Baking a difference: helping the helpers
Like countless other small businesses across the country, Australia’s first social enterprise bakery, The Bread & Butter Project, has felt the impact of COVID-19.
Normally operating as a wholesale bakery which uses 100% of its profits to support training and job opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers in Sydney, the business saw a need to expand beyond supplying cafés and workplaces, many of which are currently closed.
The bakery has undertaken a complete pivot in its business model to now supply to Woolworths Metro stores directly to ensure it can keep its doors open and continue providing high-quality sourdough breads and pastries over the coming months.
“In the second half of March, our café and restaurant sales fell by more than half – as the impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry hit hard,” says The Bread & Butter Project Chairperson Cindy Carpenter. “While we will continue to supply all our valued partners as soon as the current social distancing restrictions are lifted, we’ve also had to make some quick decisions to ensure our business remains operational in the meantime.”
Within two short weeks, the business shifted from being a largely wholesale enterprise to becoming much more consumer-facing via online retailers and supermarkets.
“We’re very thankful for the backing of Woolworths, who have an interest in refugee employment and responded to our need for more sales by instantly stocking us in 14 of their Metro stores,” Carpenter says. “They’ve also worked hard on our behalf to provide us with a good shelf presence, because we aren’t a well-known consumer brand as yet.”
The Bread & Butter Project is also supplying goods to Harris Farm Markets across Sydney.
A number of new initiatives have been implemented by the business to support this transition to retail, including the making of smaller loaves more suitable for retails sales, as well as moving to retail-friendly packaging and having retail shelf displays made.
“In addition, we’re increasing our in-store merchandising to ensure a strong shelf presence and adding ‘shelf talkers’ that tell our social enterprise story, while seeking to build better brand awareness because we can’t afford to advertise,” Carpenter says.
Another vital outcome of keeping The Bread & Butter Project bakery open is its role in maintaining a much-needed income for its trainees.
“Our trainees have often come to us from environments of political and social upheaval and when they arrive in Australia, many of them aren’t able to use their existing skills and experience in this country,” Carpenter says.
This is where The Bread & Butter Project plays a role in providing an income and a purpose, as well as crucial English language tuition and support.
“By keeping our doors open, we’re keeping people employed who may be on Temporary Protection Visas or other visas, who aren’t eligible for the JobKeeper support program and would struggle to find alternative work in the current circumstances,” Carpenter says.
At present, bread and pastry sales fund about 90% of The Bread & Butter Project’s training and operational costs, with donations funding the remaining 10%, while volunteers and pro bono assistance also help the company achieve its goals.
The Bread & Butter Project’s program sees trainees receive hands-on training in the company’s Marrickville bakery and a TAFE Certificate II in Food Processing, as well as intensive tutoring in English and numeracy. The program has graduated more than 70 professional artisan bakers into employment in Australia’s hospitality industry.
For more information about The Bread & Butter Project, or to find out how to provide support, visit thebreadandbutterproject.com