Bakers from up and down the land flocked to Manchester for Bakers’ Fair, to glean some crucial tips in readiness for the run-up to Christmas. Machinery, ingredients, drinks, packaging and software systems suppliers were on hand to offer advice on the latest developments in the trade, while a line-up of industry experts took to the stage.Surviving the tough timesMike Holling, commercial director of bakery chain Birds of Derby, shared his insights with a crowd of onlookers on how to survive a recession on the high street. He said that despite the current climate being the most difficult he’s ever experienced, “there will always be a market to sell quality products”.A rethink on marketing, from placing products to best effect to image rebranding, is the first step to recognising your strengths and weaknesses, he said. “You should assess your business from your customers’ eyes,” he added. “Look for what you’re doing right as well as wrong. Make sure your shop’s external appearance is in good order this is the first impression your customer will see. “Do the contents of your window display catch your customers’ eyes?” he asked. “Are you fully utilising the space available? Are you portraying a bright, clean environment? And if you’re using point-of-sale, is it up to date? Identify your USPs and make sure your customers know them.”Holling also urged visitors to get involved with campaigns such as National Craft Bakers’ Week and National Cupcake Week.Paul Jenkinson, MD of Yorkshire Hemp, spoke of the many uses of hemp, which is rich in Omega 3, 6 and 9 and is high in protein, vitamin E, minerals and fibre. The seeds can be compressed to make an oil. Once the seeds are pressed, you’re left with a cake that can be used for many things such as hemp flour and gives a slightly nutty flavour. Shelled hempseeds could be used in flapjacks, muffins and salads, and the ingredient currently features in a spelt and hemp Ryvita. Hemp is an environmentally friendly product as it doesn’t need pesticides and fertilisers to be produced. Jenkinson added that, on price terms, it would be comparable to adding nuts to bakery.The National Association of Master Bakers’ (NAMB) salt specialist Anthony Kindred told visitors that current results from samples taken by Trading Standards on behalf of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) showed there was a wide variation in salt levels among craft bakers. The NAMB is now trialling recipes with bakers and is able to declare that 2012 targets are achievable. It is also undertaking a project with the FSA that will help bakers undertstand how much salt is in their bread.Current recipes use about 2% salt, and work out at around 1.4g per 100g baked loaf, so Kindred said bakers would have to revise their recipes to achieve FSA targets of 1.1g. “The best way to make changes without losing sales is by gradual change,” he advised, recommending a period of six months for bakers to reduce salt in bread, with a gradual reduction every two months. Other flavours, such as malt or olive oil, could be used to improve the flavour, he added.”Lower salt levels mean the yeast works faster. Cut salt and, after adding an improver, it’s ready even quicker and will go off quicker, especially in the summer months. If so, you could cut improvers to 0.5%.”Jane Tyler, MD of RedBlack Software, which was launching version 3 of its CyBake software, said it could help bakers keep control of credit during these tough trading times. “Everybody knows that cash is king, and cash is moving very slowly around the system at the moment it’s a pain for everybody,” she said. “Any system you’ve got should be helping you manage your cash and credit control. Our system has tools to reprint an invoice very quickly and send it via email. We’ve also included reminders if a cheque doesn’t arrive on the promised date. There is a full credit control function, so that you can see all invoices that are due or overdue. You can see any conversations you’ve had with suppliers. It’s all about helping you with that very important job of getting cash in.”Meanwhile, around the show, Elaine Hamey and Lisa Smith of Peter Herd of Wilmslow wowed the gathering visitors by winning the President’s Challenge Cup after being challenged on the day to make a circus-themed celebration cake as part of the Richemont Club competitions. And the Best in Show accolade went to Richard Griffiths of Glovers Bakery for his outstanding Multigrain Cob.