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One can remember, as the lockdown came into effect, the hospitality industry got shattered completely because of the stringent rules by the government. Customers rushed to the nearby stores for baked products which lead to a shortage in Bakery items. This led the Government to realize it as a necessity and allow the operation of the Bakery industry to get started and it was the first sector to get started. Kerala known for its bakery industry benefited during these times. This industry has grown a lot in recent years. Vijesh Viswanath, President of the Bakers Association Kerala, one hand feels proud that an industry, which was not considered seriously once is today one of the key contributors to the state economy. The has been working hard to retain this growth and work on much wider growth and welfare of the members.
“Bakery sector definitely has positive growth. During COVID, the bakery industry has grown in local places and villages more than township areas,” said Vijesh who also added that the term ‘bakery shop’ was once a livelihood business earlier and the society did not recognize it like it is now. It also lacked mass representation and respect from customers. Things have changed and are open to newer things as they have more reach through social media. People know what is baking and how it is done.
Growth of the bakers is the growth of the association:
“We do not want to be a ‘bakery’ version of any Kerala state association. We wanted a difference. In the past 15 years, the association has improved a lot of things in the bakery sector. Education was our USP. We had educated bakers on various topics related to the industry including legal knowledge, more resources, and better ingredients. This has allowed the industry a bigger leap, recognized respect from customers and have a strong voice in the Government,” said Vijesh.
A global exposure
Vijesh also attributes the success of the sector to a wide range of global travel by the local bakers. “Out of 14 districts, for any exhibition, minimum 4 bakers travel and find out what are the trending things that are happening. Those who travel come back explain to the fellow bakers in a meeting organized by the association about what they observed and learned in the events in meetings. This provides for knowledge sharing among the industry participants,” said Vijesh.
Kerala bakery industry grew multi-folded and become more prominent because of its hygiene and cleanliness of the bakery and their factories. “Earlier bakeries were just another store in a street. This has taken a great shift. Today bakeries resemble a jewel shop kind of look and feel. Any customer can walk in any time to check for hygiene while the baking place is visible to the customers. I can see many are giving more importance to this hygiene and aesthetic aspects.” There are also more ingredients coming into the country, giving a chance for newer bakery products.
The forum is regularly in touch with various business owners to keep engaging the staff to evolve them to the next level. The Bakers Association is helping the bakers in the day-to-day operations, technology, and consumers. “When the lockdown was announced, the association was doing constant training programme online for the business owners and bakers to improve knowledge, skills on legal aids, FSSAI regulations, GST and more new policies.”, he said.
To address the human resource issues:
Vijesh raises concerns over the lack of skilled manpower in the sector even though he agrees to the fact that the human resource issue is not sky-high, unlike the hotels and restaurants sector. “Our industry has a high level of retention. In the past, the scenario of the bakers was absorbing drop-outs and others who are from the unorganized sector. We need strong baking knowledge to be imparted at the education level. Even today, we still do not have institutions teaching baking in a more organized way. Even though hotel management schools have pastry as a subject. We are now looking for students graduating in the bakery and learn the art and science of bakery,” said Vijesh.
Other challenges of the sector:
As there have been positives to the industry there have been negatives like GST and the rise in retail pricing. The bakers feel GST is at a very higher rate which is very essential for pricing. “The other challenge is the rise in the real estate space cost. It is quite high in certain regions. Vijesh advises the bakers to check to cost of the property and take the best alternative use the online portal to conduct business. The association is actively implementing this in Kerala.
Also, many bakers feel that home bakers are a threat to the traditional business. Vijesh comments that this myth should be squashed. There is an opportunity for both to learn from each other, fill gaps that cannot be filled by the other and work together. He feels that traditional bakers should collaborate with home bakers. As the industry grows, stringent rules and regulations from FSSAI are on the rise. Vijesh believes these are for the good of the industry and those who are true to the business would survive.
“Our association believes in self-reliance where we thrive to enhance the life of bakers rather than looking at what we have to get from the government. We go by our own strength and not for mere representation even though our voices are heard during the pre-budget meetings government. Before we demand the government to change, we feel it is the need of the hour to bring the change within ourselves. ,” said Vijesh on the focus of the Association.
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