Success: Pieman with a healthy obsession

By Yoke Har lee

A Napier business with a long family history is keen to build a franchise based on Kiwi-style pies.

Phil Pollett wants to change the perception of pies. Photo / Hawkes Bay Today
Phil Pollett wants to change the perception of pies. Photo / Hawkes Bay Today

Phil Pollett's love affair with pies helped him make two big decisions.

The first was ditching his life in Britain in 1978 to come home to run a pie business with his Dad, Leo. The second was buying out his father's share in the company in 1984 to take full control of the business.

"'Boyds is for sale', Dad said when he rang me. 'If you come back now, we will buy it,"' Pollett recalls. Boyds was an established Napier piemaker, turning over $30,000 a year before the Polletts took over.

The first year under the Polletts, the former Boyds' sales rose to $100,000. Today the company's pie sales total $4-5 million a year - big, but still dwarfed by giant Irvines, part of Goodman Fielder.

In 1986 the company changed its name from Hawke's Bay Pie Wholesalers to The Goodtime Food Company.

The family's pie prowess goes back to Pollett's grandfather, who ran a pie business in Wellington before World War II, before moving to Napier in 1968.

Growing up with a baker father, Pollett said he never went to school on Easter Thursdays - the family was just too busy baking.

Leo and Phil parted ways, as Pollett senior was content serving Napier but his son wanted to expand.

"We got into a fight about this [difference in direction]. Mum and I used to gang up on him. He wanted to stay still, in Napier, so we would take on business without his knowledge." Now, having bought out his father, Pollett sells throughout the country.

Today the big goals are producing pies with less fat and exporting intellectual property. The company's Metro range of potato top pies - which have received the Heart Foundation tick - have 5 per cent fat and Pollett is working on a formula to whittle that down to 3 per cent, as well as reducing the salt content.

Pollett's ultimate vision is to build a franchise based on Kiwi-style pies and export it to the world. The system would entail time-tested recipes for low-fat, low-salt pies, aided by machines that would allow two people to make 6000 to 7000 pies an hour.

The company is no novice to distribution systems, with a network of distributors from Kaitaia to Bluff. In fact, Pollett fed so much of his knowledge to a supplier who was building software for the company that he realised how much value there was in his expertise.

He is collaborating on a new project to build distribution software to help run the entire supply chain for baking/food companies.

Pollett has his fair share of human resource issues but his success in sorting out problems drew the interest of the Department of Labour, which has written a case study on how proper HR management can lift company productivity.

Pollett says working in a pie factory isn't going to work for some people - the key is hiring people who will fit in. He says at its worst point, the employee turnover could be described as if all the staff had "left twice". His solution was to get the employees to have an in-house union to represent their needs.

"The first thing they asked for was for the Dominion. The second thing they asked was to photocopy the crossword puzzle and show them how to blow it up. They were little wee things that made people happy."

He also introduced a proper recruitment process and made the process of awarding pay rises more transparent. Pollett is also a fan of the Theory of Constraints management philosophy, propounded by Dr Eliyahu M. Goldratt. After attending a seminar on the theory, he called a leadership team meeting and explained what he thought could be done.

"I did the presentation on a Friday on what was stopping us from producing 4500 pies per day. By the following Friday, production had gone up 15 per cent.

"The support I got was amazing," he says, adding that the team knew exactly what he was after.

Pollett's eye for market changes led to diversification that helped the company survive the loss of its supermarket business. Five years ago, supermarkets accounted for 71 per cent of the company's business. But "after being treated badly, I decided we needed to get out".

He is scathing about the bad press that pies get and wants a better system to rate food on a range of indicators - carbohydrates, saturated fats, salt and sugar, among other things - not just fat.

Pollett is setting up an export processing plant in New Zealand to cater to Asian markets, among other places.

His favourite pie, incidentally, is steak and kidney, which Goodtime doesn't make because, says Pollett, his product development person doesn't like offal.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a3 at 20 Aug 2014 19:06:20 Processing Time: 481ms