Interviews

The Great British Bake Off offers a recipe for success for SMEs like Biscuiteers

8 min read

07 October 2015

As the hit BBC show draws to a close once more, we look at how Biscuiteers has channeled the nation's love of cakes, cookies and croissants to produce a fast-growing business stocking retailers such as Harrods and Fortnum & Mason.

It’s one of the greatest television phenomena of recent years and has prompted millions of people from around the country to rediscover the delights of baking, but The Great British Bake Off – which is expected to draw record numbers for tonight’s final – has also had a hugely positive effect on the UK’s SMEs.

Companies House data reveals a remarkable 51 per cent rise in the number of baking-related businesses set up since The Great British Bake Off was first broadcast.

Typical of these is Biscuiteers which was founded by Harriet Hastings and her husband Stevie Congdon. “We came up with the idea for Biscuiteers on a weekend in New York,” said Hastings. 

The couple were convinced that there were lots of people other than themselves who really loved biscuits and that there was a gap in the market for an online biscuit gift business that would offer biscuits that looked beautiful and tasted good. “Biscuits that people would want to talk about,” is how she described them.

The couple were already in the catering business, and so in 2007 they began to use their professional kitchens to test recipes. The existing business also provided initial investment and acted as an incubator for Biscuiteers. 

However, the couple have still focussed on cash flow. “It tends to be the thing that kills small businesses,” explained Hasting, who is an O2 Business ambassador. “Because I look after that aspect of the business, the other most important thing to making a business successful is the marketing.”

The plan was to use premium ingredients and call them “collections”, to make a connection with the glamour of fashion industry and to allow them to refresh the offering frequently. Having launched in September 2007, such was demand that by November of that year they had to move to a proper bakery.

The flexibility and variety that iced biscuits offer allow for a constant variety of different lines. All biscuits are handmade and bakers are encouraged to contribute their own ideas for recipes and designs.

“It’s hugely creative,” added Hastings of Biscuiteers. “One of the great things about running a small business is you have the capacity to give people the ability to explore their ideas and run with them in a way that in some large businesses may not be possible. It’s also pretty frenetic – the speed at which things happen is pretty fast.”

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There are other challenges too. “The particular nature of the business we created, which is an artisanal business, means that one of the big and interesting thing we’re doing is scaling up what is basically a completely handmade production line. Just to get the volume that we need has been really interesting, we’ve literally had to create our own processes and equipment, because really nothing existed like this.”

The marketing operation has developed as the business has grown. “We use an increasingly wide range of marketing techniques,” said Hastings. “When we started we relied quite heavily on traditional media and PR because that’s a very cost effective way to reach customers. But as we’ve got bigger we’re relying more heavily on digital marketing techniques to talk to customers as well.”

Brand associations and collaborations have also helped promote the brand. The company recently collaborated with handbag designer Anya Hindmarch to create a tin of her handbags and a circus tin exclusively for the Conran Shop. Other projects include a limited edition tin to celebrate Selfridges’ 100th anniversary and bespoke biscuits for the launch of Harvey Nichols 4th floor.

The company has also worked to develop bespoke designs for brands such as Mulberry, Boden, Swatch and Burberry among others. Collections for private parties, weddings, christenings, baby showers and birthday parties also provide a constant stream of work.

“It’s amazing how creative you can be with quite a small budget, and I think one of the things that happens to large businesses oddly is that they lose sight of the ability to do that,” says Hastings. “I’m always looking constantly into how to get more value out of the things that we’re doing – particularly in marketing. Marketing is one of our biggest areas of expenditure, also one of the most flexible, obviously there is a cost to production but on the marketing side we’re really looking at what we can do without really spending money – and it’s amazing what you can do if you come at it from that sort of angle.”

In 2010 the company published its first book “The Biscuiteers Book of Iced Biscuits”. It has since been translated into a number of languages and has introduced the brand to a worldwide audience. 

Biscuiteers are now available in Fortnum & Mason, Harrods and the Conran Shop, as well as Colette and le Grand Epicerie in Paris. Since then the company has started retailing from its own stores. In 2012 it opened the Biscuit Boutique & Icing Cafe in Notting Hill, London, followed by another branch in Battersea last December.

So where does Hastings want Biscuiteers to be in three years time? “Well, bigger,” she said simply. “We’re definitely running the business for growth. There are different ways to run businesses but we’re running ours for growth. We’re building out the multi-channel concept through shops and I think in three years we would expect to have more outlets and possibly slightly different formats and we’re also looking at international licensing quite closely.”

With the current baking set to continue there are opportunities for Biscuiteers and other cake, biscuit and patisserie entrepreneurs to find their own recipe for success.