In Focus

EXCLUSIVE: How West Cornwall Pasty Company Managed their Turnaround and their Future Plans

In 2014, West Cornwall Pasty Company went into administration before being bought out by private equity. Since that time, new management has worked hard to turn the brand around with a new focus, new look and a focus on an enhanced product offering.

We went to find out how they went about turning the brand around, and their plans for the future.

QSR: How has the company changed post its troubles last year? What are you doing differently?

Change started with the people. A new management team was established from a mixture of people from outside the business (2 new executive Directors) and some of the exceptional young creative members of old business, who had not been able to make a real difference under the previous regime.

The head office function had to be addressed in order to "right-size" it back to a level commensurate with the number of stores, which involved some difficult decisions being taken early in the project. It also involved culturally changing the role of head office to one that is there to serve the needs of the retail units, in terms of providing product innovation, marketing support, brand progression and proposition development.

Next came regaining the trust of the colleagues right across the business in the retail units who had become accustomed to hearing lots of promises from the Board, but little actually ever changed for the better. A great deal of effort has gone into harnessing the excellent customer service skills that existed across the retail estate and supplementing it with a tougher commercial edge, with performance management centred on selling skills and store leaders taking profit responsibility for their units.

The business has focused on its core business of "hot food to go" and making it the best possible retail operator in the Cornish Pasty market, with absolute clarity of its customer demographics and the shopping missions that the product and brand proposition best serves. Gone has the mantra of senior management to "open more stores at any cost, anywhere and everywhere".

Competing in the market properly on the product proposition involved a rapid extension of the products sold in store by the introduction of complimentary categories of indulgent confectionery and snacks, the overhaul of the hot and cold drinks categories where sales performance was very poor indeed, the improvement of the "value" offered in the pasty range, by increasing the size and reducing the price and finally extending the range by the introduction of smaller products at the bottom of the range and at the other extreme, the introduction of a super-sized pasty - "The Beast" a 500g product.

To compete at brand level in a tough market, it was apparent that a complete brand refreshment was required. Over the first 6 months the entire brand reach was examined, challenged and finally changed. The caricature of the pirate has been moved on and made more contemporary, a new coffee brand has been launched (St Just), packaging designs have been refreshed and a suite of exceptional photography for Cornish scenes and our products has been commissioned for marketing purposes.

The presence of the brand on social media was very poor. An entirely new web site was commissioned, the results of which have been extraordinary with widespread praise on its design, content and interactivity. Facebook and Twitter feeds were replaced with new designs and a progressive programme of social interaction with followers of the brand have been run, involving competitions and prizes for our customers to reward their participation.

Finally the design and ambience of the retail units was in a desperate need for modernisation. Templates for the various locations were developed and they have become the templates for a substantial capital expenditure programme of store refurbishments.

QSR: What are your plans for the brand now?

The brand will continue evolve and the true heritage of the business as a purveyor of exceptional baked savoury products, with top class provenance of Cornish origin, will be the centre piece of the direction it will take. A greater focus on the ingredient credentials in the products, their handmade credentials lends itself to a true "street food" rating. Having won the World Champion Pasty competition for 2 consecutive years is a testimony to the quality of the food the business sells.

QSR: Do you have plans for more store openings in the next year? If so, how many stores and what sort of locations?

Yes the brand reach of the business will be extended through more stores in the existing channels (train stations, motorway service stations and tourist locations. However the success of the brand at the stores in Twickenham Stadium has led to a number of similar venues exploring options to take the brand into their operations - e.g. AEG who own the Wembley Arena and Glasgow SSE Hydro Arena will run 2 stores in the brand. Visitors to outside sporting and leisure events will also see the brand at more locations than ever before - with units at Cheltenham, Wembley Stadium, The Open, Silverstone, T in the Park, Farnborough Air Show to mention just a few.

QSR: We’ve seen that you are undertaking new product development. How does your product development process work and what do you have in the pipeline?

The excitement in the brand pushes us to continue to drive for interesting and appetising new flavours. Working directly with a team of development chefs, new product ideas are considered every month and the best ideas are quickly developed and introduced into the retail estate either as a "Guest Pasty" or as a "Pasty of the Month".

A great deal of excitement and expectation surrounds our most recent development - the Gluten & Lactose free Traditional Cornish Pasty, which is being considered for launch into the retail multiples, who recognise the growth of the Free From category and the fact that ours will be the first handmade Free From Cornish Pasty.

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