Cruise ships feed boost for Doncaster pie manufacturer Topping's Pies
Last year times were tough for Doncaster pie manufacture Toppings.
The firm, based on Chappell Drive, in the shadow of Doncaster College's town centre base, was struggling to deal with an economic slowdown. It was not losing customers, but they were spending less.
But the new year has seen a transformation.
Since March, demand for the firm's top-of-the range pork prices has boomed - with cruise ships playing a major role in the turn around.
Now, rather than trying to find more sales, the firm is looking to find more staff as it is struggling to recruit to meet demand. They currently employ 33 workers, but could take on another 10.
Owner and managing director Roger Topping said the firm had been supplying pies for cruise ships for 15 years, through Cavendish Ships Stores Ltd, for companies including Cunard, P&O. But recently Cavendish had been approached to supply Toppings pies to a German cruise firm, as well as the travel industry giant Tui,
It means that while until recently they were supplying around eight cruise ships, they are now providing pies for 24 boats.
It is one of a number of deals which have made for a busy period for Toppings.
Elsewhere, they are now working with the television shopping channel QVC, which has also seen a surge in orders, with Roger's son, sales manager Matthew, having appeared on the channel and scheduled to return.
Mr Topping said: "The cruise liners work, couple with us appearing on QVC for the first time a few weeks ago, led to things getting seriously busy. It is record demand at the moment.
"On top of that, Cavendish have also given samples to the cross channel ferries. Things also seem to be picking up with garden centres, upmarket delis, and Selfridges. Harrods have also taken samples again and asked for more samples of pies like game, pork and ham."
They are due to return to QVC again in the future, with both Roger and Matthew having passed screen tests to appear on the channel, to talk about pies and quiches. They are also due to feature on the Channel Four programme Food Undressed, with a film crew due to visit the factory. These could lead to more orders.
"We're taking on new staff at the moment and looking for supervisors too. But bakers are scarce. We'd also like to find apprentices," said Mr Topping.
"I suppose it is a good position to be in, but it is frustrating when you are struggling to get the staff. A lot of the Poles and the Eastern Europeans who were in Doncaster have gone home, and I think that is a worry to every manufacturer in Doncaster. We still need the Eastern European and I would not want to see the door closed to them.
"I would like to find an apprentice baker with a good work ethic, common sense. We are looking for staff.
"It is difficult to find butchers and bakers. I think too many people are pushed towards going to university who would be better off learning a trade and doing an apprenticeship."
Toppings have grown since originally setting up in business as a butcher's shop in 1960, in Doncaster indoor market.
The Toppings Pie Company was founded in 1991, when Roger's wife, Maggie Topping, began selling homemade pies through the original butchery business.
Mrs Topping has officially retired, but still gives advice on recipes for the business. The couple's sons Matthew and Mark also work for the family business, Matthew as salesman and Mark running the retail side.
As well as the contracts with outside organisations, they still sell their pies and quiches from their shop in Doncaster Market, as well as from kiosks in the Frenchgate Centre, in Doncaster town centre, and at the Crystal Peaks shopping centre on the outskirts of Sheffield.
They try to use locally sourced ingredients. The pork they use comes from Mansfield, and the flour and lard is from Yorkshire. They use British beef.
The firm is involved in the community, and will be supporting the Doncaster 10K road race later this year, giving out pies to those taking part. They did the same last year, but this year they are also looking to enter runners. They are looking for five men and five women to run as 'Team Pie', to raise money for the YMCA, the charity that the firm supports, which Mr Topping feels does good work in helping people into housing and jobs.
Through the decades of business, Roger says his proudest moment was taking one of the firm's pies down to Windsor Castle for the Queen's 90th birthday celebrations.
"I took the pie to Windsor personally," he said. "I gave it to the head of catering, and I later got a lovely letter from him. He got back to me and said that both the Queen and Prince Philip sampled the pies and that they went down well.
"We'd given her one of our mandarin orange, duck and guinea fowl pork pies, which is the top specialty pie that we make. They have included them in £5,000 hampers at Harrods."
"It's not our only royal connection. We've had a visit from the Princess Royal in the past.
"I don't think that's bad for a firm that started off in Doncaster Market Hall."