Today marks 25 years since Laurent Bakery opened its doors in Melbourne, offering traditional French baked goods to the locals. Since then, the bakery has acted as a social and cultural experience for Australians craving more diverse food choices.
Today, the bakery runs 16 stores and this year secured a 10 year partnership with Coles supermarkets, reaffirming its position as an Aussie favourite.
Founder Laurent Boillon has observed Australia’s changing tastes first hand. Laurent chatted to Inside FMCG about 25 years of travelling through unexpected flavours and why Australia could be the new corner stone for delicious desserts.
Inside FMCG: How have Australian eating habits changed since you opened your doors all those years ago?
Laurent Boillon: Back in 1993 the market was very niche, there was no demi baguette sandwich like in France or any other type of bread apart from white sliced bread. As a passionate pastry chef and baker, I wanted to seize this opportunity in developing this industry and share the taste of France with Australians. When I opened the first Laurent Bakery in Como, South Yarra, I started to sell sourdough bread to our new clientele and I realised that there was demand for finer foods with locals. After a few months, we could definitely see that they welcomed the ‘style a la francaise’ with enthusiasm.
We have developed a strong understanding of our clientele’s demand and do our best to align our products with their tastes. Laurent Bakery’s recognised strength and approaches are based on artisanal savoir-faire, respect of tradition, taste and fine quality. It is such a pleasure to see how Australian foodies are constantly craving more.
Inside FMCG: One of your big dreams starting out was to integrate sourdough into the Australian market. Why do you think it became so popular here?
Sourdough is very special as it brings an authentic product to society and I wanted to bring back the real taste of simple things. Bread has been part of the staple diet of the French for centuries, but also experienced the worst mutation it could endure after World War II. At the time, France had no yeast, but needed to cater to demands of a rapidly growing population, so industrial technology was introduced in the bread baking process. The new technology suppressed the fermentation process, the source of all the taste and goodness. On top of that, additives and other chemicals were added to the mixture, which is how the whiter than ever crumb turned bad for our mouths and our tummies.
Right from 1993, the reason why our bread at Laurent Bakery became so popular is simply because we respected the traditional recipes with the right natural ingredients. I wanted to retrieve traditions from over 100 years old and pay respect to authentic recipes. That is the key to our success and how we have satisfied our loyal customers’ palates for the past twenty-five years.
Inside FMCG: When did you start to see a demand for artisan-style stone baked breads?
From 93, we were the pioneers in Australia to do sourdough bread. The supermarkets acknowledged the trend and we started to supply them with sourdough bread. A major change for us was in 2005 when supermarkets started to offer a variety of breads and customers shifted their preferences away from the simple white sliced bread. Laurent Bakery worked on developing its bread range with Australian supermarkets by offering diversity in taste and textures to customers in 2007.
In 2005 the bread industry was definitely booming, which allowed us to introduce new bread flavours to the Australian palates. We decided to work on creating the first factory in the world that is able to produce authentically baked bread with savoir-faire respecting the principles of artisan baking on a large scale. It took us five years to achieve that enormous project, but the response we received from our artisan-style stone baked breads was widely acclaimed, so it was worth the wait.
Inside FMCG: With the “big two” dominating the bread market in Australia, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for smaller business to compete. Was the partnership with Coles an easy decision to make?
We have been supplying supermarkets in Australia since 2007 and it was an important step for us. It represented the start of very strong relationship and allowed us to always have a say in decision making and further collaborations. In 2010, I chose to only supply to Coles and opened in 2012 a state-of-the-art facility that is pioneering automated authentic bread making processes.
Inside FMCG: How will the 10-year partnership with Coles change your business?
I am all about continuity, my business didn’t change radically with that partnership, but it definitely opened the opportunity to sell more products to a clientele base who is looking for high quality and premium products, at a value for money price. So in a way, it has certainly influenced the evolution of our business compared to what we were doing in 2012.
Inside FMCG: Your Coles Finest range received several gold medals at the Royal Hobart Fine Food Awards. Do you hope to expand the range in time to include some sweeter options?
Yes, we are always thinking about the future.
Inside FMCG: How do you plan to mark your 25 years in Australia?
Laurent Bakery is not just a business to me, it’s more of a big family. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the daily loyalty and love we receive from our clientele and employees, so it’s really important for us that quality foods are available to everyone. Some of our regulars have been enjoying their sweet and savoury Laurent rituals for several years now. To mark the 25th year of our business, I wanted to thank our loyal clientele more than anything else.
We organised a lot of things to thank our customers, including sweet surprises to be distributed in our 16 stores around Melbourne on the 26th of October. We have also launched our brand new website and Instagram page. We really want to give our clientele every possibility to share their beautiful moments at Laurent Bakery in this digital era.
Inside FMCG: What trends do you predict for baked goods in 2019 and beyond?
I want to democratise sweet tastes by developing new creations that look aesthetically audacious and taste deliciously unusual. Our Jardin d’ete launched for our birthday celebrations is the perfect example.
Australia is about to become the new corner stone for appealingly delicious desserts. I can confidently predict that the next natural step for Australia is to make authentic French cakes and pastries more accessible to everyone. And I would be thrilled to contribute in making Australia the favourite new sweet corner of the globe.