Every so often, the primary aspects of a life fall together so perfectly that it appears that the proverbial fates are smiling upon destiny.
Such is the case for Paul Baker, founder of St Pierre Groupe based in Manchester, England. His last name is Baker. He grew up in a bakery. He’s a Master Baker. And he runs a bakery company. It’s all in perfect alignment.
“I’m a third-generation baker,” says Baker. “For as long as I can remember, baking has been part of my life.”
Baker, along with fellow founder Jeremy Gilboy, run St Pierre Groupe, and it’s one of the fastest-growing bakery brands in the U.S. And St Pierre Groupe is also the 2019 Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery honoree for “Bakery of the Year.”
A baker from the start
Baker was born into the trade. “I was lucky enough to learn the tricks of the trade in my father’s Culm Vale Bakery in Devon, England, where at a very young age, I learned to jam doughnuts and place the crosses on hot cross buns,” he says. “I went on to train at Exeter College to be a Master Baker. I worked alongside Michelin-starred contemporaries and was elected as president of the Student Guild of Bakers. I also earned a degree in Food Science, specializing in bakery.”
After college, Baker joined New Primebake (now Bakkavör) in Nantwich, England, overseeing development of value-added bread products. “After I left this position, I worked as a bakery specialist in large-scale bakery manufacturing across the United Kingdom where I learned everything from product and process development to production management, technical management, product quality, sales and marketing, and logistics,” he says.
Carrs Foods—the predecessor to St Pierre Groupe—was first established in 1986 as part of Harry’s, a large European bakery group. Baker notes that Carrs Foods was a trailblazer, bringing products like crêpes and Continental cakes into the United Kingdom for the first time. At the time, Carrs Foods was a smaller business and focused primarily on private label importing, with annual sales of around $15 million and a staff of 15 people.
St Pierre Group co-founder Gilboy has a history in engineering, sales, management and accounting.
AT A GLANCE
Company: St Pierre Groupe
Headquarters: Manchester, England
Website address: www.stpierrebakery.com
Number of employees: 35
Annual sales: $87 million
Products: Brioche breads, buns, rolls and sweet goods; croissants; crêpes; Belgian waffles; snack cakes
Brands: St Pierre, Baker Street, Paul Hollywood
Founder: Paul Baker
Founder: Jeremy Gilboy
Chairman: David Milner
“Jeremy Gilboy joined the company in 1997 as finance and operations director. I joined Carrs Foods in 2002 as the technical and marketing manager,” says Baker. “In 2004, the chance to buy the company came up, so Jeremy Gilboy, Peter Lawson (now retired) and I decided to buy out Carrs. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. To have the opportunity to acquire a business that was profitable and had a team of people who knew how to run the business—it was a no-brainer. This is what my whole career had been about, and here was my chance to lead this business with Jeremy. The world was our oyster. All we had to do was build it.”
Upon acquiring the business, Gilboy expanded his role to serve as the company’s managing director, running all aspects of the business, including developing product ideas, managing supplier relationships, and building the team.
“We didn’t know the first thing about management buyouts, so there was a lot of learning that came with the process,” says Gilboy. “The first three years were good. Once we were independent, we could source and develop products and brands ourselves. We started to launch more interesting products, such as waffles, crêpes and brioche, then started getting into bread, which is a huge market.”
Gilboy notes that the business certainly had its share of ups and downs. “When the market crashed in 2008, we survived and learned some valuable business lessons as a result. We’ve since grown the company to include the St Pierre and the Baker Street brands, and later acquired the license to sell the Paul Hollywood range.”
The company added Paul Hollywood products in 2015. The namesake of the brand, Paul Hollywood, is likewise the son of a baker and is a Master Baker. He is best known for his work as a judge on “The Great British Bake Off” television series, including the U.S. version of the show.
“We were determined to build a presence for St Pierre in the U.S. market,” says Baker. “So, in 2012, I rented a blood-red V8 muscle car, loaded up the back seat with St Pierre products and drove across the States, dropping in on unsuspecting retailers, some of which remain very loyal customers to this very day.”
But breaking into a new market is tough work. “During the first four years, we had trouble gaining a foothold in the U.S.,” says Baker. “We had no knowledge of the marketplace, so we started participating at IDDBA—we would just stand there with some of our products on a small table. Meanwhile, we were surrounded by the big brands in their big, impressive booths. But, little by little, we learned. And every year, we came back with a more-refined range and a bigger table.”
Then Baker noticed that other European bakery brands were starting to gain some traction, so he decided it was time for a bold move. “We decided to bring the products to life for the American buyers and developed a booth that looks like a Parisian café. It’s really impressive, and it worked. In Orlando in 2014, we found an amazing distributor, Lipari Foods, who culturally was a great fit for us. They really understood what we were trying to achieve, and we launched with them in 2015. They have been integral to our success and continue to be our distribution partner today.”
Today, St Pierre products are carried in over 20,000 retailers—and over 35,000 stores—worldwide, with 60 percent of its distribution in the U.S.
Gilboy has played a key role in growing the Baker Street and Paul Hollywood range in the United Kingdom, while Baker focuses on the U.S. market.
“America has been a game-changer for us,” says Baker, “but we’ve only just scratched the surface with St Pierre. We have a lot of big plans to grow the business in the States.”
Brioche and beyond
The St Pierre brand features over 25 products, including sliced brioche bread, croissants, Belgian sugar waffles and filled crêpes. The products are available in national and regional retailers like Target, Safeway, SEG, Kroger, Meijer and Jewel Osco.
The St Pierre brand also sells very well in the United Kingdom, notes Gilboy. “The products are very similar to the U.S. range, with a few twists applied to ensure they fit with the slightly different consumer tastes. These are mainly around flavors.” In the United Kingdom, restaurants frequently buy St Pierre products, often promoting the brand on the menu.
“We have seen fantastic success in Ireland, where the stores have supported the brand in a similar way to the U.S., using a consumer communications approach that aims to educate and inspire consumers to use brioche more often and in different meal types,” says Gilboy.
The complete St Pierre range distributed in the U.S. features:
- Brioche Sliced Loaf (Plain and Chocolate)
- Brioche to Share (Vanilla and With Chocolate Chips)
- Brioche Rolls
- Brioche Burger Buns
- Brioche Slider Buns (exclusive to U.S.)
- Brioche Hot Dog Rolls
- Brioche Swirls (Plain and With Chocolate Chips)
- Brioche Baguettes
- Brioche Popovers (Vanilla, Chocolate and Cinnamon)
- Cream Cheese Brioche Twist
- Cinnamon Brioche Twist
- Mini Butter Croissants
- Mini Chocolate Croissants
- Full Size Butter Croissants
- Full Size Chocolate Croissants
- Belgian Waffles with Cinnamon
- Belgian Waffles with Pearl Sugar
- Belgian Brioche Waffles with Butter
- Belgian Brioche Waffles with Chocolate Chips
- Chocolate & Hazelnut Filled Crêpes
- Cinnamon Filled Crêpes
On the Go (New Individually Wrapped Snack Range)
- Chocolate Caramel Shortbread Bar
- Rocky Road Bar
- Caramel Cake Bar
- Chocolate Cake Bar
- Butter Belgian Waffle
- Cinnamon Belgian Waffle
- Butter Belgian Waffle with Chocolate Coating
- Caramel Waffle
- Chocolate & Hazelnut Rolled Crêpe
- Cinnamon Rolled Crêpe
“We are constantly launching new products,” says Baker. “This year, we’ve launched our Cinnamon Crêpes, Full Size Croissants and Cream Cheese Brioche Twist. We’re most excited about our new On the Go range, which launched in May. The booming snacking trend inspired us to develop a line of indulgent snacks than can be enjoyed throughout the day, individually wrapped for the ultimate convenience.”
St. Pierre Groupe works with a wide range of bakeries to develop private label baked goods for various retailers around the world. Private label was previously a focus before the rise of St Pierre Groupe’s branded bakery business pursuits. The flexibility of working with multiple contract bakeries allows for agile positioning and the ability to quickly enter new markets.
In March 2019, St Pierre Groupe received $8.5 million in funding from the British Growth Fund and Lloyds Bank. At the same time, the company announced the appointment of David Milner, former CEO of Tyrrells, who came on board as non-executive chairman. These moves are part of an ambitious growth strategy to increase penetration in existing markets and introduce new products.
St Pierre Groupe has achieved significant growth since 2010, increasing in annual sales from $20 million in 2010 to $87 million in 2018. The company is forecast to double its turnover in the next three years to $200 million by 2022.
“U.S. consumers have increasingly adventurous tastes and are looking for new ideas,” says Baker. “Europe has a degree of intrigue and romance linked to it, and European products are known for their high quality. St Pierre has done a great job of bringing these qualities to the U.S., elevating the everyday experience for consumers, providing not just brioche, but delicious, high-quality brioche to elevate great hamburgers and hot dogs, making the overall experience far more enjoyable.”
U.S. consumers differ from those in Europe, particularly regarding different inclusions. “For example, chocolate, as an inclusion in brioche, has not gained popularity in the U.S. as it has in Europe,” says Baker. “Equally, apple, cinnamon and pumpkin are very popular inclusions in the U.S., but not in Europe. In terms of product format, U.S. consumers favor sliders and hot dog rolls more than their European cousins.” St Pierre is developing and launching products with these different consumer preferences in mind.
St Pierre has released a number of products exclusively for the U.S. market. “Product innovation is a core strength of St Pierre, and we successfully adapt European bakery to American tastes,” says Baker. “Examples would be our St Pierre Brioche Slider Buns, individually wrapped Cinnamon Rolled Crêpe and Cinnamon Brioche Swirl. We also have some very exciting launches we’ve been working on with the U.S. consumer in mind. We’re planning to launch these throughout the coming year.”
The rising popularity of brioche in U.S. restaurants has also helped drive interest in St Pierre products at retail. “With more than 250 percent menu growth over the last 10 years, brioche now appears on over 15 percent of menus, featured mostly as burger buns, as well as in French toast, breakfast sandwiches and desserts,” notes Baker.
“When it comes to product development, we look at what’s trending and driving consumer purchasing behavior,” says Baker. “These trends have clearly influenced a lot of our new products, especially the new On the Go range. While all Americans have adopted on-the-go lifestyles, we really see Gen Z leading the snacking craze.” Convenient, individually wrapped, single-serve items make on-the-go snacking throughout the day easy.
“We saw an opportunity to elevate the European Bakery category,” says Baker. “We wanted to make classic European baked goods like brioche and croissants more accessible to the American consumer. We see St Pierre as an aspirational brand for today’s bakery consumers. Most bakery brands trade on heritage, tradition and location. We represent a lifestyle that incorporates great quality and authentic tasting delicacies.”
St Pierre Groupe has seen a period of rapid growth and innovation, and Baker notes that now it’s time to assess the company’s position and build on its foundations. “We will be pushing out our distribution to reach more U.S. consumers. We will continue to innovate, constantly adapting to meet the changing needs of the U.S. consumer in this extremely exciting market.”
Want more? Check out previous Bakery of the Year winners.