Great Harvest Bread Co. Builds On Authenticity
Think of the countless good things technology has wrought since the Industrial Age, and then marvel at how bread—something so elemental to human nourishment—has hardly improved at best or, at worst, been reduced to pseudo bakeries in grocery stores where we all buy the same, bland loaves of once-frozen, trucked-in bread. We can do better as a society said Eric Keshin, president, CMO and principal at Great Harvest Bread Company.
If that sounds a bit high-minded for a simple subject, Keshin can be forgiven (or praised) thanks to his storied career that includes many huge global brands and a stint at the world famous McCann Erickson ad agency before joining Great Harvest in 2014. He’s a real-life Don Draper determined to grow this franchised brand that he sees as genuine and authentic as Apple and Coca Cola.
“We’re not that big, but we live by a set of principles and we do not change them,” he said of the company that’s headquartered in tiny Dillon, Montana, two hours west of Bozeman.
Think of the last few loaves of bread you’ve purchased. Unless you’re one of the few, wholesome Americans baking your own or buying from a true bread maker, odds are your bread contains conditioners and preservatives and, maybe most egregiously, lacks the grit, health content and taste that’s more than possible in this modern age.
“You go into a supermarket today and they’ve left the sign up that says ‘bakery’ but they don’t bake—it all comes in a truck, frozen, premade loaves,” Keshin added. “Every single Great Harvest, every single day is making bread totally from scratch.”
That supply chain includes family-owned, local farmers in Montana’s exceptionally fertile Golden Triangle. Its products seek to offer the very best taste, stone milling, very fresh ingredients and no fillers or GMOs—very au courant.
Great Harvest’s franchised outlets have a rotating menu to offer its customers a more interesting product range, and Keshin said most of its franchisees have just one store, meaning they’re true small business owner-operators. He also threw out words such as curated baked goods, and likened some of its best products to a fine wine.
Again, lofty talk, but even the prospect of tastier baked goods seems to be a tough sell to get time-crunched consumers to drive to a separate location.
Keshin said that’s part of the reason some of its locations have opened bakery cafes that also include sandwiches to make Great Harvest locations more of a destination, rather than a stop along the workaday errands route.
Great Harvest is in the process of expanding overseas, with two pending international deals in Saipan and Guam, which are both popular Japanese tourist destinations. The company has more than 200 bakeries throughout the country, including Alaska and Hawaii.
“This brand has a real story to tell,” he said. “I’m going to take all this marketing knowledge I've developed and put it to use to help these people that own these individual stores and also work for myself.”
I’ve watched just enough "Mad Men" to think there may actually be something to all this wholesome talk, even if it means a separate trip on my drive home after the grocery store.