Bread is generating dough

Growth: With success in Howard and online, the Breadery will begin selling its loaves in other areas.

August 26, 2002|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Dough is not the only thing on the rise at the Breadery micro mill and bakery on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City.

After five years of selling freshly milled and baked bread from its storefront, and at farmers' markets and a few local health food stores, the Breadery is taking steps to expand outside Howard County.

The company of four full-time and 13 part-time employees is increasing its production schedule, installing new equipment to help automate the process, and working with a distributor to sell the company's goods beyond Howard County's borders. Those steps should drive up revenue by more than 25 percent within a year, said owner Michael Lanasa. He hopes that in less than three years the company will be able to double production and sales.

"The challenge has never been selling the bread, it's [been] maintaining a high level of production," Lanasa said. "In three years, I'd like to have a manufacturing facility that would be able to offer this product to mainstream clients."

The Breadery goes through about 25,000 pounds of wheat grain every six weeks to produce about 2,500 loaves of bread weekly. Most evenings, workers feed pound after pound of whole wheat into a mill that cracks the shells of the grain and grinds it into a fine flour for use in multigrain breads and rolls. The company also produces muffins and muffin loaves, and sells coffee, teas, and gourmet jams, jellies and sauces from its store.

Company sales rose 7 percent last year, enough to make the business profitable for the first time. This year, Lanasa said, he expects revenue to increase by 10 percent. This is the first year that summer sales have not declined, he said.

But Lanasa said he held back on expanding the wholesale portion of the business -- where revenue has grown most -- until he was sure he could produce enough bread to meet demand. Now that he has handed distribution to another company that will expand sales into Baltimore County, Lanasa said, the Breadery is prepared to produce more.

He has added a day to the production schedule, and a second crew. New machinery to divide the dough and mold it also will help expand the wholesale business.

"I wanted to evolve it into higher nutritional volume-productions foods," Lanasa said. "Whole food is what I think we'll all evolve to -- food made closest to its natural state."

Other small bakers in the area such as Bonaparte Breads, Atwater Breads and Dorothea's Bread also sell in local gourmet shops, health food stores and farmers' markets, but each has a different focus. Bonaparte, for example, bakes European-style breads.

The Breadery markets its goods as high-nutrition products because the on-premises milling allows the company to retain some nutritional content in its breads that tends to be stripped away in many commercial breads, Lanasa said. The Breadery also bakes breads without preservatives.

The healthful foods approach could be attractive to a larger audience, one analyst said. As Americans become more health-conscious, they are buying more foods and drinks marketed for their nutritional value, from vitamins and herbs to super-charged water.

Even more important, said Harry Balzer, vice president of New York-based NPD Group, is that bread is one of the five foods consumed most often by people of all ages.

"The question is, how many people are interested in [this food] category, and the answer is 100 percent of the population," Balzer said. "What percentage of people does he need to be interested to have a very successful business? Not much."

The challenge for companies such as the Breadery has been making the product available to mainstream clients, and at an affordable price. The Breadery's loaves range from $3.25 to $4.95 each. Balzer said those prices will not deter some buyers. Lanasa has focused his distribution on health food stores, whose patrons generally are better-informed than average consumers, more interested in healthful foods and more willing to pay a premium for products.

"When you've got a category the size of bread, there [is] a lot of space for [variation in] price," Balzer said. "I'm sure you'll find someone who'll want to pay $5 for it, just like there are people who want to pay that much for coffee. There are some who will pay the premium for the special-occasion use for that product."

Lanasa opened the Breadery in 1997 with the idea of replicating its on-premises mill and bakery at several locations throughout the county, but in the first few years, as he saw his labor-intensive company grow, Lanasa said he also saw other opportunities to expand.

In 1999, he and a partner began selling Breadery loaves online, shipping them throughout the country. A year later, Lanasa began selling loaves wholesale to local restaurants and health food stores, including Roots Market in Clarksville. The company packages and distributes the goods to about a dozen locations. Last year, the company began marketing its breads to schools and civic associations for use in fund raising.

Wholesale customers Jody Cutler, owner of Roots Market, said the Breadery delivers about 60 loaves three times a week, but her store could handle a daily delivery.

"People in the community absolutely love the bread," Cutler said. "The only downside is, they can't deliver enough to satisfy our customer needs. We always sell out."

For those who miss out, there's always more at the store. Nancy Striler of Columbia travels there every week to buy bread for her home.

"It's worth the trip," she said. "I love it."

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