support, including maintenance, oven audits and upgrades, safety system installation and the conversion of electric ovens over to gas. To supplement the consultancy information they provide, they even offer training programs in baking technology – brilliant for start-ups or companies looking to train new staff.

The support Baker Pacific offers is more than a product for Iain, who describes his company’s mission and philosophy as: “A belief in sharing our experience in the industry, and the aim to understand, assist and support our customers.”

However, with such a bank of experience behind them, there came a point when sharing this advice was no longer enough for the Baker Pacific team. With an encouraging nudge from the Danone Asia Group, the company took an exciting step in a new direction, applying their knowledge to create what they knew best: ovens. “Baker Pacific design and manufacture a range of ovens for cookies, crackers and cake, all using infra-red radiation technology. Our design team is based in the UK, and our ovens are manufactured by contractors in China, India and Indonesia.”

This departure has become a leading focus for the company, allowing them to truly do what they do best. As Iain told us, it was the support from Danone that got the wheels in motion: “We were encouraged and supported by the Danone Asia group. They also introduced us to Esspee Engineers in Kolkata, who are experienced oven builders. Danone Asia purchased the first ovens we built in India, China and Indonesia, and we worked successfully together with Esspee to build and install a large biscuit oven for Danone Biscuits Indonesia.”

Whilst the company’s operations have grown, their team has stayed extremely small, at only three permanent staff members. However, this small team is capable of a great deal, and Iain feels their size is a part of their success: “We are a small, flexible team with very low overheads. All our projects are carried out with process specialists and equipment manufacturers on contract.” For example, the construction of Baker Pacific’s ovens within Asia is carried out by a small technical team of five people.

As they have with their consultancy, the company have set up and maintained tight bonds with partners through the supply of their equipment: “Our main partner in China is Dingson Food Machinery, with whom we have worked for more than 10 years.”

“Competition from Asian biscuit machine suppliers continues to increase and there are excellent suppliers of production and packaging equipment, particularly from China. We are developing a relationship with one of the principal suppliers in China.”

Whilst this expansion was a game-changer for Baker Pacific, the application of their designs could, one day, be an even greater change for people in need. In the quest to put their knowledge towards a good cause, Iain and his team have created Biskaid – a plan for affordable, efficient aid relief in the form of biscuit production.

The Biskaid project aims to implement biscuits as a cheap, sustainable and long-lasting solution to food shortages in crisis areas. In particular, if the project can receive funding and support, the company hopes to use Biskaid to feed refugees in Africa and Asia:

“We believe that a small biscuit production facility is an excellent way to use wheat flour given under aid projects to produce nutritious biscuits with a long shelf life for distribution in refugee camps. Our proposal is to provide a production facility to deliver up to 8 tonnes of biscuits per day (on two shifts) to feed people in a disaster zone or refugee camp.”

Wheat flour is already donated to aid projects, raising the issue of the most efficient way to use it. Baker Pacific proposes a biscuit recipe that can be formulated to provide essential energy, protein, minerals (iron and calcium) and vitamins, with this recipe adjusting depending on the needs of each relief location’s needs. In the company’s words, “biscuits are the first and best convenience food”. The envisioned Biskaid facilities would be non-insulated temporary buildings, designed to be cheap and easy to transport and construct whilst still providing all of the protection biscuits require. This building design is especially effective due to its temporary and re-usable nature, making it low-impact on costs as well as on the areas these sites would be erected.

Baker Pacific’s expertise has also allowed them to streamline the design of the production line: “The proposed biscuit line is the simplest semi-automatic production line based on a tunnel oven. The mixing and forming machines are suitable for moulded doughs, allowing a wide variety of shapes and recipes to be made.” Running at full capacity, the line should produce 500 – 600 kg of biscuits per hour.

Currently, Biskaid is still a dream, but Baker Pacific are working tirelessly to promote the scheme and to secure it the backing it needs to become a reality.
Finally, on top of this excellent use of their knowledge, the company is also finding new ways to share itsknow-how with the public. Last summer, we spoke with Iain about the recent publication of his first book, Biscuit Baking Technology. The book, published with Elsevier, offered an “expert’s guide to the biscuit manufacturing process, ingredients, formulations, and the design, operation and maintenance of biscuit ovens.” In essence, it included a comprehensive break-down of Iain’s collected expertise and insights from years in the industry. With his later books, he has taken this a step further:

“We have completed a new book, How to Build a Biscuit Oven. This provides customers with a detail description with drawings, photos and parts lists to build a high-quality biscuit oven. In addition, we can supply all manufacturing drawings and supervision.”

“Our upcoming book Biscuit, Cookie and Cracker Production, also to be published by Elsevier, is now at the typeset/proof reading stage and will be published later this year. The book covers the complete process and production from the delivery of ingredients to the bakery to the final packaged product.”

Between these three publications, you might think that Iain and his team had shared everything they could, and yet there is still a slate of new titles on the horizon: An Introduction to Industrial Biscuit Production will provide an entry-level foundation for people new to biscuit manufacturing, and will particularly assist such companies in training new employees. There are also plans to publish a commemorative title that gathers the recipes of Baker Pacific’s late Glyn Sykes. This labour of love, which will feature the recipes and process details for over 100 products from crackers, snack crackers, semisweet biscuits, short doughs and cookies, is set to be submitted to publishers later in 2018.

For a small team, Baker Pacific are undoubtedly keeping themselves busy. Between their training and consultancy services, their upcoming publications and the good they could achieve through Biskaid, their pledge to support others has proven to be more than just a promise. We look forward to watching the company’s progress as they continue to deliver, both to the confectionary world and, hopefully, to those in need.