Cuisine de France’s national account manager, Sharon Carney, says that winning the Customer Focus Award, sponsored by BakeMark, at last year’s Baking Industry Awards was a triumph for the business – not to mention a great opportunity to meet Joanna Lumley!Established in 1989, the in-store bakery and food-to-go supplier, a subsidiary of IAWS Group, supplies over 4,000 outlets across the UK including Budgens and Spar. The company had won the very same award in the past, so the pressure was on to keep standards high.The judges crowned Cuisine de France winner last year due to the company’s success in building relationships with its customers. “It’s about working closer with customers and improving the relationship, so that it’s a win-win situation,” says marketing director David Girdler. “It’s more of a consultancy and a relationship, than just manufacturer and customer.”There were key elements we needed to address as part of the working relationship with one of our customers,” says Carney of the time leading up to the application. “So we tried to get across what we’d done to overcome some major hurdles that the customer had at the time.”The company’s ability to overcome customers’ problems is just one of the things which prompted the company to apply for the Baking Industry Awards; so what other areas of the business did they highlight?”We mainly looked at the category side of what we could do for bakery and food-to-go by understanding what issues the customer had internally and then looking at what we had to do to overcome them,” explains Carney. “By looking at range rationalisation and understanding the customer profile, we can build a plan to go forward to help build their business and make it more profitable for them.”The company supplies the convenience market with products produced at its factory and head office in Tallaght, Dublin; its UK office is in Stone, Staffordshire. Its products, including French breads, pastries and baked confectionery, are baked off in in-store bakeries daily.Before the awards, the company relaunched its food-to-go business with the Cuisine-to-Go brand. “The Cuisine de France in-store bakery brand and the Cuisine-to-Go food-to-go brand has really been our focus,” says Girdler. “One of the things we highlighted in the application was that a big part of our customers’ business is food-to-go so it was a timely opportunity to link the two in and use our new concept to help them improve their offer,” adds Carney. “We were also focused on improving the performance of our customer groups and ensuring they were making profit as well as looking at the range we had.”Looking back we worked really closely together to understand what we needed to do to drive the category with the processes we had. The key issues that we overcame were critical to our customers’ businesses.”Since winning, the company’s focus has mainly been on increasing the presence of its Cuisine-to-Go in-store offer and on working with its customers to drive their sales forward. “We’ve continued to roll out Cuisine de France’s in-store bakery model and, where appropriate, the Cuisine-to-Go model,” explains Girdler. “I think given the difficult times bakery has had with rising commodity prices an in-store bakery offer complemented with food-to-go offer better places customers to manage themselves through a recession.” On the challenges of rising prices Girdler says the company has noticed changes in customers’ shopping habits.”We are monitoring this all the time and making sure our business model addresses those needs,” he explains. “It’s also important for businesses to make sure the offer is still relevant in these difficult times. Availability is key at all times of the day, especially in the convenience part of the market.”Winning the award has had several benefits, explains Carney. “We’ve been able to use it as a testimony to other customers,” she says, before offering some useful tips for top customer relations: “Get under the skin of the account and get to understand what the customers’ needs are. Then transfer what you’ve found into a policy to help them drive their business and take their sales forward.”—-=== View from the awards night ===”It was a good night and great fun. It was the first time I’d had the opportunity to go to the event and as one of the nominees it was especially exciting. Winning was just fantastic,” says Sharon Carney.”We are delighted to support the Baking Industry Awards. Anybody can win these awards and not always the biggest players,” adds David Girdler.