Bakers Journal May 2002 
By Shasha Navazesh

The kernel of the idea for an artisan bread bakers’ alliance actually came about during a discussion with Robert Brison, previously with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture’s Food Industry Competitiveness Branch.

We had been discussing the second phase of a bread quality enhancement project designed by ShaSha Bread to accelerate the consumption of premium bread products. The goal of this project was to increase market demand for nutritious, additive-and preservative-free product using old-world style artisan techniques. At the same time we were thinking an alliance among artisan bakers would serve as a united front to increase market demand. I discovered other bakeries, such as Stonemill Bakehouse, also like the idea.

A proposal was made and put to the Deputy Ministry of Agriculture, to undertake a study to see if an “Artisan Bakers Alliance” was feasible. With the approval of initial funding, a study was undertaken and researched by the University of Guelph. The study suggested the creation of an alliance to promote quality artisan breads from Ontario was very feasible. And so was born the Artisan Bakers Quality Alliance ( ABQA). This non-profit, voluntary, business association has now been incorporated and has members ranging from educators, government representatives, bakers, grain processors, and food suppliers. The first annual meeting is scheduled for April 28 at the Congress Centre in Toronto.

Why do we need an ABQA?

There is a growing demand for a nutritious, preservative- and additive-free organic bread product. This sector of the baking industry is gaining market share from large commercial bakeries in North America. Presently, there are only a few small local bakeries supplying this type of product.

A bakers’ alliance would help farmers, grain processors and retailers- basically the entire supply chain-take advantage of this growing market opportunity. Since some of the best specialty grains are already being grown and processed in Ontario, it’s the perfect place to build on this strong foundation. From here, we can pave the way not only for the Ontario baking industry, but also for the rest of the country to become leaders of this market-before competing U.S. companies can gain an advantage.

An alliance such as this provides direct employment now and opens the door to considerable future employment as the market grows. Both the science and profitability of this food category create a strong interest in young people considering career plans. This exciting element of the baking industry will help secure greater interest among young graduates and solve a major roadblock for the industry.

This project involves utilizing technology to improve the entire supply chain’s ability to compete on a commercial scale. The technology would allow us to produce a more competitively priced product, making healthy, nutritious, organic bread affordable for the general market rather than simply for a small market segment.

In April 2000, 30 bakers met at the Sheraton Hotel in Toronto for the first time to work out values and goals, and to find a common denominator between the association members. We managed to attract members from bakeries of all sizes, as well as suppliers, processors, government representatives, educators and others in industry related fields. Together we started forming an alliance. At that first meeting, the members agreed health would be the platform for the ABQA. We also agreed upon three essential elements:

Purity of Ingredients
Using the old-world style of artisan crafting/baking techniques.
Good manufacturing practices.

After more than a year and a half, many meetings, and many difficulties, we managed to secure the necessary funding by December 2001. With this financing in hand, we started forging ahead in the launching of ABQA designation.

The ABQA has set for itself the following objectives:

  • To raise the profile of artisan bread
  • To inform consumers about its unique qualities and attributes.
  • To build the category
  • To increase consumption and widen customer base.
  • To establish a common umbrella brand, similar to the VQA ( Vintners Quality Alliance), so the consumer can recognize artisan bakery products of outstanding quality.
  • To increase the consumption of artisan bakery products and to enhance the value which consumers place on artisan bakery products.
  • To define and regulate the voluntary standards for the production of artisan bakery products to be sold, including the requirements that: a) they be made, exclusively from pure and wholesome ingredients, and b) using time honored fermentation practices.
  • To facilitate the development of the artisan bakery craft by members-including sharing information, human resources development and training, government relations, research and promotion.
  • To provide information and resources for members that will enhance both the quality of artisan bakery products and the food safety practices utilized in their manufacturer.
  • To obtain recognition by appropriate regulatory bodies for the standards of the corporation.

It’s an exciting time for all of us who share the same vision of securing our craft of artisan baking in Canada. This association will prevent imitation products, both locally and across the border, from falsely taking advantage of a growing niche market we here in Canada have worked so hard to create.