STORY: Karen Dear highlights key changes in her 20 years at the CBA
Karen Dear, Director of Operations at the Craft Bakers Association (CBA) is celebrating 20 years with the association.
During the past two decades the baking industry has changed more than over the past 133 years, and been part of some historic events. Here, Karen shares the key changes she has seen and some of her favourite moments - from helping bring the CBA into the ‘digital age’, to working to overthrow the proposed 2012 ‘Pasty Tax’.
When Karen joined the CBA in 2000, as secretary to CEO David Smith and Senior Executive Officer Gill Brooks-Lonican, the organisation was known as the National Association of Master Bakers.
The majority of the craft bakeries on the high street at that time were family owned and most made and sold just a few types of bread, such as white and brown tin loaves. Sourdough was yet to become the staple it is today!
In 2006 Karen was instrumental in helping the CBA became part of the ‘digital revolution’. Whereas just five years previously having an email address or website was almost unheard of, in 2012 the CBA launched a website, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. Doing this enabled the CBA to more effectively share information with its members and engage with partners and stakeholders – a far cry from the envelope stuffing happening just a few years earlier!
Having always had a keen interest in the topic, in 2012 Karen completed a CIPD programme to become qualified as a Level 3 Associate CIPD in Employment Law.
In 2012 Karen worked with the CBA board to successfully overturn the proposed ‘Pasty Tax’. The CBA worked with the City of London Police to hold a demonstration outside Downing Street, started a petition, gained national press coverage and attended a reception at the Jubilee Rooms in Westminster, and the ruling was eventually successfully overturned.
Karen also helped organise the 2012 CBA 125th anniversary gala dinner, led by Christopher Freeman (President and Director at the time), for over 700 people at the Guildhall in London. Not just a celebration of the association, but of the industry as a whole, the celebration cake from the event still sits in the CBA offices in Ware and remains one of Karen’s favourite moments.
In 2016 Karen was promoted to Director of Operations - the position she holds today, which saw her take on the overall running of the CBA and become responsible for giving advice on employment law to members. During the health crisis this year alone, Karen estimates she has spoken to over 300 bakers, speaking to more than 100 CBA members in the first week of the pandemic alone.
The visibility of craft bakers on social media and online continues to grow, with the majority of CBA members now having an online presence. Many have also innovated to start offering services such as online ordering or home delivery since the start of the pandemic.
Consumer interest in health and alternatives to traditional bread, such as gluten free, has also grown significantly in the last five years. Twenty years ago the white loaf was most bakers’ biggest seller, but today seeded breads, wholemeal, sourdoughs and speciality breads are all hugely popular with consumers. A recent survey of CBA members has also shown that over the last year many have seen a rise in customer numbers, as consumers shop more locally.
Reflecting on her time at the CBA, Karen feels that although there have been many changes over the past 20 years, the challenges of the industry and therefore for the association, have stayed the same. These are being relevant, changing and adapting to shoppers’ needs, footfall on the high street, ingredient prices, and attracting and retaining skilled employees. Karen has been impressed with CBA members’ ongoing capacity to adapt and innovate to meet these needs.
Today, Karen, along with the CBA team and its partners, assists members with queries on everything from employment law to finance, health and safety and more, whilst at the same time working on the CBA’s marketing activity to promote the craft bakery sector. Karen and the team’s aim is, and will continue to be, to provide the very best support and guidance to members, so that they and the wider craft baking industry can continue to thrive.
Karen said: “Working at the CBA for the past 20 years has been a real privilege. I have seen first-hand the impressive results that come from an association working closely with its members, and the passion and skill that all of our CBA members, and the wider industry, have. I look forward to continuing to see the sector develop and grow, as it has done over the past 20 years and am excited for what is to come.”
For more information visit www.craftbakersassociation.co.uk