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Imagine 15,000 perfect frangipane cakes slowly sliding by, smelling like perfection and ready to be shipped all over Europe. It sounds like a scene straight out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but it’s just a regular Monday at the Lilly’s Cakes production site. Commercial director Yves Boone tells the story of a unique wholesale bakery that creates delicious private-label variations of Belgium’s favourite pastries. “For a lot of people, our products are guilty pleasures, and we’re okay with that.”

Lilly’s Cakes: a delicious private bakery for the retail market

Good things come in threes

The story of Lilly’s Cakes dates all the way back to 1948, when current commercial director Yves Boone’s uncle started a delightful artisan bakery: Biscuiterie Boone. Nowadays, Lilly’s Cakes combines the recipes of this first successful bakery with those of two other well-respected firms: Biscuiterie Jacky in Antwerp and waffle producer Alliance in Hasselt. A tripartite of deliciousness that came to being in 2004.  

“Lilly’s Cakes combines the forces of three successful Belgian bakeries.”
Yves Boone, commercial director at Lilly’s Cakes
 

Yves Boone: “Combining the forces of three bakeries has allowed us to create a tasty assortment of frangipane cakes, genoise cakes and soft waffles. Nowadays, we’re a private-label player. Our products are sold as retail brands for numerous supermarkets, cash & carry outlets and wholesalers in Western Europe.”

Cherished pastries revisited

“Our biggest challenge is to keep creating mouth-watering pastries for the retail market”, Yves continues. “A lot of these pastries are inspired by popular products. The zebra cake, a pastry with a crunchy layer of frosting and chocolate, is the perfect example. We always make sure to adapt production and packaging to the needs of specific brand identities and the wishes of our clients.”

The production process at Lilly’s Cakes has come a long way since its first bakery adventures in 1948. “Back then, if you wanted to create a pastry with cream and frosting, you literally had to cut it open with a big knife, add the ingredients and put it back together”, Yves continues. “Now, the whole production process is automated, with machines featuring numerous robotic nozzles, making 15,000 cakes per hour. We automate every step of the way, including packaging. This is necessary to stay afloat in a highly competitive market.”

“Highly innovative machines with robotic nozzles can produce up to 15,000 cakes an hour.”
Yves Boone, commercial director at Lilly’s Cakes

The sustainability challenge 

For Lilly’s Cakes, sustainability is a number one priority. Yves: “We’ve made it our mission to replace as many plastic pastry trays with cardboard, or even to remove the trays altogether. It’s a continuous process of figuring out what is really necessary to guarantee freshness while decreasing our ecological footprint. If you look at the market nowadays, that’s not always an easy mission. In the early days, when families were a lot bigger, we made way more family-sized packs. Today, consumers expect that every pastry is wrapped individually, so it can easily be enjoyed on the go. It’s not an easy balance, but we’re working on it.” 

Of course, sustainability isn’t just a packaging issue. “We’ve tried to make our factory as futureproof as possible through energy-efficient measures,” Yves confirms, “from lights that turn off automatically to recovering the heat from our ovens to heat up water.”

“It’s not always easy to find a balance between consumer’s wishes and sustainable packaging.” 
Yves Boone, commercial director at Lilly’s Cakes
 

A taste of Europe

“Lilly’s Cakes exports its pastries from Belgium to Portugal and the Russian border”, Yves continues. “We’re always looking to expand our customer portfolio, exploring options in new countries and reaching out to retailers or importers. International food fairs like Anuga are perfectly suited to helping us reach that goal. There, we can really put our products in the spotlights for vendors all over Europe.” 

The future of Lilly’s Cakes lies in Western Europe. But that doesn’t mean that exporting is a copy-paste exercise. Yves: “European food markets can differ greatly from one to another. Even between neighbouring countries like Belgium and France, differences can be vast. In France, for example, palm oil is banned almost everywhere. In this case, it’s necessary to identify alternative ingredients without compromising on the taste of your product. French consumers also prefer pastries with a high butter content, but if we used those amounts of butter in Belgium, we would get vastly more negative scores.” 

“Even in a neighbouring country like France, the market can be vastly different.” 
Yves Boone, commercial director at Lilly’s Cakes
 

Guilty pleasures

 “We’re definitely in a sector that’s under constant scrutiny”, Yves admits. “People are focusing more on eating healthy, reducing their sugar and salt intake, and so on. We’re always trying to figure out ways to decrease salt and sugar in our products, but those basic ingredients are also key to the taste of our pastries. We’ve also experimented with sugar substitutes, but it seems that people are still a bit suspicious of those. Maybe the market just isn’t ready for them yet.”

“People are still suspicious of sugar substitutes, claiming it’s not the same as the real thing.” 
Yves Boone, commercial director at Lilly’s Cakes
 

Even though Lilly’s Cakes is constantly trying to find ways to make its products healthier, Yves doesn’t mind that his pastries won’t be found in the healthy foods section of supermarkets anytime soon: “People enjoy the sugar and the sweetness of our cakes so much. Why deny them a guilty pleasure once in a while?”

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