McGregor’s Trading Group managing director, Bernie Sugrue, attributes the longevity of the business and much of its success to it’s brands and quality convenience products being available at the right price, at the right time.
He believes the company’s foundation business, McGregor’s, opened in 1913 which means its pies have been selling for 106 years.
The group’s leading wholesale brands consists of Mays, McGregors and Marlow Pies; it also owns 50% of the Berry Barn Bakery in Geraldine.
All of the group’s products are now produced in a new factory in Washdyke, trading as Bernie’s Bakery HQ.
It’s long-standing pie brands Mays and McGregor’s owe much of their heritage to the pie culture of Scottish immigrants who each had their own twist on the ingredients used, as well as the method of pie making, Bernie says.
Some cooked the mutton meat first, while others cooked the raw meat in the pie, some used white pepper and others black pepper.
By contrast, Marlows is just 28 years old and it’s pies are mostly sold to schools and supermarkets.
Bernie’s history with the company started when he became an apprentice baker aged 15 at The Bungalow bakery in Oamaru; his mother had also been a baker as is now his daughter.
In 1988 at the age of 20, Bernie, in partnership with the four owners of The Bungalow, bought McGregor’s Tearooms in Palmerston.
Managing the business through the various economic cycles, including high interest rates along with financing and implementing expansion have been the most difficult aspects of his and wife Rilla’s journey, he says.
“A lot of the business plans I’ve done, I’ve 100% achieved them, but it’s always taken me twice as long to achieve them.”
The turnover of the business is evenly divided between retail and wholesale.“That’s quite a good mix.”
Increasing production of bread products is an area where Bernie sees opportunity for further growth, but to date he has been more focused on the needs of staff and creating a culture in which they will thrive.
“We decided to only work five days a week to give people weekends off, so we try to do more now in five days; technology has helped out.”
A key item of plant that has dramatically improved production is a blast freezer.
“We make 25,000 pies here in four days in the factory.”
“It used to take all night for a batch of pies to cool, but the huge blast freezer, at -40C, now does the job in just 45 minutes.”
In July, Bernie was fortunate to be able to purchase some high capacity Holland-manufactured equipment from Australia, which he says will enable production to be substantially increased.
The machinery can produce hourly two tonnes of pastry, 13,000 pies, 7000 sausage rolls and cook three tonnes of meat per batch.
“We have the opportunity now to take the business to the next level.”
As Bernie reflects on his decades in business, he is increasingly looking to the next generation to carry the family’s flag.
His daughter Julia, who is married to Kamal Sing along with Kamal’s brother, Money, and wife Jaspreet, manage the seven-day McGregor’s Tearooms in Palmerston.
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