Conceived in 1998, Honeybuns was established to fill the gap in the market for great-tasting cakes produced on a small scale. EatSleepDrink caught up with brainchild and owner of Honeybuns, Emma Goss-Custard to learn more about this wonderfully unique bakery.

Priding itself on baking every product with passion and love, Honeybuns has become a firm favourite with connoisseurs of all-things sweet. Indeed, the company even sets its oven temperature on a low setting to allow the flavours to mingle and develop properly. To this day, Honeybuns remains true to its roots as batches continue to be small and are made strictly from natural ingredients. As well as this, all of its products are wheat-free and many are gluten-free and dairy-free too, which has proved a major hit with the company’s ever-growing contingent of loyal fans.

Mother of invention

When asked about the history of Honeybuns, Emma was quick to draw our attention to the humble roots of the company. “After finishing student life I had a strong drive to do my own thing. I had really enjoyed working in patisseries and coffee bars in London and Oxford in my holidays and I’d also baked for friends and family, as well as catering for parties in my spare time. Back in 1998, I felt that there was a real lack of honest, gorgeous-tasting cakes – made as we all would at home if we only had the time,” she recalls.

“I felt that customers shouldn’t have to settle for extended shelf life, margarine-laden, over-processed cakes, so I started baking cakes from my shared rented house – thanks to my understanding housemates!” Emma laughs. “Because I couldn’t drive at the time, I bought an old Post Office bike and started delivering my cakes to delis and cafes in and around Oxford and Honeybuns grew organically from there. The concept was based on great ingredients; attention to texture and flavours; and a sustainable business model. These were my founding principles and remain integral to Honeybuns today”.

Back to basics

Today, Honeybuns’ wholesome branding conveys the roots and concept behind the company to great effect, although as Emma tells us, in the early days the branding had to play second-fiddle to the development of her cakes. “Back in the day, it was all about the product. I cling-filmed cakes and applied a very old school sticker that was initially handwritten and then computer printed. Looking back, I’m really glad that we had to wait to afford to develop the brand – our focus was purely on the product tasting amazing and the ingredients being top notch, so the brand most definitely came second.

“The branding really happened out of necessity when we started to supply larger customers,” she explains. “Any spare cash was channelled into an eco-friendly packaging solution, so customers could enjoy the product whilst out and about. We were – and are – very apprehensive about coming over as too corporate, so we keep most of the design in-house. Indeed, we have two talented artists in our team – Graham and Barry – who draw our font and graphics freehand. We feel that this gives us authenticity and makes it harder for others to imitate us too closely.

“We actively enjoy keeping the look fresh and frequently update the little messages on the packs for each different cake type. As a consequence, I think that we look distinctly different from ‘professionally designed’ brands,” Emma affirms.

Buzzing around the hive

Given the hive of activity at Honeybuns these days, we were interested in finding out how Emma’s cakes were first received and how she managed to build the brand so organically. “From the bicycle delivery days, customers remarked on how brilliant it was to have cakes that didn’t disappoint as you bit into them. I think then more than now – there are so many lovely products on the market today – that we were being sold mass produced, highly processed iced ‘cakes’ and slices that were more convenient to the manufacturer and retailer than being a taste sensation to the customer,” she notes.

“To be fair, there wasn’t a great deal of competition back then and we therefore stuck out as being different,” Emma attests. “Our commitment to using local ingredients, free range eggs, proper butter and no additives meant we were often regarded as quite ‘hippy-dippy’ and over idealistic. I head the phrase ‘we need cheap as chips and long shelf life’ or words to that effect on a daily basis”.

However, it was by approaching key, highly respected customers – including John Lewis and Harvey Nichols that did want quality – that sustained Honeybuns, as Emma continues by affirming. “We’ve never had any interest in compromising on the product. I’d rather not do it than make something we don’t think is innovative, gorgeous and properly made. The brand developed organically and we’re probably one of the slowest growing companies out there! I’m useless at finance and it wasn’t until my husband, Matt, stepped in full time to look after the financials that we became a bit more grown up and structured.

“Prior to this we were pretty instinctive,” she recalls, “seeking out those trade buyers we felt would be interested in artisan, innovative products. We were utterly obsessed with product and customer service. We had a lot of raw energy and I’d like to think that our genuine enthusiasm about providing great products and service came across. We’ve not been textbook in our approach to business but thanks to the necessary financial order imposed by Matt, we managed to balance creativity and a certain fluffiness with profitability and sustainability”.

Off-beat value

With demand for wheat-free, gluten-free and dairy-free products on the increase, it is perhaps little surprise that Emma and her passionate team have been able to build Honeybuns into such a popular brand – something that Emma attributes to the company’s off-beat approach to business. “We have a holistic approach to the business – our environment, relationship with suppliers and the happiness of our team are vitally important to us. We need to enjoy the process; the here and now of life at Honeybuns and we’re not in it for a quick exit.

“We’d like to think that we can continue doing what we’re doing for a good few years to come,” she enthuses. “Clearly the bottom line is vital in sustaining us but it’s not the be all and end all either. I think this resonates with our customers who actively seek out smaller, quality obsessed producers. “Indeed, I’d say that our three greatest attributes are the team, our products and the kindness of spirit that informs everything we do”.

Seeing is beelieving!

Having been fortunate enough to receive a special delivery of the Honeybuns range, we can testify first-hand to the delicious cakes Emma and her queen bees produce. In terms of our favourite, we’d be hard-pushed to comment, although Emma tells us that the Milk Chocolate Brownie, Cranberry Pecan Flapjack and Almond Moon are the most popular with consumers. Indeed, given the great taste of the products, it is immediately evident that the company makes no compromise on using quality ingredients, as Emma is eager to explain.

“By working with trusted, long standing suppliers and having an open dialogue with them we have been able to ensure the quality of our ingredients has continued as our production has increased,” she tells us. “We put a lot of emphasis on training our team at the incoming goods stage – we take into consideration: ingredient quality, ‘localness’, documented quality, approachability and fairness of our suppliers – it’s an ongoing process. Indeed, one thing we’ve kept consistent from the beginning is using shell eggs, sourced from just down the road. For sure we’d save money using liquid pasteurised, but there is no taste contest”.

A sweet future

As the buzz of the London 2012 Olympics continues to swell, Honeybuns has some typically off-beat plans in store to celebrate the momentous occasion, as Emma is keen to describe. “We’re holding our very own Honeybuns sports day and we’ll be featuring ‘Sporty Bee’ on selected packs and offering sporty prizes via our online competitions. We promote these on Facebook, e-newsletters and our blog (http://www.honeybuns.co.uk/blog/). We’re also attempting to get the hang of popping half decent videos onto our youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/HoneybunsBakery. In addition, we’ll also be holding an Olympic-themed open day at our Bee Shack Café”.

Changing tack, Emma concludes by telling us about her favourite product – the Heathcliff Brownie. “I personally love chocolate and orange and I love the fact that you get proper chunks of chocolate in there. It’s just the right ‘dark’ for me and the flavour lasts in your mouth long after the brownie has disappeared – basically, it hits the spot!”

With its delicious range of cakes, brownies, flapjacks, shortbreads, cookies and a new range of savouries, Honeybuns continues to go from strength-to-strength in its off-beat crusade to deliver great-tasting treats to one and all.

Ideal as gifts and presents, Honeybuns are available by mail order from its online shop (http://www.honeybuns.co.uk/shop) and from cafés, delis, farm shops, supermarkets and its own Bee Shack Café.

Visit: www.honeybuns.co.uk

Twitter: @HoneybunsBakery

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/HoneybunsBakery