Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery was recently able to talk to Josh Allen, founder, Companion Baking, about creating bread programs for businesses.
Liz Parker: How does Companion assist restaurants and grocers that do not have access to the ingredients and equipment needed for artisanal baking?
Josh Allen: At Companion we know our customers want a bread program they can call their own. In order to do that, they need to find a baker that will make bread specially for them. Since 1993, we’ve worked with James Beard winners, fast-casual start-ups, and established multi-unit grocers to help them create affordable and accessible bread programs. We do that through a collaborative process of listening and solving problems. We believe the best craft/artisan baked goods are those made with intention. We also believe strongly in helping our customers tell their story through our products. Par baked, thaw & sell, retail ready—we’re willing to address the needs of our customers once we understand their particular challenges, be it special table bread, sandwich buns, or private label sliced sandwich breads.
Our small batch approach allows us to be incredibly nimble and reactive—which has been extremely valuable to both us and our customers during the pandemic. We recognize that labor and supply chain disruption is not going away any time soon. We fill a very valuable role in helping our customers overcome those challenges through a streamlined development process, a strong understanding of the distribution supply chain, and a willingness to explore smaller opportunities with custom products.
LP: How is Companion able to create affordable bread programs for these businesses?
JA: We work directly with our customers every step of the way, from bag of flour to backdoor delivery. By taking a creative approach to logistics, we’ve found many ways to save money for all parties involved without having to compromise on quality or approachability of the bread. We can address distribution channel, pack size, and packaging, all with the aim of removing cost barriers from the process. We’re passionate about not only making a great product, but making sure it gets to our customers how, when, and at what price they want it.
LP: How have consumer trends changed during the pandemic?
JA: Foodservice: Portability has become a much bigger part of the equation as to-go food and delivery services have increased in relevancy. A great sandwich has to be able to travel well these days.
Grocery: As consumers have prioritized stretching out the time between trips to the store, shelf life has become more critical. Companion offers all natural, clean-label solutions for extended shelf on sandwich breads and take-and-bake items. Plus, with our baked goods arriving in stores frozen, the operator has much greater flexibility.
LP: How have restaurant trends changed?
JA: Even before the pandemic, we were seeing a casualization of the dining experience. Customers have been looking to have the whole experience be more comfortable—which has played out not only in how they dress for dinner, but also in what they’re looking for on the menu. More and more award-winning chefs have been opening casual and quick serve concepts for great food served with a bit less stuffiness. From the baker’s vantage point, that means more sandwiches, different table bread (oversized hearth breads, homestyle rolls, cornbread), and less-finished desserts (brownies and bars with soft-serve ice cream and cookie plates).
LP: What are some examples of unique or customized bread programs that Companion’s restaurant partners have used or would like to use?
JA: A 35-unit group of upscale Italian restaurants wanted an artisanal bread to serve alongside their housemade focaccia in order to both add to guest experience and to reduce the pressure on the kitchen to produce so many sheets of focaccia. We worked diligently to create a special multigrain ciabatta that fit beautifully with their overall concept and also satisfied the customer that was looking for a more rustic bread and a healthier option in the bread basket.
Another example is with a multi-unit deli operator that had been purchasing a stock frozen item for their toasted sandwich concept. They were ready for something uniquely their own that would complement the care and attention that had put into crafting their widely popular menu. We ultimately created a sub bun with semolina flour and a touch of extra virgin olive oil that toasts nicely in their conveyor ovens and that travels well while maintaining its crispness.
We also work with a 17-unit coffee concept that serves lots and lots of avocado toast every morning. Their culinary team came to us for just the right multigrain toasting bread. Hand finishing and hearth baking gives their bread perfect the crust and crumb they were looking for.
We work closely with an award-winning restaurateur with a number of different brands was searching for the right burger bun to use across a variety of concepts. By tweaking a traditional Brioche and adjusting the percentages of butter and eggs in the final bun, we were able to develop a product that grills nicely, travels well, and holds up to fat in their house-ground smash burgers.