Haffner's Pies: Iconic Burnley brand continues to flourish under new ownership
Taking over any business can be a daunting prospect. Taking over a brand as iconic as Haffner's is in Burnley – that brings with it generational pressure.
The family butchers and bakery has been trading in town since 1889.
From purveyors of pork products, to renowned pie makers, there won't be many across the borough who haven't tucked into a meat and potato or chicken curry pie from there.
So, when managing director John Haffner, the great-grandson of the original founder, put the business up for sale early last year, pie lovers throughout the town held their breath.
Step forward Dean and Ted Cockett, Burnley brothers entrusted with the custodianship of the Haffner's heritage, and whose vision for its future left John in no doubt they were the ones to carry on his family's legacy.
It's been six months since they officially took the reins, and for managing director Ted (35), the two words that he keeps coming back to are – "difficult" and "exciting".
"It's been a massive learning curve," said Ted, who previously worked at Endsleigh Insurance for 17 years. "I've been building up my network slowly but surely. There are a lot of good local bakers around here, so I've been trying to get my face out and see these people to understand the industry. Environmental health have been great support too. We're Burnley Bondholders now as well, so that's helping build up our network outside the industry and collaborate with local businesses.
"Luckily, after the takeover we managed to retain everybody – there was one leaver prior, due to the uncertainty – and we've recruited 4.5 full-time equivalents into the business, which shows the growth. We've recruited locally, and we've recruited really well. It's a really great group."
The former Mansfield High School pupil admitted that once news broke around his and Dean's takeover, it wasn't long before he received his first, "Are you mad?"
"I got a few messages saying, 'Haffner's, are you mad – what are you doing? It's a staple'.
"The biggest compliment I have had though is that I've been in the business over six months now, and whilst we’ve not set the world alight as quick as I’d have liked, we have brought stability, improved processes and grown business turnover.
"The offering at the butchers, in my opinion, has improved, and people who have spoken to me about the pies have said either they've got better or they are the same high quality they have always been. And that has nothing to do with me. That's because we've retained the staff, listened to customer feedback, and tried to make things easier for everyone.
"We are at capacity with pies now. So, the main grumbles we get are when we are sold out. It's really tricky for us because we want to do everything, but the bakery is only tiny."
Expansion, therefore, seems the next logical ingredient that needs adding to Haffner's recipe for success.
"That is the plan. We don't know how we're going to do it just yet, there are multiple options, and so for the next 6 to 12 months, we're going to keep marginally improving – unless an opportunity really shouts at us.
"We've managed to find a good, sweet spot over the last two or three weeks where everything's going to plan, touch wood.”
"Our big push now is the offering at the Butchers, especially sausages; because whilst we're famous for pies; way back when, when [Haffner's] started, they just did pork pies and sausages. And they were famous for their sausages. So, we've got the old recipes, and we're looking at putting a bit of flair into these, while also making sure the traditional ones are as good as can be."
The opportunity for growth has come at a time of extreme economic uncertainty, with rising costs a factor Ted is all too acutely aware of.
"The utilities have increased by over 300%, ingredients between 10-200%, the list goes on. Salaries are also going up from April, which is going to have an impact on us. So, you've got all these costs going up left, right and centre, and that's difficult, to keep the cost of the pie as low as we can we've been updating things and improving processes at the same time. We have our finger on the pulse though."
One question Ted's constantly fielding is – will we ever see Haffner's pies grace the hallowed Turf Moor concession stand?
"From a marketing point of view, and everything else like that, it'd be a dream. But realistically, the capacity required to make those pies, the current cost and margins involved – I'm not sure. We'd certainly never close the door. We want to grow. And if we grow, and they want us at the same time, then brilliant."