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BVM 23 December 2015

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Blackmore Vale Magazine
23 December 2015

Made In... deepest Dorset but Honeybuns is a modern hub of tasty creativity

by Sebastien Ash

Kaizen, for the uninitiated, is one of the principles of the Toyota Way, a set of managerial guidelines and practices credited with turning the Japanese firm into the world's largest automobile manufacturer.

It means 'continuous improvement' and it says something about the serious professionalism of Honeybuns founder, Emma Goss-Custard, that this comes up within the first five minutes of our interview. This small firm housed in a cluster of pastel yellow buildings and adorned with whimsical cartoon insects is proof that appearances can be mightily deceiving.

Straight away, I know this is no cottage industry. Well, not as we know it.

Honeybuns took its first steps as a business in Oxford, where Goss-Custard delivered the cakes on her bike to local shops, before moving to Guildford. But it has only been since the company relocated to where it is now, in Dorset, way back in 2001, that it really began to flourish and with good reason.

Goss-Custard might be a self-confessed "Thomas Hardy freak" and her husband might have his roots in the county that was Wessex's inspiration but these weren't the only grounds for choosing north Dorset. A plot on an industrial estate in Surrey, wedged between an IT firm and the sort of place you might expect David Brent to work "just was not right for an artisan company".

In fact, for reasons one suspects have to do in large part with what it represents, 'Dorset' features almost as much as 'gluten-free' in Honeybuns' advertising. Whereas 'gluten-free' conjures the image of a sanctimonious Birkenstocks collector, Dorset has steadily become a byword for local, ethical, and quality produce.

For Honeybuns it's not just a brand, it's a network and an ethos. The local producers who have given Dorset its reputation are an invaluable source of information when starting out trading on farmers' markets.

Naturally, it's also a lot easier to source raw ingredients locally. Which is not to say that they all are (it would be difficult to find local almonds, for example) but it is an important part of who they are and what they stand for.

That means, not only a commitment to artisan values written into its mission statement but an ethical outlook that begins with its employees. Goss-Custard makes special mention of Charlotte, who initially pushed Honeybuns BeeGreen initiative, or George, the waste management guy that does so much more, making him integral to developing the company's recycling program to the point where, according to Goss-Custard,
their carbon footprint is almost zero.

In reality, it goes way deeper. Turning out trays of baked goods and having team taste tests; cultivating individual expertise and initiative to the benefit of the company; having a work environment where employees feel like stakeholders in the fate of the company and care about the product - it's an open and innovative way of running a business and one that underlines its homespun credentials.

"We're anything but fluffy, though," Goss-Custard asserts during our discussion, "it's not just a lifestyle company, we have to be sharp all the time." Japan might have seemed like a long way to go to harvest business principles but the business world is competitive enough that for any company with serious ambitions, being up to date with and implementing best practice is an absolute must.

"We're used to being patted on the head," Goss-Custard admits, but on our way around the small plant (a renovated farmhouse; the term cottage industry does quite literally apply here) she is ceaselessly enthusiastic about the innovations that the company implements. To ensure the end product retains the same handmade goodness that started with Goss-Custard's grandmother and has won the company an impressive number of Great Taste Awards, Honeybuns has not allowed its production line to become dominated by machines that might compromise the end result.

Instead, the machine elements of the production process are moulded to and led by the people and product, respectively (a derivative of Toyota Way principles number 8, if you were wondering).

All without mentioning the complex and demanding set of quality controls that guard not only the quality of the baked goods but their hypoallergenic standards. Little, if anything, seems to be left to chance.

All in all, Honeybuns paints the picture of a thoroughly modern Dorset business. Big on the craftsmanship and quality that you would expect of local products from small enterprises but big, too, on combining this tradition with up-to-date processes and innovation. The combination of the two is something that, I think, can increasingly be seen across the region and one that is crucial to the area's reputation for gastronomic
excellence. To an extent, Honeybuns trades on a pre-existing brand - hard-earned consumer trust spiked with pastoral romanticism - but it's also one of a number of companies who sustain that good name and continue to push it forwards in a hyper-competitive marketplace (not just on the 'market place').

Photo of Em for BVM 23 Dec 2015

All work and no play would be the wrong way to run a company according to Emma Goss-Custard

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