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Great Harvest works for better bread


At most supermarkets, “they’ve left the sign up that says ‘bakery’ but they don’t bake,” says Eric Keshin, president of Great Harvest Bread Co.

Some things never change, but bread—elemental to human nourishment—has changed mightily since the first loaves were baked in the B.C. era of ancient Egypt. In more recent times, bread’s evolution has resembled a race to the bottom with supermarkets peddling simpler, cost effective, less- healthy breads.

Eric Keshin, president, CMO and principal at Great Harvest Bread Co., thinks society can do better, and that a quality, healthy loaf of bread is worth a separate stop on the weekly errand runs that keep our collective cupboards stocked.

If that sounds a bit high-minded for a simple product, Keshin can be forgiven (or praised) due 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, authentic and revolutionary as Apple and Coca-Cola.

“We’re not that big, but we live by a set of principles and we do not change them,” Keshin 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 loaves contain conditioners and preservatives and, maybe most egregiously, lack the grit, health content and taste that’s easily 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.”

redesigned interior

A redesigned interior is shown

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 like 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 luring in customers to make a separate bread stop is part of the reason some of his 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.

After the founding family, the Wakemans, sold the company back in 2001, it is now owned by its employees and officers, including Keshin. The company’s marketing materials claim this self-ownership will help preserve the brand as it begins a big push to expand its footprint.

To that end, Great Harvest is in the process of expanding overseas, with two pending international deals inked in Saipan and Guam, which are both significant Japanese tourist destinations. Here in the United States, the company has more than 200 bakers, including in far-flung Alaska and Hawaii.

Its selection of breads include Honey Whole Wheat—Great Harvest’s most popular—as well as Dakota, with sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and the sweet Cinnamon Chip among other standbys and seasonal, limited-time offerings.

“This brand has a real story to tell,” he said, again uncorking his brand-touting experience. “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 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.

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