Keeping bread simple, healthy & affordable.
Broadways reinvents itself to secure success in a highly competitive bakery sector
Broadways bread needs no introduction to millions of Kenyans. Almost everyone in both the urban and rural areas have had a taste of this bread. To many, it was their growing-up breakfast favorite and thus it elicits some nostalgia every time it is picked up from the supermarket or kiosk. To others, its low sugar content makes it the healthier choice in an aisle filled with an endless number of brands. Despite their different reasons for picking up the bread, all consumers can agree on one thing – Broadways is a legacy brand that has nourished Kenyans for arguably more years than any other brand currently in existence. “We pride ourselves in baking Kenya’s number 1 bread consistently for over 65 years,” the Company says on its website. “Our high-quality bread products are loved by our customers across the country and contain less sugar without compromising on their great taste.”
Established in 1958, Broadways celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2018 in pomp and color. To crown it all, the Company released an e-book that provides a detailed history of Broadway Bakery, Bakex Millers and other companies in the Group, as well as individual family histories of members of the Company’s founding family – the Fulchand Lakhamshi family – that played a pivotal role in the success the Company enjoys today. The forward in this e-book is by Kenya’s then-sitting president H.E Uhuru Kenyatta who recognizes the Group’s contribution to the Kenyan manufacturing sector and its impact on the community around it. “With this book, we acknowledge everyone who has helped us build Broadway Bakery to what it is today,” reads part of the e-book’s introduction by the Company’s Directors – Bimal Sobhagchand Shah, Hiten Ratilal Shah, and Bejul Chunilal Shah. “On behalf of the entire kinship that forms the Broadway Group of Companies, we welcome you to see our business and the family through our eyes with the help of this unique book.”
Securing a heritage brand
With just 35 years before its centenary celebrations, the Company is undergoing a new transformation to secure its strong heritage and better position it to grasp future opportunities in the bakery sector. Third-generation members of the family – Devan Bimal Shah and Rohin Hiten Shah – are taking greater responsibility in the Group in preparation for a future where they hope to succeed the current generation comprised of Bimal, Hiten and Bejul who took over the management of the Group from their fathers in 2000. The Group has also brought in Francis Musila as a Group CEO to assist with the succession plans. Francis, a seasoned executive with over 26 years of experience in various executive roles in the banking and aviation sector, expressed confidence about his ability to secure the strong heritage of the Broadways brand and set it up for an even more glorious future. “I am in a completely different field, but I bring some heavy-lifting management experience to help this Group to go to the next generation,” he says.
From Musila’s point of view, securing the future for Broadways has a lot to do with sticking to the basics of why the Group exists as a business – to make high quality and healthy bread and flour products that are affordable for all Kenyans. It’s a statement that Devan, who currently serves as the Group Business Development Executive, strongly agrees with. “We don’t want to do anything different,” he says. “We want to keep it very simple.”
On the milling side bakex millers recently intoduced two innovative products: phulka atta mark 1 (a premium flour for chapati) and ungano-a mixture of white and brown wheat flour.
Nothing in Broadway’s portfolio represents this simplicity more than its white sliced bread which has been around for as long as the Company has been in existence. Little about the bread has changed since Ratilal Fulchand, Sobhaghchand Fulchand and Chunilal Fulchand first produced it from a small bakery with just a one-deck oven in Thika town. Despite many bakers opting for plastic packaging, Broadways bread is still wrapped in the same wax-coated paper packaging that it has been packaged in since our grandfathers had lots of hair on their heads. The Company has an in-house wax-coating and printing plant that provides a steady supply of this signature packaging that not only keeps the bread fresh, but also spares the environment of the damaging consequences of plastic alternatives. The same applies to the brown variant which contains more bran and wheat germ for consumers desiring an excellent source of roughage. Unsliced versions of both white and brown also exist for those customers who prefer enjoying their bread the old-school way.
Opportunities for innovation still exist
Devan notes that even within simplicity, there are opportunities for innovation and the Company has proven that with its recent innovations. Just two years back, the Company became the first to launch a bread where every slice is comprised of both brown and white wheat flour. Trading under the 50/50 brand, the bread is meant to be a compromise for families where some people prefer white bread and others prefer brown bread. Devan however confesses that the performance of the new brand in the market is not as remarkable as they had hoped it to be. “I think the biggest challenge we had was educating people on what this product is,” Devan admits. “A lot of people thought half the bread is white and half the bread is brown, while in reality, every slice is made up of a mixture of white and brown flour.” The bread has however attracted a loyal following of consumers who loved it from the moment they tasted it. “What’s now remaining is having a better marketing strategy in terms of targeting the younger population that may not like the taste of brown bread but want the nutrients that it offers,” Devan reveals.
Beyond the 50/50 bread, Broadways also has a snacks range that is comprised of Mando Bites – ready-to-eat mandazis – and Maicho Donuts which are soft, fluffy and delicious ready-to-eat donuts. The line is small compared to the bread lines, but Devan believes opportunities to grow this line exist even though it is characterized by stiff competition from the informal bakery market. “It’s just a question of really understanding what we need in this market and then driving towards that,” he points out.
On the milling side, Bakex Millers has recently come up with two innovative products. The Company installed the first specialized Atta Mill in Africa in 2018 and introduced the brand Phulka ATTA Mark I to the market. This flour is made of 100% whole wheat flour and is a premium chapati flour. In addition, earlier this year, the Company introduced Ungano – a mixture of white and brown wheat flour. This flour is a game-changer in the market as it easily allows for a high water absorption whilst giving a high yield for whatever end product the flour is used to make.
New machinery sets Broadways up for future success
Broadway’s successes over the years could not have been possible without continuous investment in the latest baking technologies. These investments not only bring increased efficiencies but also help the Company cope with an ever-burgeoning demand for its products.
As Covid engulfed the world, many industries greatly suffered and put on hold expansion plans. But this Company persevered and saw opportunities amidst the chaos. Plans were already in place to put up a new bread line and the Company went through with their plans and commissioned a new state-of-the-art fully automated bread line from the Dutch multinational supplier of bakery lines, Royal Kaak, in 2021. This is the first time a Kaak bread plant has been commissioned in Sub-Saharan Africa, adding to the many firsts the Company has been part of. This new line was built within a new building adjacent to the current premises of the Company. Bimal, who is the heart of the operation, was instrumental in driving this project and made sure the line was set up despite all the challenges Covid brought.
The new line revolutionized the way bread is baked at Broadways. A bulk flour handling facility is set up just outside the new factory allowing for easy, safe and efficient transfer of flour from trucks directly into four silos located inside the bakery. The silos make it more efficient to transfer flour for use within the baking process. Combined, they have a storage capacity of 80 tonnes.
Inside the factory is where new technology backed by the power of automation meets together with the art of baking to create a marvel that is delightful to the eye. The process starts with mixing which is done by two recently acquired state-of-the-art dough mixers. With new technology, this step has been greatly simplified while the efficiency and effectiveness of the process itself have been greatly improved. The mixers, for one, have greater capacity compared with what the Company had before. Secondly, they are highly efficient in achieving the desired dough consistency, which is the secret to making good quality bread.
From the mixers, the rest of the bread line is fully automated. When the dough is ready for scaling, it is placed under a mechanical elevator which lifts it to an elevated bucket from where it falls through gravity into a divider which partitions the dough to desired quantities. The machine can be configured to produce either 200gms, 400gms, 600gms or 800gms bread. Smaller doughs come out of the divider and are transferred into a rounder machine that converts them into round balls which are then delivered onto conveyors where they embark on a slow but timed journey through the bread line where they are subjected to different bakery processes including pressing, rolling, panning, 2-stage proofing and finally baking.
When we visited the plant, the 200gm bread, popularly known as Kadogo, was the one in production. In slow but timed movements, the loaves of bread rolled from one stage of the process to another until they finally emerged from the giant ovens fully baked and golden-brown in color. The aroma that wafts through the air at this stage is irresistible, filling the space with a warm and comforting fragrance of yeast and grain.
“Last year we realized that even with the increased capacity that had been introduced in 2021, we were starting to reach its limit,” says CEO Musila. “As we were going into the election period, we realized that we were running all our plants at capacity which means that there was more demand,” Musila reveals. “So, we made the decision to put up a new plant which is a replica of the plant we put up in 2021.” The new plant is from the same Dutch multinational supplier of bakery lines, Royal Kaak, and was commissioned earlier this year.
From the observation area, a few feet above the production floor, I could see Musila watching closely every step of the plant’s commissioning. He is a hands-on CEO that leaves nothing to chance. His smiles from time to time however tell that progress has been good. “The new plant has been running very well, the technology being used in that plant is amazing and the quality that comes out is fantastic,” Musila says. From the look of things, Broadways is set up for success, at least in the near future. “We hope to run these new plants until the 2040s,” Devan confirms.
Bimal simply can’t hide the joy the installation of the second breadline has brought him. “Before the installation of the new line, we were under pressure to meet the high demand for bread, especially the fast-moving 200gm bread,” he says. “But with a new line, things have eased a bit. We can confidently serve our market even during holidays when demand goes through the roof.” He also adds that the second line also ensures that a backup exists should there be a breakdown on one. “Work doesn’t stop, which was my greatest fear before this new line was installed.”
Baking with the heart
Broadways however does not just bake bread – it is also deeply committed to the community surrounding it through various programs. The Company says its community engagement programs demonstrate its commitment to the community within which it operates and to whom it owes its success to date. The Broadway High School is perhaps the most visible of the Company’s community programs. Established in 1996, the school provides high-quality education to students from the nearby slum area as a way of uplifting them from poverty. Through the years, the Company has invested in the development of the school by building new classrooms, establishing a library and most recently building an entire modern classroom block to enable the school to cater to more students. Numerous students also get placements within the Group’s businesses during vacations where they get to hone their skills while others receive university sponsorships to further their education. Beyond education, the Group makes a number of donations to support various courses in the community. At the height of the pandemic, the Group came out strongly to support national and county government relief initiatives through cash and food donations.
A fact that is also mostly underemphasized is its great contribution as a source of direct and indirect employment to more than 2,000 people. “We are the only ones that have been consistently employing people for 5 years,” Bimal reveals.
Perhaps the most important contribution to society is the “#BeSugarSmart” campaign which aims to raise awareness of the negative impacts of consuming too much sugar. To reverse this trend, Broadways uses a multipronged approach that involves giving consumers healthy low-sugar bread, conducting free screening camps for early detection and running a health awareness campaign to help consumers make informed health choices. 6 years after the campaign’s launch, they have managed to screen more than 20,000 people in 20 out of the country’s 47 counties. Devan says that Broadways is still committed to the program. “We’re still reinforcing the dangers of consuming too much sugar and basically asking consumers to look at what they’re having daily, not just for bread but for all products,” he says adding that the Company is looking to partner with stakeholders to enhance the whole project in terms of offering medication and aftercare to people who have been screened.
Moving into the future as a Superbrand
For 65 years, one thing has defined Broadways and that is resilience. The Group has weathered many storms including the 1982 drought which led to wheat scarcity that threatened the Group’s viability. To survive, it started its own mill – Bakex Millers – which is today one of the leading wheat milling companies in Kenya. Its most recent challenge was the spike in global wheat prices just at a time when inflation was rapidly eroding consumer purchasing power. To keep prices low, Broadways has had to be smart with its wheat procurement strategy.
By continuously investing in new technology, the Group has also been able to maintain its competitive edge in the market. It’s this dedication to quality throughout the ages that enabled the Group to attain “Superbrands Status” in 2022. According to the global company that oversees the Superbrands Award, participation is by invitation only and offered to the most outstanding brands in their field. A proud Devan reveals that the Group will from now on use the distinctive Superbrands East Africa Awards seal on all its bread and flour products as a reassurance to consumers that they are buying the best brands in the respective categories.