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Case Study - Producer Karen Pigott

Karen Pigott’s baking day starts at 5am. She cooks her Dorset Apple Cakes on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, setting her alarm clock for 5am so she can fit in two hours of baking before her three-year-old daughter Molly gets up.

The cakes cool while Karen wakes up Molly, gives her breakfast and takes her to nursery. Then she returns home to package and label her cakes.

On Fridays she drops Molly at nursery and then has a three-hour slot for deliveries before she has to be back at the nursery to pick up Molly again. 

Karen joined Country Markets as a way to pursue her passion for baking and preserving while caring for her children – son Ashleigh, 18, and three-year-old daughter Molly.

“I love cooking and would do it on a larger scale, but I have to fit everything around the little one at the moment. I have to fit things in here, there and everywhere. I am a morning person. I work faster in the mornings, which is why I get up early to cook,” said Karen, a producer with Christchurch Country Market in Dorset.

“I get enough money to cover my costs. I am not making a living out of it. But I am keeping my hand in, keeping up to date with things. I don’t want to work while my daughter is small and I am in the lucky position of not having to work thanks to my husband. But it is nice to help out with the household income. I don’t know what I would do otherwise – I like to be busy!”

Karen keeps records of her baking in a book where she notes the batch number for each day’s batch and the customer the batch is for. This is so she has a record of her activity and so she can trace all items she sells in case of problems. Before the birth of her daughter she had a food business, so record-keeping, including completing the Safer Food, Better Business manual, is second-nature.

The size of each batch varies depending on the size of her orders which can vary from week to week. There are seasonal variations too – orders go up in summer, but down in winter as the number of visitors to the area dwindle. At one store she supplies, the shop’s regular order is often supplemented with extra orders from customers.

She can fit eight large Dorset Apple Cakes into her oven at a time, or three muffin trays with 12 slots. “I try not to waste oven space!”

Karen sells her cake  - made (in season) with fruit picked from an old tree in her cottage garden- to local shops and restaurants, as well as at Christchurch Country Market.

She got an order with Bransgore Country Store after a recommendation from her dad who lives in the same village as the store. The shop asked her for Dorset Apple Cakes to sell to holidaymakers who stay in the nearby caravan park and advertises the cakes as ‘locally handmade Dorset Apple Cake’ on a blackboard outside the shop.

Karen approached her second outlet A Taste of Dorset shortly after it opened. She took along samples of Dorset Apple Cake and the shop ordered the following week.

A local restaurant Reef Encounter bought one of her cakes from the shop and were so impressed they put a note through her door asking to buy another. Two weeks later they bought a second cake - to test that quality was consistent - and then placed a regular order. They sell muffin-sized Dorset Apple Cakes as a dessert served with cream.

Karen also approached a newly-opened tea-room The Potting Shed at a plant nursery where she had worked previously and they promptly made an order for her Dorset Apple Cake.

News of Karen’s Dorset Apple Cake has even reached Australia! (No orders yet though). An old schoolfriend, who now lives Down Under and writes for a foodie publication, praised Karen’s humble apple cake to the skies; and Australian holidaymakers who bought one in Dorset rang to tell their British cousins to GO AND TRY IT!

She sells her loaf-tin size Dorset Apple Cake to retail outlets and the tea-room and restaurant for £2.50 each. She sells muffin-sized cakes in packs of two for £1. To reach her prices she doubles the cost of her ingredients then adds on the cost of packaging. The outlets add on their own percentage. Prices charged by her customers vary according to the nature of the outlet.  Bransgore Country Store charges £3.55 for a large cake which is sold as a luxury item in the general store which also sells meat, fresh vegetables, pickles, preserves, pastries and pies. The tea-room makes the most money out of Karen’s baking. They charge £2.20 for a slice of cake served warm with clotted cream.

Because Karen doesn’t have the space to store her ingredients in bulk, she shops every two weeks. She has calculated that her ingredients cost her no more from the local supermarket than from a cash and carry outlet. When in season she gets her apples for free from her garden.  

Three of the outlets are within a three-mile radius of her home and she has negotiated to get them to take deliveries all on the same day. She has an arrangement with the son of the owner of the fourth outlet to take deliveries as he lives nearby.

As well as her Apple Cake, she also makes preserves and soups using whatever ingredients are in season, including home-grown vegetables and surplus fruit from family and friends. “My love of baking and making preserves I owe to my mother who I remember doing the same when I was young. Being able to give others pleasure in the form of a treat to eat is a joy in itself, and one I want to pass on to my daughter who already likes to help Mummy in the kitchen,” said Karen whose dream is to one day open her own tea-shop selling her delicious homemade food.

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