Just as essential as yeast is to a perfectly risen loaf of bread, the six McErlain brothers, Adrian, John, Paul, Seamus, Brian and Damian, have proven to be vital ingredients in the success of the one of Northern Ireland’s most booming bakeries, Genesis Crafty.
The family bakery has risen higher and higher since their parents set up shop in Magherafelt, County Down in 1968, and Mrs McErlain’s principle to never sell anything you wouldn’t love to eat yourself continues to ring loudly in her son’s ears. An attitude that’s ingrained in every loaf, scone, pancake and jam tart that leaves the bakery, whether it proudly sports a Genesis Crafty label, or that of a major retailer like Marks & Spencer, Tesco, or Sainsbury’s.
We spoke to Managing Director Brian McErlain about how Crafty Genesis has grown from the small bakery next door to the family home on Church Street, to a 24/7 operation employing over 200 people, all the while continuing to make baked goods as close to homemade as you can get.
Aged 39 to 55, each of the McErlain brothers did their time working in the bakery every Saturday, sometimes after school, and during each school holiday, and over the course of twenty years, one by one, all six joined the bakery full-time. Six brothers, six bakers; it started out as simple as that.
Just as Brian’s role has evolved, each brother has found their own niche within the business. Paul is now the Business Development Manager, and Adrian manages deliveries and dispatch. John and Seamus both continue to get hands on in the bakery working as New Product Development Director and Process Improvement Manager. While Damian, the HR and Technical Director, is also on the bakery floor daily ensuring all technical functions run smoothly.
Be it in baker’s whites or a suit, whatever the job, they all still working together everyday in the bakery. “My father at 78 is still active in the business too,” Brian notes.
Brian says sticking to age-old recipes and traditional methods is their recipe for success. “The main thing that sets us apart from our competition is that we are still a hand crafted bakery. There are not many, if any, other bakeries that can produce the volume of product we do whilst maintaining a hand crafted approach. And it is this hand crafted approach that makes our products superior in taste and texture which is the main focus of everything we do.”
“All of our products benefit from being made by hand rather than machine produced but in different ways. In general though, producing by hand ensures a lighter, more aerated product. It also allows our bakers greater control and visibility of the product which also helps ensure consistently high quality.”
Their commitment to flipping every pancake and cutting every scone by hand, and most importantly the taste, meant the word about Genesis Crafty spread like butter on hot toast. In 1982 they signed their first contract to supply Wellworths, one of the largest retailers in Northern Ireland at the time, and soon they were keeping the likes of Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s well stocked with the staples of Northern Irish teatime.
In 2010, Genesis Crafty joined an elite Northern Ireland group, receiving Marks & Spencer food supplier accreditation. Brian says this has been one of the highlights in the bakery’s long history, and, most recently, they supplied the top retailer with a selection of tartlets for their Spirit of Summer collection.
Despite the scale of production, Brian insists no corners, or crusts, are cut when it comes to the quality of ingredients. “Where possible we source all of our ingredients locally. Our core ingredients such as flour, milk, eggs etc. are easily sourced from excellent local suppliers.”
And how do they continue to uphold their hands on approach? Just add more hands says Brian. “Although we produce around 400,000 retail units per week, we pride ourselves in maintaining a hand crafted approach. Our bakery is very much like a scaled up kitchen with the only real exception being the packaging equipment. In terms of producing our products, our bakers are still hands on, flipping every pancake by hand, kneading our scones, baps and rolls and delicately finishing our cakes by hand.”
With growth comes change. To meet demand, in 1993 they moved to a new bakery in the town, and Brian says they are currently undergoing a massive re-vamp of the bakery: “This should keep us going to the next 20 years.”
They have undergone a name change too; moving from the original McErlain’s Family Bakery to Genesis Crafty, which Brian says “is about being creative in a craft centred way.”
Traditional baking continues to be their bread and butter says Brian. “Our best-selling product would be our wheaten breads. We produce Sliced Oven Wheaten and Toaster Wheaten within the Genesis Crafty brand, with 50% of all wheaten breads sold in Northern Ireland being one of these 2 products.”
But he adds that staying fresh is just as important, and with an emphasis on innovation they never let the range go stale. The likes of Banoffee and Lemon Meringue Tartlets have joined the traditional Irish breads and bakes and seasonal favourites, including their famous mince pies; so good that they beat stiff competition to chosen by Marks & Spencer as their national supplier.
“John heads up our NPD team who work on developing all new products,” says Brian. “We begin the process by carrying out research development trips and looking at trends in the bakery world through data or market reports etc. NPD is a hugely important area within the business where we are constantly working with our customers such as M&S. For that reason nearly every department within the business is involved through the intensive process which can take anything from 12 weeks to 12 months in duration.”
Just as well stocked as their delivery vans is their trophy cabinet. Genesis Crafty has accumulated more than a baker’s dozen of awards and accolades, including a national British Baking Industry Award, almost too many Great Taste awards to count, and was named UK Independent Bread Business of the Year and one of Ireland’s Best Managed companies by Deloitte.
Genesis Crafty’s commitment to excellence across every aspect of the business, from their scones to their supply chain, saw profits rise by 8%, and sales peak at £16m in 2016. Now, that’s what you call flour power.
For more information on Genesis Crafty visit www.genesiscrafty.com.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after a brief dalliance with law, she completed a Master’s degree in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.