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Small business Focus - Chuck's Bakery automates to meet increasing demand for Gaza bread

Published:Wednesday | March 26, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Workers at Chuck's Bakery, St Ann. - Contributed
Workers at Chuck's Bakery, St Ann. - Contributed
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 Tameka Gordon, Business Reporter

St Ann-based Chuck's Bakery is spending about J$2 million to expand its operations to capitalise on the increasing demand for its Gaza bread, the popularity of which has been spurred by the challenging economic times currently facing the country, the company said.

The small loaf, a half-pound hardbough bread which retails for $65, was dubbed the Gaza bread by its main consumers, schoolchildren within the parish, "about six years ago", manager of Chuck's Bakery, Opal Ilgner, told Wednesday Business.

Spurred by the popularity of the bread among its wards, Ilgner said school administrators began ordering the item for their tuck shops in a bid "to get the children off the road," since they would visit the bakery daily to buy bread and butter.

popularity

"It has become so popular over the years that we can hardly supply the demand we have now. I think it has to do with the overall state of the economy, because the bread is so small and inexpensive, people just find it easier to buy it for a meal," Ilgner said, noting that the Gaza bread is also a hit with adults.

Chuck's Bakery manufactures breads, buns and bullas, said Ilgner, who took a leading role in the operations of the company traditionally run by her mother, Hazel Chuck, about three years ago.

The company bought a dough divider and a dough moulder, each of which cost "just under US$9,000", to automate its production which was previously done by hand in order to fill the increasing orders, Chuck said.

The expansion was offset by funds the older operator had "saved up specifically to buy the new equipment".

"I'm just trying to meet the demand right now," Ilgner said of the increased demand for the product.

She said the company at first rejected the labelling of its small bread as the Gaza bread, "but we realised we have to run with it because everybody calls it that".

seeking new markets

With current production of the bread at just over 30,000 loaves weekly, Ilgner projects increased production of at least 50 per cent by using the new equipment.

She said the company is also seeking to add new markets, but does not see exportation of its products on the cards in the medium term.

"Once we have everything regularised and we are confident of the quality, then we will explore new markets, for example, in Falmouth and Brown's Town," said Ilgner.

The operators hope to also include a line of pastry, rock cakes and sliced cakes, aimed also at its present markets.

"Before we got the machines, it was tedious for the staff to make the amount we need, so we are analysing the demand to match what we need to produce," the businesswoman said.

Staff was further increased to 20 from the previous 10, some of whom were trained to use the new equipment with assistance from another bakery, Ilgner said.

To aid its repositioning, the company has also gone green. A $7.2 million loan from the Export Import Bank of Jamaica will be used to install solar panels "to make us more energy efficient", Ilgner said, noting that all aspects of the factory's operations were energy intensive.

going green

With the installation of the new equipment, the company has seen a 15 per cent increase in electricity costs.

Of the expected savings, Ilgner said the company hopes to sell its excess electricity to the national grid and obtain credits towards future electricity bills. The solar systems should also "pay for themselves in about five years".

For Ilgner, the switch to solar power "is the responsible thing to do and more companies should do that to reduce the cost of production and remain viable".

Chuck's Bakery was opened in 1958 by Robert and Gloria Chuck, but was bought by Hazel and husband Alfred Chuck, when the owners migrated. The bakery operates from a single location, retailing its products from the factory as well as through contracted distributors tasked with taking the products to mom and pop stores as well as schools within the parish.

tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com