Couple celebrate love for the sweeter things in life
The international day of love is the perfect excuse to indulge in a sweet treat or two...
Brian Crowther loves the sweeter things in life, and, with his wife Leanne, is helping to bring the humble meringue into the 21st century.
Ten years ago the couple founded their Shropshire-based bakery and business Flower & White, and today their products are sold across the globe.
“We realised meringues have been left alone as far as innovation is concerned so we saw an opportunity to give them a new lease of life,” said keen baker Brian.
Father-of-three Brian, had worked in the restaurant industry before becoming a stay-at-home time dad, which gave him the chance to indulge in his love of baking.
“I was fed up of working for other people. I had worked for big companies like Disney and UK companies like Carluccios but I wanted to work for myself,” he said.
Brian began by making cupcakes at home which he sold at local farmer’s markets before turning his hand to meringues. His hand-crafted creations – giant Swiss meringues whipped up from sugar and egg whites – proved to be a huge crowd pleaser.
“I started with strawberry and chocolate flavours which we still do today and I would pile them up high on the table. They sold really well,” said Brian.
Seeing an opportunity, the couple decided to focus just on the meringues and now sell their meringue Giants in 20 different flavours including the most popular – white chocolate and raspberry. They now have a wide range of other products including meringue Bites, that have been ‘enrobed’ in chocolate.
“Meringues are a nice sweet treat. They are low calorie and can be made vegan and gluten free. Yes, they contain a lot of sugar, we don’t apologise for that, but we offer a bar that is under 100 calories,” said Brian.
At their base on Tweedale Business Park in Telford they now employ between 30 and 35 staff depending on the time of year, and have the capacity to produce one million meringues each day. The team of bakers use between 200,000 and 250,000 British free-range eggs a week, and hand swirl the distinctive meringue giants. They also finish the meringue Bars and Bites, which are machine piped, with sprinklings of gourmet toppings by hand.
To make the Giants, which represent half of the company’s turnover, the first step is to gently heat the sugar.
“We use the Swiss method of heating the sugar which makes a more stable meringue and gives it a marshmallow-like centre,” said Brian.
The eggs are bought in as separated egg whites, which saves the team time.
“We used to separate the egg whites by hand but this took a lot of time and could be very messy and wasteful,” Brian explained.
The sugar and egg whites are combined in the giant mixers and whisked for around 15 minutes or until the mixture has reached the right consistency.
“The method has stayed exactly the same since we started, we’ve just had to invest in bigger mixers,” said Brian.
After the flavours are added, the next step is dosing, which is where the bakers scoop and the swirl the mixture into individual meringues on to trays. These are then gently baked on racks for two hours at 100c in giant ovens that have capacity for 1,200 meringues.
They are then stored in a humidity-controlled room to keep them dry before they are packaged, ready to be shipped.
“Meringue is a really funny thing. We found that moisture in the air in the factory can seep back into the meringue, so resting it in a dry environment helps the product to settle and dry before it’s packed,” said Brian.
To ensure they taste their best, the shelf-life of the meringues ranges between seven weeks for the Giants and 39 weeks for the Bars and Bites.
After they are baked they will be crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, but if they are left longer they will be light, crisp and full of crunch all the way through. The newest part of the Flower & White business is chocolate enrobing, which is where the meringue bites and bars are given a tasty coating of white or milk Belgium chocolate. Brian said he enjoys coming up with new ideas for the business from different flavours to more environmentally-friendly packaging.Last summer the firm, which sells its gourmet treats in outlets from Selfridges to QVC, claimed to have beaten the likes of Mars and Nestlé, to become the first confectionary company in the confectionery sector to bring in move into plastic-free packaging. They are using an innovative paper-based pouch with a heat-sealable coating for their meringues Bites, and paper sleeves for their Bars as part of a wider commitment to improve sustainability and reduce energy.
“We’ve just put together a sustainability group – a team working across the factory from the shopfloor to the directors – to look at everything from cycle to work schemes, and energy efficiency to local community gardens, and what we can do outside the factory to reduce our carbon footprint,” explained Brian.
Brian is positive about the future and the firm’s ability to develop new ideas and continue expanding its product range according to customer tastes and trends.
“I’m extremely proud of what we’ve achieved in the past 10 years. We’ve not got a natural competitor in the meringue environment, but we will continue to develop new ideas, innovations and flavours and make as perfect a product as we can,” he added.
“There’s been a huge increase in the consumption of chocolate in the past year. When we had the global recession the cupcake industry really took off because people had less disposable income but still wanted a small treat.
“I think chocolate is a really indulgence. We live in uncertain times so people still want to treat themselves but not spend so much on their treats and chocolate is ideal for that.”
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