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#ComeBackStronger: how changing consumer buying patterns optimised opportunities

BBF Limited is one of the leading ambient cake and chilled dessert manufacturers in the UK, supplying multiple leading UK and international supermarkets with everything from tempting tarts and festive favourites, to celebration cakes and small indulgent treats, plus more.

As the world went into lockdown, the key workers of the food industry had to brace themselves for one of their busiest periods to-date and, while workloads increased, consumer buying habits changed dramatically in the face of a global pandemic.

For our latest instalment of #ComeBackStronger, we caught up with CEO of BBF Limited, Jonathan Lill, about how he prepared his team for the challenges presented by COVID-19, while keeping their health, safety and wellbeing front of mind, and meeting increasing customer demand. This is what he had to say.

How are you accelerating company growth in the current climate?

In recent months the market has changed dramatically and while it has been challenging to navigate for most businesses including ourselves, changing consumer buying patterns have presented us with new exciting opportunities.

More consumers are buying online than ever before, and also larger pack sizes, so ensuring our product offering is more suited to this new pattern has been a huge priority for us. We’ve been reviewing our packaging sizes, to ensure they’re suitable for online delivery and are futureproof as the world continues to transition to a more digital approach to shopping.

Where do you see your future opportunities lying?

In addition to the online piece, we’ve been exploring direct to consumer opportunities – a channel we didn’t previously operate in, but need to consider as times change.

We’re also constantly looking for ways to be more efficient and to make life easier for our customers. We’ve had to adapt as retailers initially reduced their range of products on shelf to satisfy huge demand, but now in the new norm, the full range is back but in selected stores, suited to their local shoppers.  

Additionally, even during a pandemic, we recognised it was incredibly important to continue our commitment to new product development (NPD) and to quickly respond to changing trends. We have some exciting things in the pipeline, which we’re expecting to be a real hit with consumers, so watch this space.

What are you most optimistic about?

The food industry has proven to be incredibly resilient, which makes us feel very optimistic about the future. The whole sector pulled together with the supermarkets during a time of global crisis and responded to meet the needs of consumers quickly and efficiently.  

We ensured there was food on the shelves in supermarkets and remained flexible for our customers, adapting to changing consumer demand as needed. While we have sadly moved into recessionary times and it is very hard for many across the board, it’s clear that in the midst of everything, people are still looking for an indulgent treat here and there – and that’s not going to change.

What are you looking forward to implementing/changing?

As the landscape has changed significantly in recent months, we’re going to continue focusing on refining our packaging developments – which we have had a great response on from customers to-date.  

Both our customers and their consumers want to see things change and evolve quickly, and we’re very much aligned with their priorities. Reducing BBF’s carbon footprint remains a growing area of importance for us. We are committed to sustainable manufacturing and have numerous initiatives in place such as energy reduction, plastic reduction and increased recycling all to ensure our impact on the environment is minimal.

What opportunities have arisen?

The health and wellbeing of our employees and their families has continued to be the highest priority for us. We’ve implemented a range of safety measures, including social distancing, access to additional PPE and installing screens for those who work in close proximity in our bakeries together, with remote working for those who can. Additionally, we understand that the last few months have been challenging, so we’ve given all employees access to Headspace, to support their mental and physical wellbeing and reduce the stress of the current situation.

We have also been adapting our ways of working, with our head office staff transitioning to working from home, while our bakery teams have been doing amazingly well on the ground, meeting customer demand and getting quality product on the shelves on time.

We will shortly start supplying some of our range of products through a new channel and we’ve also been exploring other new exciting avenues over the past few months, which will hopefully come to fruition in the coming months.

How are you remaining positive?

The food industry has proven incredibly robust and new opportunities continue to arise for us. 

We have a great team, baking great products and we’ve ensured our service levels remain above 99%+, while keeping everyone safe.

How are you maintaining a work/life balance and ensuring family time?

It has been an incredibly challenging time at work for everyone, and I’m no different, so it has been hard for me to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Historically, I have been used to spending a lot of time away from home during the week, but with travel restrictions in place, it has been great to go home each night and annoy the kids!

I’m very fortunate to have an amazing team around me, which has enabled the company to quickly adapt and adhere to the rapidly changing circumstances.

What have been your key learnings from the last few months?

Make a change and make it quickly! Change can sometimes be very difficult, but the entire BBF team have been absolutely unbelievable! Our people have proven strong, flexible and pragmatic, we’ve all adapted to new ways of working very quickly and really have done a phenomenal job under the circumstances.

What else are you doing to prepare for the future?

We have been working on lots of exciting new opportunities and products, which we look forward to rolling out over the coming months.


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