A manager at a bakery company is celebrating four decades of flour power at the top of the bread business.
Gerry Cassidy, national account manager for Allied Bakeries Ireland — owner of the Allinson, Kingsmill and Burgen brands — joined the then Tip Top bakery in 1970 when he was 15. As a van boy, Mr Cassidy helped ‘the bread man’ with his daily rounds.
He said: “Looking back at the industry in those early days, there were about a dozen big household name bakeries compared to nowadays when there are just three. Selling bread was very personal and direct. Door-to-door sales were vital to the business and we were literally canvassing like politicians to attract new customers to our brands.”
At 17 he learned to drive and became a van supervisor. At 20 he reached management level, making him the youngest manager in the company.
When Tip Top changed its name to Sunblest, Mr Cassidy was in the wholesale team, where as manager he helped make Sunblest’s first sales in the Republic.
Next was the position of national account manager in 1992, by which time the bakery had been acquired by Allied Bakeries.
He said manufacturing methods had changed “beyond recognition” since he started out. “It’s much more technologically advanced these days and less manual — in fact, the first person to actually touch a loaf of Kingsmill is probably the person who is placing it on the shop shelf.
“In terms of manufacturing and sales, there are undoubtedly less jobs than there used to be but more skills and certainly more technology being utilised.”
But the fast-moving nature of the bakery industry kept things interesting.
“We are progressing all the time and Allied Bakeries has invested heavily over the years in equipment and technology to ensure that it remains the biggest bakery in Northern Ireland, but it has managed to retain the feeling of a family bakery.
“As well as myself, many of the staff have been here for a long time and everyone has a real passion for what they do. We really have a great team, from general manager Peter Henry to the guys on the factory floor.
“Over the years, I’ve sold |a long line of brands from |the early days of Tip Top, White Chief and Mighty White to the more recent successes of Sunblest, Kingsmill, Allinson and Burgen.
“The success of Kingsmill |in particular since we introduced it in 1991 has been phenomenal,” Mr Cassidy said. Allied Bakeries Ireland, part of Associated British Foods, employs 380 people at Orby Link in east Belfast.