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Baker’s Quality Pizza Crusts 1814 Dolphin Drive, Waukesha INDUSTRY: Pizza Crusts EMPLOYEES: 30 bakersqualitypizzacrusts.com
Taste is a key selling point for Waukesha-based Baker’s Quality Pizza Crusts Inc.
“Once they eat our pizza crust, we typically win the customer, they realize the benefit of having a higher quality product that will drive customers into their locations,” said Chris Miller, vice president of operations and part of the third generation of family leadership at the company.
The problem, of course, is that during the COVID-19 pandemic, getting to the point where prospective customers can try the product is hard. Not only because of restrictions on in-person meetings, but also because many of those potential customers are restaurants and resorts, the kinds of places hit hard by the pandemic.
The pandemic challenge was made worse by the fact that Baker’s Quality was in the midst of an expansion, moving to a new facility at 1814 Dolphin Drive. The new location has nearly double the space of its previous location and the company invested in equipment to triple its capacity.
“It was like ‘we’ve just got to put our heads down and power through this,’” said Anne Cookson, vice president of sales and Chris’ sister.
The company makes a variety of pizza crusts with its flagship being a cracker-style. It also sells self-rising crusts, dough balls, frozen dough and flatbreads.
Each batch is relatively small at around 300 pounds, Miller said. The company also puts a lot of time into its products, allowing its cracker crust, for example, to proof for 24 hours.
“That is something that a lot of bakeries will get away from as they get larger because it takes a lot of space on the floor and it’s just a lot of time that could be used for something else, but it’s very necessary,” Miller said. “You need to have that flavor mesh really well and you need to give it that time to develop, so we’ll never step away from that.”
From there, the dough is rolled out into a long thin sheet to be turned into crusts. Cookson said it isn’t the most efficient approach, but the company believes it leads to a better product.
“It’s much more what somebody would do themselves in their own restaurant or in their home,” she said.
Prior to the pandemic and the expansion, Baker’s Quality was running at capacity and operating 20 to 24 hours per day. Moving to a bigger space allowed the company to operate fewer hours each day while also serving more customers.
In connection with the move to a new facility, the company has also formed a partnership with a national buying group to help expand distribution nationally. Cookson said the company’s cracker crust is a unique product and there has been a lot of interest from food and trade shows.
There is an inherent tension between volume and quality as Baker’s Quality looks to grow.
“Growing brings a lot of issues,” Miller said. “Are you stepping away from that quality you’ve built your brand on and you’ve built your customer loyalty on?”
He said Baker’s Quality did hundreds of hours of testing as it planned its expansion to make sure quality would not be sacrificed.
Selling based on quality is challenging in a market where differentiation may not be obvious.
“A big issue is that we are selling essentially a commodity, but we are selling it as the highest quality product and we are going up against competition that has billions of dollars in revenue,” Miller said.
That’s where the opportunity for people to taste the product helped, at least before the pandemic. When COVID hit, Miller, Cookson and their team did a lot of brainstorming about where to go next.
One outcome of those discussions was the launch of crustology, a direct-to-consumer offering of the cracker pizza crust, shipped in three packs straight to someone’s house.
“It’s a restaurant-quality crust,” Cookson said. “The business is built on selling into restaurants, which have very high standards. You’re not just going to the grocery store and picking up a shelf-stable pizza crust that was maybe made six or nine months ago, you’re getting something that we made three days ago and tomorrow it’s being delivered to your house.”
It’s an idea Miller and Cookson had thought about for a few years, but Baker’s Quality was always too busy to execute it.
“When our business kind of tanked when the pandemic hit, it was a now or never, this is the time to pull the trigger on this,” Cookson said.