Sweet and sticky tale of success

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The Independent Online
THE Cambridge crew ate them while training for this year's University Boat Race. And they won. Shaun Davies, a class winner in the Mr Universe competition, gets through 10 a day at the gym where he trains. Nicholas Soames MP was comparatively abstemious when he visited the Handmade Flapjack Company during his spell as food minister. But he did take a box away with him and send a letter of thanks proclaiming its contents 'delicious'.

The letter is framed on the wall of the firm's tiny reception area, alongside a certificate from the Coventry Evening Telegraph proclaiming it 1993's 'Business of the Year'.

The Handmade Flapjack Company is a family firm or, more accurately, a two-family firm. Four years ago, Paul Riches was running a delicatessen close to what is now Coventry University. He sold flapjacks. Some were made by his wife, Lynne, and some by Martin Lambert, a trained chef who worked from his home in nearby Binley Woods. Both varieties were popular, particularly with students. 'We used to get fan mail saying how good they were,' Mr Lambert recalls. 'We knew they were easy to produce, had good profit margins and a long shelf life.'

The Riches took a gamble, sold the delicatessen and went into partnership with the Lamberts.

They bought a disused Victorian bakery and worked out a joint recipe. 'We never stint on ingredients or portion size,' Mr Riches says. At first they produced 250 boxes a week for selected shops in Coventry and Birmingham. The flapjacks were wrapped in computer- printed cling film. Expansion began after they hired a salesman with a van, who picked up contracts with the local authority as well as colleges.

'Soon we were being contacted by wholesalers who wanted to stock our products,' Mr Lambert says. Within two years, they had outgrown the bakery and moved to an industrial estate on the edge of the city.

They had to borrow heavily to do so. Mr Lambert admits they were severely undercapitalised. 'But we haven't taken out big salaries and we've put the profits back.'

Today they produce nearly 8,000 boxes a week, employ 46 staff and have a turnover of pounds 2.5m. Through promoting themselves at trade exhibitions, they have picked up a network of foreign agents. Their flapjacks are now on sale in France, Germany, Norway, Denmark and Sweden.

The range has expanded to 18 flavours, and the firm has diversified into other confectionary, such as fudge brownies and caramel shortcake. Gone is the computer-printed cling film. 'We're now geared up for own- label packaging,' Mr Lambert says.

'We're negotiating with the big supermarkets and garage chains. And we're aware that you have to fine tune things to suit them. Our main problem at the moment is lack of space. Since we came here, we've taken on two more warehouses.'

Not that there are any plans for the company to move. 'Coventry is ideal for distribution.'

A sign on the door says: 'Representatives will be seen without a prior appointment.' The taste of sweet success, it seems, has not yet glutted the appetite for more.

(Photograph omitted)

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