The Heatherlea – a baking institution

The Heatherlea – a baking institution
Leading a Northern Ireland baking institution takes passion and commitment and resulted in a fourth Bakery of the Year award win for Bangor bakery, The Heatherlea at the 2023 NR Awards.

Established some 77 years ago, The Heatherlea is a mainstay of Bangor’s Main Street, proving itself to be a tried and tested destination spot for the discerning baked goods consumer.

Owners Paul and Patricia Getty came on board in 1990, full of “youthful enthusiasm and energy” and have expanded the business to the widely-known brand that it is today, with a café and deli and wholesale arm now part of the core structure of what The Heatherlea offers, as well as the critical and essential skills of its 40 staff.

“Our business is led by our people and our shared passion to bring great bread and pastries to our loyal and expanding customer base,” Paul told NR.

“We have a café and deli on our first site in Main Street and we feel that this enables us to showcase our produce and let our customers see our range displayed in the optimum environment.

“It further allows us to manifest that warm homely feeling that we would like customers to have when they eat our products. Whether they buy directly from us or from one of our local retailers who kindly stock Heatherlea goods, we hope this all leads to a unique Heatherlea taste.”

They opened the café and deli in 1990, with Paul describing them as a “fantastic addition” to the traditional Home Bakery at their Main Street site.

“It is great to welcome so many regular customers daily and we have seen a resurgence of visitors post-covid, particularly ex-pats who love to stock up on soda bread, potato bread and wheaten loaves to take home.”

The wholesale arm of the business is another means for bringing the taste of Heatherlea home and has grown steadily over the last 20 years, with independent stores and major local retailers who share their passion to bring local food to local people, all stocking their beloved products.

“We have a great range with our soda bread, pancakes and sausage rolls being favourites, closely followed by sourdoughs and our ever-popular traybakes, such as Rocky Roads and fruit slices, along with Viennese fingers, snowballs and almond cheesecakes.

“We are always looking for new ideas and the retail environment is a great test for products which can potentially move into our wholesale business.

“New ideas are plentiful with Pinterest and Facebook great resources although when we are on holiday we are always looking for local bakeries to see what they are doing.

“We are also lucky enough to have been left a number of handwritten recipe books by our predecessors, which are fantastic reference points.”

Inevitably, over the past 12 months The Heatherlea has contended with rising business costs, increases in ingredients prices and energy bills while trying to maintain a pricing structure suitable for their customers facing the same cost-of-living battles; Paul added their biggest challenge is staying on top of costs.

“We have switched most of our energy suppliers in the past year and continually follow international pricing of raw ingredient materials and try and bring pressure to bear on our suppliers, especially when we see international prices falling in certain categories and this not being reflected in what we can buy locally.

“There is a balance between what we can charge for a product and what expectations a consumer has,” added Paul.

“Unfortunately, ingredients and energy have both led to price rises and there are some lines which can no longer be cost effectively produced. We do feel that ingredient producers are not always aware of the impact of some of their price rises and how challenged many consumers are currently.”

Rising to these challenges however, is key for businesses, engaging with their customers and building lasting relationships with them.

“We use social media and special occasions such as Mother’s Day, Pancake Tuesday and St Patrick’s Day as opportunities to offer unique product purchases, which we believe help us create regular customers especially when they visit in store and see our range of baked goods.

“Technology allows us to monitor and develop our customer experience allowing us to have the correct amount of goods on shelf at the right time throughout the day and throughout the week.

“We are also able to manage our wholesale operation with the use of handheld portable devices which are cloud-based and all integrated into an agile back office platform.”

Brian Martin, Mary Hayden, Steven Ruddock (from category sponsor, McGrath Bakery Services), Patricia Getty, Paul Getty, Linda Smyth and Jowita Stuart at the 2023 NR Awards.

The Heatherlea beat off its competition at the 2023 Neighbourhood Retailer Awards, winning the title of Bakery of the Year for an impressive fourth time, a true testament to the longevity and success of the Bangor bakery, and the dedication and commitment of its team of 40.

“We are absolutely delighted to have won NR Bakery of the Year for the fourth time,” said Paul. “It is a strong endorsement of the effort put in by all at The Heatherlea over many years, indeed we have some staff who have remained with us since 1990 and worked in the business previous to us.

“We would like to thank every one of our staff and customers for their support in the past years and trust this will continue for many more years. We would also like to thank NR for the continued interest and support in the craft baking sector.”