Fresh Is Better
Bays English Muffins
Bays Bakery Incorporated started in Chicago, in 1933, as the Bays English Muffin Corporation. Dedicated to quality service and product, the company has grown to distribute across the United States and abroad. In 2017, Bays proudly celebrated its eightieth anniversary.
Bays English Muffin Corporation was started by George W. Bay Sr. “He started with one bakery, making English muffins using a family recipe that originated back to his family in England,” says Tom Robaczewski, vice president of sales at Bays Bakery Incorporated. “And he began selling them up and down the streets of Chicago, in brown paper bags.
“In 1938, Bay Sr. began packaging English muffins in six count packages as they still appear today,” says Robaczewski. “Jewel Tea was one of our very first customers in Chicago to buy that product and remains one of our best customers today.”
Over the years the business grew steadily and was passed down through generations, first changing hands to George’s son James N. Bay, and then to grandsons George A. Bay and James N. Bay Jr. Most recently, in 2017, the Bay family sold the business. Bays English Muffin Corporation was acquired by Bimbo Bakeries USA and renamed Bays Bakery Incorporated.
The brand grew in retail stores throughout the Midwest, but one of Bays’ biggest accomplishments was probably its growth outside of the supermarket business. “When McDonald’s first introduced the Egg McMuffin in 1972, it was served on a Bays English Muffin,” says Robaczewski. “So, that was a huge development.”
In the last decade, however, the company has chosen to concentrate more on retail. “We’ve really focused on expanding our retail presence coast-to-coast,” says Robaczewski. “We still do have some restaurants and hotels that offer Bays English Muffins, especially in our core markets, but we’ve focused mainly on our retail business.”
Today, with bakery locations in Chicago and Detroit, Bays Bakery Incorporated is exclusively a manufacturer of refrigerated premium English muffins. “We currently make four varieties: original, sourdough, multigrain and honey wheat,” says Robaczewski. “Ninety-five percent of our overall business is in the United States, but we also do a little bit of business in the Caribbean, Costa Rica and Bermuda.”
Bays Bakery Incorporated takes great pride in its ingredients. “Our English muffins are made with grade A butter, whole milk, cane sugar and Minnesota spring wheat flour,” says Robaczewski. “We start with better ingredients. Then, the product is sliced rather than fork-split, for the ease of use. This provides a crisp edge around it, once toasted, and allows butter to melt down into the muffin, making some terrific sandwiches.”
Something else that makes Bays Bakery Incorporated exceptional is how its product is stored. “We sell refrigerated English muffins when most English Muffins are sold in the commercial bread aisle,” says Robaczewski. “And our English Muffins are shipped and merchandised refrigerated to maintain our quality and freshness.
“We’ve got an extremely loyal consumer base that purchases our product because of that quality,” says Robaczewski. “It’s what they’re used to buying.”
Of course, like most companies, Bays Bakery Incorporated has its share of challenges; that same storage that plays a part in its uniqueness, also presents a challenge. “The biggest challenge we’ve got is being in the refrigerated dairy case and away from the majority of where bread products are usually sold,” says Robaczewski. “When trying to convince a retailer of the benefits of having a refrigerated English muffin in their dairy section, we point out the quality of our product. But once we cut our product (usually against the competition) and show retailers the difference, they usually take a chance on putting Bays into their dairy case.” And it goes without saying that the decision is a good one.
“The dairy case is a very competitive space as you try to get into the egg, refrigerated dough or butter categories,” says Robaczewski. “It can be challenging to maintain that space, so you have to sell well.”
Another difficulty faced by the company is logistics. “Because we’ve got a limited shelf life on our product, we want to make sure that we get it to the customer as soon as possible,” says Robaczewski. “We might ship a pallet to Lewiston, Maine; ship a couple of pallets to Grandview, Washington; or might send a pallet or two to New Mexico, so we’re shipping less than truckload quantities all over the U.S. That expense, along with the growing shortage of truck drivers, presents some additional challenges. However, now with additional resources from Bimbo Bakeries USA, we have supply chain experts looking into efficiencies for us.”
Bays Bakery Incorporated believes in its product and works hard to promote it. “We want to educate the consumer and increase our brand awareness so that consumers know where to find us,” says Robaczewski. “We try to do that through couponing, promotions, and making sure that people understand we’re located in the dairy section when retailers advertise us in their weekly ads. In 2018, we’re going to increase our brand awareness through digital media and social media so that customers understand where to find Bays in the store.”
Bays Bakery Incorporated is very proud of all it has accomplished in the last eight decades, from the company’s impressive growth to its new ownership. “I started with the company in January of 2012, so in just over six years, we grew this business 40 percent,” says Robaczewski. “And it’s all been through some slow strategic growth and distribution gains, getting new retailers to carry Bays, and adding varieties of distribution where we get a sourdough or multigrain on the shelf at different retailers. We’ve really focused on certain markets and have tried to grow that business slowly and strategically.”
Some may be surprised to learn that English muffins have diverse uses. “Everyone’s familiar with the English muffin as an accompaniment of breakfast or for a breakfast sandwich, but there are a lot of other usages for English muffins,” says Robaczowski. “It’s a great snack item with butter, bananas, or cream cheese on it. And it works great for making sandwiches with lunchmeat, peanut butter and jelly, or virtually anything.”
Bays Bakery Incorporated aims to educate the consumer about and share all the many great uses for English muffins. “Pizzas are also a popular use for English muffins; I remember when growing up, our family made little mini pizzas on Friday nights with Bays English Muffins,” says Robaczewski. “And one of the best usages that I’ve recently come across was to use them with burgers. There’s just something about a burger – that when you grill it, the juices from the burger get absorbed into the English muffin, and it makes the perfect combination. The Bays.com website features many recipes and usages for English muffins.”
For eighty years, the Bay-family-run company has been dedicated to high standards in customer care. “We have always focused on continually producing a great quality product and to service our retail customers in the best way and to the best of our ability,” says Robaczewski. “Bays was a small company with a terrific family heritage and great culture, where everyone conducted themselves with integrity and trust.”
Now, having been acquired by Bimbo Bakeries, the company’s guiding principles remain quite similar, but more formalized. “They (new owners) value every associate and treat everyone with respect, fairness, trust, and care,” says Robaczewski. “Diversity is important and it enriches us. Inclusion makes us stronger. And we believe we’re one community – one global community – but we look for strong results. We’re passionate in what we do and we act with integrity. The consumer is our boss; the customers and retailers are our partners.”
Bays Bakery Incorporated’s plan for the future is to continue to grow. “Expansion to all supermarkets in every part of the United States and into club stores, dollar stores, and drugstores,” says Robaczewski. “We also want to focus on e-commerce opportunities and food service. We believe we have a real opportunity to get back into food service, and with the network of Bimbo Bakeries USA and its production facilities, opportunities are endless.”
“While the Bay family may no longer be running the business, Bimbo Bakeries USA continues to produce the same great quality English muffins,” says Robaczewski. “And if you haven’t yet tried a Bays English Muffin, located in the refrigerated dairy section; today is a really good day to try one.”