Whole wheat wonder

Company profile: Hartog’s Volkoren

With his passion for product and dedication to doing things the old-fashioned way, Amsterdam baker Fred Tiggelman weighs the benefits of happiness vs. success.

When Tiggelman took over Hartog’s Volkoren Bakkerij en Maalderij in 1997, the former family business was just over a century old, with a well-established reputation for its whole wheat bread in Amsterdam. With his passion, drive and unfailing gut-instinct, Tiggelman turned the business into an award-winning brand and arguably Amsterdam’s  most famous bakery, which serves some 2,000 customers per day from two outlets with an oven capacity for up to 3,000 breads per day. There’s a bakery and shop with the authentic Hartog’s atmosphere on Ruyschstraat and around the corner on busy Wibautstraat, a modern bakery with additional production space, a baking school and a sandwich shop and café.

Affordable appeal

Today, the specialist whole wheat bakery produces a wide range of whole wheat products, including 10 varieties of bread and seasonal stollen (fruited breads with an almond paste filling). Dutch whole wheat bread, Hartog’s undisputed star seller couldn’t be purer or simpler. Made with salt, tap water, live yeast and 100% whole wheat, which is milled on-site daily (with no bread improvers, preservatives or other additives), the dense Dutch bread with its distinctively square shape accounts for around 50% of the bakery’s output, selling at EUR 1.95 (unsliced) per loaf.
Other bread varieties, such as krentenbrood (raisin bread containing almost 50% raisins) and spelt bread (made with 100% spelt flour) make up an additional 20% of production, while whole wheat rolls and -pastries including almond speculaas cookies, croissants, sausage rolls, spelt-cherry muffins and oliebollen (seasonal Dutch fritters that are said to be the precursor of the doughnut) make up an additional 20% of the production. Other products include packs of housemade whole wheat crackers, peanut butter, honey and jam, bags of freshly milled flour, sandwiches, coffee and orange juice.
After running out of production capacity, Tiggelman went on the hunt for a second location nearby, because he hates commuting. He found one practically next door and while a bigger location under one roof would have been more ideal, he says the two locations reinforce one another. The bakery now has 50 staff members, including  12 in production, 35 sales people and 3 office workers. With the added square metres, the bakery could now increase its production and serve more customers, but you can still walk from one facility to the other within a minute.  The extra space has allowed Hartog to extend its brand to an on-site sandwich shop,  which Tiggelman calls “our clubhouse”.  The concept, which debuted in 2008, has proven popular in Amsterdam’s up-and-coming Oost, a neighbourhood teeming with students, who can afford the competitively priced sandwiches, which range from EUR 0.95 for a raisin bun with butter to EUR 3.95 for a whole wheat baguette with tuna salad.

From trash to treasure

They say one man’s trash is another’s treasure. This has never been more true than at Hartog’s, which often purchases and refurbishes other bakeries’ old or unloved equipment. While giving old bakery equipment a second life is certainly admirable from a sustainability point of view, the truth is that in addition to the obvious cost advantage (with savings of around 70%) much of the modern equipment is simply not suitable for Hartog’s recipes.  Tiggelman tells, “Recently we had to replace our worn-out dough divider, which had served us faithfully for thirty years. We replaced it with a DAUB dough divider, which uses a vacuum pump to divide the dough, but it couldn’t cope with our dough and broke down several times a day. Finally, we had our own equipment custom-made, based on the design of our old one. After some trial and error it’s now working almost perfectly.”
At Hartog’s, the dough is slow-kneaded by machine, weighed mechanically and then the rest is done by hand. Here, time isn’t money, it’s better bread. Explains Tiggelman, “I prefer dough kneading machines that knead slowly (much too slow for many bakeries). But our most prized piece of equipment is the ‘maalderij’ (the in-house mill). Every item we make in our bakery can be traced back to the flour we mill in-house.” While there is nothing state-of-the-art about Hartog’s in-house mill – it’s  not very different from mills used a century ago – the very fact that the bakery mills its own flour, instead of purchasing it ready-milled, is something that sets Hartog apart from most Amsterdam bakers.

Innovation and oliebollen

While the bakery’s heritage products remain popular, Tiggelman has also seen great success with a dozen or so new concepts he introduced at the bakery, most of all with his award-winning whole wheat oliebollen. “We started off making 100 oliebollen a day and last winter we were producing up to 40,000 per day,” Tiggelman tells. “Yes, it’s the most expensive oliebol in the Netherlands, often twice as expensive as regular ones, but our customers are happy to stand in line for it, while the oliebol stall opposite the street offers oliebollen for half the price with no lines. That’s because ours are always fresh and always perfect!”
Tiggelman comes up with the new product concepts and has the last word in the bakery, and while he delegates the daily running of the bakery to a staff member he remains very hands-on to ensure that all the products stay true to the Hartog brand. “I prefer to come up with new product ideas instead of following trends – if you’re always doing that you’re never going to innovate. We are different because we don’t allow ourselves to be influenced – this could be in the way we choose to do our marketing, our products or how we respond to our environment. I’m inspired by my wife and family, my environment and by how I don’t want to do things.” So, for example, he created the sandwich shop as a reaction to what he calls the unwelcoming nature of many restaurants (where you have to pay to use the toilet or even for tap water). The sandwich shop was designed to be inclusive, a meeting point for the neighbourhood – in fact, consumption isn’t even required.

Delicious marketing tools

“Our main marketing tool is word of mouth, the most delicious marketing tool you could possibly have,” says Tiggelman. “From time to time we’ve communicated our philosophy via promotions or products. So, for instance, we’ve published a cookbook, we’ve offered bread baking lessons to the public, and in June 2014 we launched a branded shopping bag, which fits four loaves of our bread and a linen bread bag that can be used to store the bread at home. While these branded products exude the quality we want to associate with our brand, the price point is always affordably low,” he explains.
And while various restaurants, cafes, shops, butchers and hotels sell or use Hartog’s famous whole wheat bread, Tiggelman tells that he does not sell these breads to them via business-to-business channels. “This is deliberate”, says the bakery owner, “it means that we don’t run any risks, it saves us extra administration costs, and we get to keep a certain level of exclusivity. Moreover, we find it important to treat every customer the same, whether they buy one bread or a thousand.”

Is bigger best?

As a small successful bakery you’d think the next logical step for Hartog’s would be rapid expansion in Amsterdam and beyond. Think again. “We’re often approached with requests to spread our wings”, says Tiggelman. “In fact, we’ve even been offered free rent for the first few months in some prime locations, but we’re at a crossroads in our development. Do we stay the same, do we expand or do we downsize?”
Tiggelman’s aversion to growth is based on some pretty heartfelt reasoning. He says that whenever he’s asked the owners of multiple outlets about their “most beautiful time” they said, “When I only had one shop.” According to Tiggelman, it seems that the bigger a business grows, the more stress and  the drive for ever-more profit and power get in the way of actually enjoying what you do. “It’s been food for thought,” he says, “because no matter how tempting the offer, I’ve – thus far – resisted growing bigger. On the other hand, we could also choose to downsize, despite our success. This would guarantee that we can keep doing things as we’re currently doing them and that we can keep our staff happy. Despite the fact that the bakery is making a decent turnover, we’ve never been driven by that. For us it’s always been about our products and our customer.”

author: Karin Engelbrecht

 

Some 75% of Dutch consumers prefer whole wheat bread to white bread says a 2012 study by the Nederlands Bakkerij Centrum, a research and advisory centre for the Dutch baking industry, based in Wageningen. Today, some 85% of bread is bought at the supermarket, according to the Nederlandse Vereniging voor de Bakkerij (the Netherlands Bakers Association), and at the Netherlands’ largest supermarket, Albert Heijn, a recent visit reflected these consumer preferences:  with 25 varieties of brown, rye and whole wheat loaf breads versus only 8 types of white loaf breads.





This Country Report was researched by our baking+biscuit international“ editorial department. A collection of recent market profiles was published in the European Bakery Market Review.

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