Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Opening up world of Bays English Muffins

   


     English muffins fly under the radar. I’m not sure why. Maybe because they are denizens of the morning, generally, among the first foodstuffs we confront in that awkward hour between sleep and work. Maybe because English muffins are humble, stolid, reliable.
     And therefore unsung. Chicagoans can prattle on about pizza, harangue endlessly over hot dogs, even occasionally acknowledge that Chicago is, or was, the center of the candy universe, turning out everything from Baby Ruth bars to Lemonheads.
     But English muffins are denied their due.
     I’ve just searched the Sun-Times going back to 1948, and the Tribune and Daily News back even further, and found only a handful of stories mentioning that George Bay set to baking his grandmother’s English muffin recipe here in 1933, delivering his circular delights in paper bags to Loop hotels and restaurants.
     Which bugs me since, most mornings—say five out of every seven—start with a toasted Bays English muffin, preferably Cinnamon Raisin, and a whole grapefruit, peeled and sectioned, using bites of the former as a reward for getting down segments the latter. It’s not that I don’t like grapefruit, I do, exceedingly. But next to an English muffin ... well, that’s like comparing a carrot with a brownie.
     You would think the world of English muffins is fairly static, and it is. But about six months ago, there was an earthquake: Bays introduced resealable packaging, with a big window that opens and closes, like Oreo cookie packages. Previously opening an orange and white package of Bays required both ingenuity and effort. The packages were not bread bags, which could be opened and closed with a twist tie. But cellophane—perhaps a hold-over to when Bays introduced cellophane-windowed boxes in 1938. Try tearing one open and you’d end up ripping a gash halfway across the package, exposing your delicate muffins to the cruel refrigerator air. A rend I’ve repaired with Scotch tape. Trying to avoid this, I took to carefully cutting the end off with scissors and then covering the opening with a baggie, using that as a cap for the next three muffins, then transferring the last two muffins into the baggie.
     Bays is proud of this new packaging. “NOW RESEALABLE” a sticker proclaims. As well they should; a big improvement, and I couldn’t help but imagine, as the mornings ran on, the unheralded moment of epiphany: some humble employee, deep within the vast Bays English Muffin operation, stepping into the path of a higher up. “M...M...Mr. Bay, I’m sorry, I can hold my silence no longer. These cellophane packages are ... a nuisance. Here, I’ve been working on this improved packaging system, in my spare time of course....”
     Unheralded ... unless I could find him. Or her.
     “It started with our consumers,” said Jill Matthews, director of marketing, innovation and strategy for Bays, no longer family owned but since 2017 a division of Grupo Bimbo. “We are so grateful to have a very loyal base of longtime Bays fans. They’ve been in love with our Bays English muffins for years, but not our packaging. This was a frequent consumer complain, that once they opened Bays they had to repackage Bays in another container. Otherwise, high-quality Bays English muffins could not be stored properly.”
     Alas, she did not serve up an individual hero to enjoy the limelight.
     “The Bays team mobilized to stop this pain point,” she said. “We wanted to find the right options. How big should the reseal be? We wanted people to easily get their muffins out of the package. The reseal had to work pr
operly. It really was a process, to find the right solution.”

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17 comments:

  1. Oreos & some Twizzlers, but not the chocolate ones, have had this kind of package for several years now.

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  2. though I prefer Bays ive alway bought thomasons because of the ease of opening and resealing. its hard to believe bays used that packaging for so long obviously ignoring customer complaints for many years. great product or they wouldn't have survived, or maybe losing the McDonalds account was a wake up call they finally answered many years later.

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  3. Grupo Bimbo?

    I think there is another article to be written.

    Wonderful column.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks. Yes, big Mexican conglomerate. Mexican baking and candy making industries exploded after the United States instilled its ruinous protective sugar tariff.

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  4. Just one question...what topping do you smear on your delightful Bays English Muffin?

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    1. I had to cut that for length. A wedge of low cal Laughing Cow cheese spread on the first half, like a main course, with a tablespoon of Smuckers Natural Peanut Butter on the second half, like dessert.

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    2. Love it! Would expect no less.

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  5. I like them well enough but have always wondered about the provenance. I never encountered "English muffins" like these while in England many years ago, but only upon returning home. They look somewhat like crumpets, which I prefer.

    Tom

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    Replies
    1. They're not English, in the sense that chop suey is not Chinese. More an American invention, a crumpet on steroids.

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  6. I find these forays behind the scenes fascinating. Often what seems simple and straightforward turns out to be complex and counter-intuitive; just as often, the reverse is true.

    John

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  7. While I'm interested in this topic and always appreciate a diversion from newsier stuff, this column barely scratches the surface, IMHO. As you kinda note with your "weeklong series" reference.

    It is truly remarkable to me that they stuck with the old packaging as long as they did. We don't buy English muffins often. But, while I'd like to support a Chicago business, all things being equal, that package dissuaded me from buying Bays more than a few times.

    I'll gamely limit myself to one question for the next article in the series. Did / does using that particular type of plastic package, rather than the twist-tie plastic bags used by so many other muffins and bread products, have something to do with them being refrigerated? Regardless, I'd like to know why, when people clearly have complained for a long time, they just made this change now, and still didn't go with the more commonplace bags. Cost? Amazing that so many other products don't seem to have an issue with that. Perhaps they'd need different machinery? Oops, are those additional questions? D'oh!

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  8. Here in our semi-British (my side) household, we have routinely eaten Bay's muffins for years (dutifully transferring the excess into ZipLok bags due to the aforementioned packaging difficulties). Their texture when toasted is unlike any other brand (and I saw the McDonald's mention above, though I can't say I ever thought McDonald's muffins were Bays; I never saw a resemblance).

    While we also eat Laughing Cow cheese (known for years in our house as "Ho-Ho Moo-Moo" ever since the kids were young), the proper topping for English muffins to me has been some good British marmalade, or (for a completely different taste) Marmite. More recently my tastes have shifted to putting Marmite on a pair of well-toasted crumpets from Trader Joe's, after first buttering them the instant they come out of the toaster.

    Whether muffins or crumpets, you need pure butter, not margarine, and to apply it immediately. If the workpiece isn't too hot to hold, you waited too long.

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  9. Just butter, thank you. I'd guess the package remained substandard for monetary reasons, no problem for me, as decades ago I started discarding it in favor of a Ziploc. Finding them in various grocers has become more difficult as the dairy sections that display them have been shrinking. Where there were once hundreds of units, there are now just dozens, hiding among the rolled packages of Pillsbury biscuits and cinnamon rolls.

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  10. Butter both halves, sprinkle cinnamon sugar on 1st half, strawberry jelly on the other. Always eaten in that order..

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  11. My preference English muffin-wise is Thomas, which never had the issue that Bays had in packaging. Thomas, which is stocked in the bread aisle and not in dairy cooler like Bays, has always had the plastic wrap that is tied with a plastic clasp like bread. I eat the plain original Thomas, and frankly it tastes better than Bays plain. I eat a muffin every morning, buttered with red raspberry, a far superior jam than strawberry. The only problem with Thomas is that they do not part as easily as other English muffins. Half the time you can't pull them apart evenly without an intervening fork. Bays own the separation issue.

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    Replies
    1. "with red raspberry, a far superior jam than strawberry"

      Yeah, well, you know that's just like, uh, your opinion, man. : )

      Delete

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