CNA recently reported that traditional bakeries in Singapore are dwindling due to rising costs and competition from bakery chains. Support for bakers is also urgently needed to help address manpower shortage and succession issues.
Despite these challenges, Bread Story, a bakery with over 20 years’ history, is standing strong. It’s second-generation owners, sisters Connie, Jessie and Doris Ng, are now ready to take over the reins.
Starting from scratch
Connie’s journey as a baker started out by helping at her family’s bakery at the age of 20. She shared: “I was unsure of what to do after graduating from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). So I decided to try baking. At the same time, I also didn’t want my parents to be so tired.”
Connie’s parents work at the bakery full-time, along with around 15 workers at two outlets in Telok Blangah. Connie’s second sister Jessie also works in the bakery, while eldest sister Doris handles the administrative work and online orders.
Despite her passion for baking, Connie confessed that the learning curve was steep and support for bakers is very important.
“I had zero baking experience, so I learned everything from scratch,” she explained. This meant working at the bakery for six days a week, learning baking from her father during the day while juggling cashiering duties. At night, she returns home and learns accounting from her mother.
Operational Challenges at Bread Story
Bread Story sells a variety of products including mooncakes, Chinese New Year goodies and cakes. Photo Credit: Bread Story
Bread Story produces a wide array of products ranging from kuehs, cakes and pastries. They also make mooncakes and Chinese New Year pastries such as pineapple tarts.
All the products sold in the bakery are hand-made, which makes the entire process time-consuming and labour-intensive. In addition, the ageing equipment also affected the baking process.
“Our ovens were so old that we had to use a screw to control the oven’s temperature because the control knobs had fallen off! We also had to manually spray water to lower the oven’s temperature, this is dangerous because our staff might get burnt,” Connie shared.
As a result of the old ovens, bread was often burnt so Connie and her team had to look for a new solution. A learning journey to Taiwan to learn the latest developments in the baking industry gave the Bread Story team a solution to their problems.
e2i’s support for bakers at Bread Story
During the trip, Connie’s parents found out that e2i could provide the much-needed help to upgrade their ovens.
Connie leapt at the opportunity and applied for e2i’s funding under the WorkPro Job Redesign Grant. The grant provides support for bakers by funding Bread Story with 80% of the cost of the new S$20,000 oven.
Connie is looking forward to the industrial oven arriving.
The WorkPro scheme is jointly developed by MOM and the Workforce Singapore (WSG) in consultation with SNEF and NTUC. As part of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), e2i is an official Programme Partner appointed to market and administer WorkPro. WorkPro helps employers to implement progressive employment practices to benefit local older workers through job redesign, age management practices and flexible work arrangements.
Besides redesigning work processes to make jobs easier, smarter and safer for older workers, the WorkPro Job Redesign Grant also aims to increase the pay of older workers. Connie’s senior bakers received a pay increment, in tandem with e2i’s focus on employee productivity.
Adapting to the future
In 2 – 3 years, the three sisters will be taking over their parents’ bakeries.
Connie revealed her plans for the future: “I want to expand to the town area as the people there are more receptive to new products.”
“The bulk of our customers are neighbourhood uncles and aunties who are less receptive to new products. If we add new ingredients which increase our costs, our selling price will also increase. This will cause our customers to complain, so it is very difficult for us to upgrade our products.”
Nonetheless, Connie and her team try creative ways to improve their products. For instance, they noticed that products with sausages are highly popular, so they create new products with sausages.
To ensure that the bakery remains competitive, Bread Story renovated its premises three years’ ago to give the bakery a modern look.
“We added LED lights to better showcase our products,” Connie shared.
Connie also recommended improving the bakery’s packaging to make it more aesthetically pleasing.
Ultimately, Connie is confident about Bread Story’s products.
“I’ve tried the bread from other bakeries as market research and I’m confident of our bread’s taste.”
Baker 4.0: Support for Bakers of the future
200 trade professionals in the bakery and confectionery industry pledged to upskill and deepen their skill sets to become Baker 4.0 at the grand opening of Chillax Asia 2019.
Today’s bakers must adapt to a new normal in the industry.
At the Chillax Asia 2019 event on 25 July 2019, NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng shared that consumers are more discerning and demanding as they are exposed to a greater variety of offerings. Chillax Asia 2019 is a three-day industry event and forum organised by The Planner Affairs, with strong participation from many stakeholders in the food, bakery and beverage sector.
Beyond greater consumer expectations, today’s bakers also have advanced technology at their disposal. These new technologies such as programmable auto mixers help to reduce the time and increase production quantity for bakers so that they can focus on innovating.
Chef Judy Koh, the Secretary-General of the Singapore Bakery and Confectionery Trade Association (SBCTA) echoed similar sentiments.
“Bakers in the past used traditional methods and worked long hours. Now that we have new technology, it can relieve bakers from mundane duties so that they can create innovative products.”
More support for bakers
To help bakers evolve with times, e2i conducted a survey to identify the skills gaps. They surveyed over 100 professional bakers, food and beverage management, as well as members of the public.
The findings showed that management and baking professionals wanted three key skills. They are customer service experience, inventory management, and cost and quality management. Additionally, our industry professionals also wanted to acquire nutritional knowledge.
To provide better support for bakers, e2i and the SBCTA developed a professional bakery course. Conducted by Creative Culinaire, it covers topics such as bakery management, nutrition and food allergies. They will also share ways to adapt and innovate to meet the demands of the 21st century.
The course originally runs for 14 days. However, it was not operationally feasible for bakery staff to be away for such a long duration, especially for small bakeries with limited manpower. As a result, Chef Judy listened to ground needs and adapted the course to 3-day modules spread over a certain time frame to allow more flexibility.
If you are a Singapore-registered company that wants to improve your workers’ productivity or need help with your employees’ training, contact e2i’s industry specialists today to find out how they can customise training programmes or provide assistance for your business challenges.
By Elena Owyong