It sounds so easy. Take an old business principle such as “time is money,” turn it upside down, then breathe life into it and you will soon be bathing in success.
Ever since 2012-founded German bread-baking company Time for Bread has done just that, the Berlin-based company has been in such high demand that it has opened more shops in Hamburg, Frankfurt and Cologne.
This stands in stark contrast to the trend that even old and renowned German bakeries — famous for vast and different loaf varieties as compared to French, British or Swiss bread assortments — have undergone in the last decade. In 2011, Germany was home to almost 14,200 independent bakeries, while 10 years later, the number has fallen to just more than 10,150, employing 265,000 people. For a long time, the number of business failures was the only thing rising.
So, what is it that Time for Bread does better, and how can United States food producers learn from it?
Actually, its strategy sounds ever so simple, but it takes some courage as it’s in contrast with some of the current globalization megatrends such as the thinking that big, bigger and biggest is best.
In principle, Time for Bread joins a revival of the good old ways of doing things, namely, cherishing the tricks of the trade of an old tradition and adding a little bit of zeitgeist (the spirit of the time) to it. In practice, that means that when a customer enters one of its locations, it is not just a shop but an entire bakery where everybody and everything is on display.
Behind a glass wall, which separates the bakers from the sales assistants and customers, traditional bakery devices are on view: a dough press, a dough mixer and an oven. And, of course, there are the ingredients, which are all organic and regionally sourced. The last ingredient, time, is added to the breads, rolls and cakes so they’re able to rise to their full potential. For instance, a sourdough bread is given the full 24 hours it needs to become crusty on the outside and chewy and tangy on the inside.
Naturally, other products take less time, but it is just this bit of precious time that customers seem quite willing to invest in as they watch the dough being kneaded and baked in front of them.
The other added value Time for Bread offers is a human connection and closeness in a world that seems to be becoming more and more virtual and increasingly run by artificial intelligence. Baking behind a glass wall not only offers transparency but also allows peace and quiet and care to be part of the process, and clearly meets some of the needs of the modern and very diverse urban clientele.
Overall, the approach Time for Bread has taken represents a break from what people have grown accustomed to: frozen, industrially pre-made doughs, which are delivered to big supermarket chains where they get stuffed into big ovens.There are other lessons here for food producers when it comes to safety and quality. As the whole business concept of Time for Bread keeps its focus on the regions where the shops are located, it means that the transportation of ingredients between farmers and bakers are short and direct, resulting in products that are fresh.
This provides a few advantages: It ensures that carbon emissions are kept low, which is more friendly to the environment. It keeps prices low thanks to reduced packaging and marketing costs, and it stimulates local employment.
Time for Bread basically revives an old economic model: The environment around a city provides for its inhabitants and not some country on a faraway continent. This way, the social relationships between producers, traders and customers get re-established, and moreover, deepens the cultural heritage of a region and not just some of its old regional recipes of bread.
Time for Bread’s triumphs are a teachable moment for anyone making food for a living. Transparency (of ingredient origins, production methods and more) leads to sincere customer appreciation and devotion for a product. That level of trust, connecting the farmer, baker and customer, is a recipe for success.