To solve this age-old problem, Yoji Tamura, 41, who runs the deRien bakery in Hiroshima, radically changed the way his business makes and sells bread--and now it is in a position where it never has to throw away perfectly good produce.
Tamura’s achievement chimes with the United Nations’ drive to solve social problems through sustainable development goals (SDGs), which its member countries have agreed to achieve by 2030.
In Tamura’s bakery, “pain de campagne” country breads are baked to perfection in a stone kiln, their crusts thickening, and sweet aromas intensifying as the oven’s temperature gradually declines.
The only ingredients used are wheat flour, salt and water. And the loaves, which are baked slowly in the kiln using sticks, look impressive, with diameters spanning as much as 30 centimeters.
Tamura runs the bakery with his wife, Fumi, 36. They have not thrown out a single loaf since summer 2015.
When Tamura took over his family business in 2005, it was in dire straits. In a bid to turn its fortunes around, he implemented changes at the shop and began to make bread using natural yeasts, as well as loaves with homemade fillings.
The bakery sold 40 kinds of bread, and Tamura was extremely busy. His working day started at 10 p.m., and did not finish until the early evening of the next day.
Almost every day, the shop had to discard unsold bread after closing time, and that product often filled a 25-liter bag. Such waste did not impress one part-time member of staff, a woman from Mongolia, who scolded him for putting those loaves in the trash.
Tamura did not want to waste it, either, but there seemed to be no other way, as he feared he would be forced to close the bakery if any food poisoning cases emerged from it.
The bakery found popularity, but turning a profit proved more elusive. He struggled to pay his young employees’ wages, and could not make time to teach them bread making, either.
He found himself questioning whether the life of a baker was one he could continue with for the next couple of decades and beyond.
In 2012, Tamura temporarily closed the bakery and went to Europe for training. He worked on his craft at a series of bakeries, the third of which was the renowned shop, Gragger, in Vienna.
At that bakery, staff did not work excessive hours, but just the mornings. Neither did they ferment the doughs twice, which is common in Japan. Tamura could not help but feel that the working practices were subpar, but nevertheless, he noticed that the end results were much more delicious than the bread he had been making.
Another lesson he learned was to use the best ingredients possible, and he began to reconsider his previous way of working, in which he had toiled away for more than 15 hours each day.
Tamura decided to put his newfound knowledge into practice back in Japan, and he went home to reopen his bakery.
He slashed the types of bread he sells to just two, including pain de campagne. He changed his source of wheat to one that is cultivated in Hokkaido’s Tokachi region using organic agriculture methods. The new flour was four times more expensive than the imported variety, but he curbed costs by not using fillings such as cheese. Without the fillings, his loaves remained edible for about two weeks.
The next challenge was to change how the shop was run. Staffing was cut down to just himself and his wife, who is in charge of sales. In addition, he decided to open the shop in the afternoons only, three days a week. On those three days, he bakes bread from 4 a.m. to 11 a.m., and rests in the afternoon.
Then, he thought about how to sell the bread in ways that would not force him to discard unsold loaves. One wheat producer encouraged this approach, telling him in an e-mail message, “If loaves made from my wheat remain unsold, send them to me. I will buy all of them.”
These days, instead of having sales staff, Tamura puts his freshly baked bread on a shelf next to the kitchen, with an unmanned box placed next to it to collect payment. If any loaves get left on the shelf, he passes them on to a mobile vegetable store business and a ham shop.
He also began a service in which he takes advance orders from customers and then bakes bread to send to them regularly. The idea took off, and now about 160 people, ranging from Hokkaido to Okinawa Prefecture, buy his goods through the service.
As a result of all these efforts, Tamura’s bakery reached the point where none of its produce goes to waste. Numerous customers visit the small 18-square-meter shop to snap up fresh bread, and annual sales stand at about 25 million yen ($US 227,500), unchanged from those before the 2012 suspension.
“Instead of making bread that loses popularity after five years, I want to continue making types that have endured over many years. If bakeries like my shop increase in Japan, it will be interesting,” he said.
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