Business

This bakery was on the brink of collapse, but orders from Checkers changed everything

Business Insider SA
Pie in the Sky bakery (Coimbra Facebook)
Pie in the Sky bakery (Coimbra Facebook)

  • When Covid hit, baked goods company Pie in the Sky was on the brink of collapse, but orders from Checkers helped restore operations. 
  • Before the pandemic, the company's biggest clients were in the hospitality and airline industry.  
  • When these sectors were hit, Pie in the Sky lost about 90% of its revenue and resorted to labelling sanitiser bottles to stay afloat. 
  • Out of desperation, the company approached Checkers and later Food Lover's Market, and business has been booming since. 
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

When the hospitality and travel industry was crippled by the pandemic, Pie in the Sky, a bakery in Cape Town faced an uncertain future, but orders from Checkers and Food Lover's Market got it back to its feet.

Pie in the Sky bakery (Coimbra Facebook)
Pie in the Sky bakery (Coimbra Facebook)

Pie in the Sky is a 56-year-old baked goods company that specialises in baked goods such as high volume burger bun and hot dog bun production, artisanal breads and rolls, confectionery deserts and savouries, among others.

The baked goods company, whose origin dates back into the 1960s, is an offshoot from a little corner café called Coimbra Bakery.

Coimbra bakery (Coimbra Facebook)
Coimbra Bakery (Coimbra Facebook)

It grew from a corner bakery to a wholesale manufacturing plant in the 1990s, selling predominately pies and other baked products throughout the Western Cape.  

Over a period of almost 20 years, the company grew into a diverse bakery, with a large customer base in the hospitality, airline, and food service industry.

"We were one of the first bakery suppliers into hotels around Cape Town and airline services.

"Most of the international and domestic airlines out of Cape Town International [Airport] were using our products onboard. It was a huge part of our business," said commercial manager of Pie in the Sky Sergio Luiz.

Pie in the Sky burger buns (Coimbra Facebook)
Pie in the Sky buns (Coimbra Facebook)
Pie in the Sky buns (Coimbra Facebook)
Pie in the Sky buns (Coimbra Facebook)

Although they worked with large commercial clients, the company didn't previously do business with national retailers "because of a viewpoint we had of what they did to their suppliers. A misconception, unfortunately," said Luiz.

Tough times ahead

In search of a much bigger site and new beginnings, the company, in November 2019, moved to new premises and left the establishment they had been operating from for almost three decades.

"Just as we started getting into some sort of routine in our new home, Covid hit. That was a very difficult time for us," he said.

The company lost 90% in revenue and was left reeling, according to Luiz.

"We slowly pulled our way back as things opened up slowly but surely. Because of that, we were forced into trying to pivot into different markets," said Luiz.

During the darkest days of the pandemic, the company was left "labelling sanitiser bottles just to keep our employees employed" and to stay afloat, said Luiz.  

During this tough time, the business received machines that had landed from Europe to bulk up their capacity, but there was no business coming in.

"We then started a conversation with Checkers around April or May last year just out of desperation.  

"They were very willing to engage with us from the get-go, both Checkers national and Checkers regional," said Luiz.

At the time, Checkers was looking to launch a few new products in their new concept stores within the frozen convenience side, and, after talks, the partners developed a range of fully baked frozen goods for the retailer to sell in its stores.

Coimbra Pie in the Sky in Checkers (Checkers)
Coimbra Pie in the Sky at Shoprite Checkers (Checkers)

They also supply artisanal breads, mass produced burger buns and hot dog buns, and other baked goods for the retailer regionally.

Initially, Pie in the Sky supplied stores in the Western Cape and as the retailer's confidence in Pie in the Sky grew, they asked the bakery to take on their Christmas cakes project nationally.

"It's given our business a new lease on life towards a more sustainable path moving forward because food service and hospitality are still unfortunately still very [bruised], and now with the fourth wave and the new variant it's destroyed another season.  

Gourmet hotdog rolls (Coimbra Facebook)
Gourmet hotdog rolls (Coimbra Facebook)

"We're very fortunate that we could move into retail. Unfortunately, there are a lot of service providers in the tourism industry that can't do anything else," he said.

After securing business with Checkers, Pie in the Sky also approached Food Lover's Market around June last year and started supplying baked goods such as small confectionaries, muffins under their brand, rolls, buns, and other baked products to their Western Cape stores around November 2020.

The company has also grown in the quick service restaurant segment and work with an unnamed food franchise under the Spur Group around the Western Cape. It supplied mainly burger buns and hot dog buns.

Although the company went through many challenges, Luiz is grateful that their staff still have jobs.

"Thankfully we haven't had to retrench any staff members. I think our headcount is slightly more than it was pre-Covid now," he said.

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