Major funding sought to make Grantham Gingerbread a household name
Grantham businessman Alastair Hawken is seeking major funding in his bid to make Grantham Gingerbread a household name.
The 44-year-old wants to turn Hawkens Gingerbread into the UK’s first £100 million gingerbread brand.
Already, the company, which in 2015 relocated to Grantham’s iconic Salvation Army Citadel at 28 London Road, is spreading its reach, with Alastair negotiating deals to supply major supermarket chains.
For Alastair, becoming Grantham’s and maybe Britain’s number one gingerbread man, was more by accident than design.
Alastair was born and bred in Grantham and attended Central School, which today is known as Priory Ruskin.
He spent 25 years in the film and television industry, as a transmission controller, for all the major UK networks. The job meant ensuring a broadcast was seamless and would transmit without any problems, including meeting broadcast regulations.
In 2000, Alastair realised he was in the wrong job, and believing cafes served great coffee, but poor food, this led him to open the Panini cafe in Westgate. The business operated for 15 years, until it closed in 2015, with him blaming growing competition and declining footfall in Grantham town centre.
By then, however, Grantham Gingerbread was more to Alastair’s taste.
In 2009, he was chairman of Grantham Business Club and austerity cuts meant Grantham Museum faced closure, unless the town could run it, something Alastair said could only be done if the museum was run commercially.
He convinced Lincolnshire County Council to give him the museum keys, which meant selling products like Grantham Gingerbread, which at the time, “to my horror”, Alastair discovered was made outside the town and was of poor quality.
“Grantham Gingerbread is England’s oldest gingerbread,” he said. “This could not be allowed to happen.”
Thus, Alastair started baking gingerbread above his Panini shop. The museum remains open and Grantham Gingerbread also survived.
Over the years, the business grew and relocated to its current site. The 4,000 sq ft premises is used to make 80,000 units a month and now supplies 95 Lincolnshire Co-ops, plus a variety of farm shops and delis around the region.
Alastair has four staff, helped by a junior packing team, who help out a few hours after school. He is also seeking his first apprentice.
When the Journal called two weeks ago, Alastair was busy producing his Christmas stock, including a new range of gingerbread Christmas trees, some of which have been bought by a Caribbean cruise liner for use as customer gifts.
But Alastair says gingerbread is not just for Christmas, with his plans to produce Easter chicks and Halloween witches hats, and soon.
Already he offers a range of five gingerbreads. There’s Hawkens Chocolate Orange, Hawkens Italian Lemon, Hawkens Original, Hawken’s Christmas Gingerbread and, finally, Hawkens Grantham Gingerbread, which is known for its lighter colour as it lacks molasses and treacle.
Alastair said: “We are creating a rhubarb gingerbread and a banoffee gingerbread. They are in development at the moment.”
He is also developing a ‘launch range’ of products to sell at the larger supermarket chains.
He likens Grantham Gingerbread to ‘Fevertree’, the upmarket tonic water that has now become a national favourite.
Alastair also sees a competitive advantage in the heritage and ‘provenance’ of a product that dates back to 1740, when local baker William Egglestone created Grantham Gingerbread by mistake when he mixed up the recipe of a then traditional biscuit.
“As we grow over the next couple of years, we plan to double in size and add another five full-time equivalents,” he told the Journal.
Such a product might even go global, with Alastair recalling how Britain has a reputation for quality. The Commonwealth and former British Empire gives the UK strong global links, and in a post-Brexit Britain, there is everything to play for.
He said: “Gingerbread is a confectionary recognised and renowned the world over. Grantham is famous as the town that gave birth to Margaret Thatcher and it educated Sir Isaac Newton.
“English food products have always had great appeal. Exports is something we are excited about and it will explode.”
He adds Brexit will be “good for business” as customers look closer to home in an “upsurge of patriotism”, while the ‘UKPLC’ brand grows bigger and bigger on the world stage.
All this makes for significant challenges for the self-styled foodie entrepreneur.
“It’s a dream job,” said Alastair. “I’m a foodie through and through. To be able to indulge in your passion, be involved in keeping the heritage of Grantham alive.
“It’s stressful. It’s not the easiest. It hasn’t been an easy journey, trying to survive, trying to grow the business from seed. We have done it as a family with no institutional support.”
He credits the support of wife Kerry, 35, who undertakes the admin, while being an “amazing mother” to their three sons, Joshua, 8, Charlie, 7, and Ellis, 3.
Alastair said: “We have succeeded, come through the start-up phase and now we are coming through.”
Now, after a recession which “took the wind out of our sales”, Alastair is looking forward to what lies ahead.
After the family invested a five-figure sum in creating the business, he seeks a similar sum to grow a strong strategy and sales team.
Alastair concluded: “We have a strong brand, a great product range. We now need to get that out there in the volumes we know we can deliver.”
Find out more about the company at www.hawkensgingerbread.com
More by this authorDarren Greenwood