From the US to South Korea: The humble Spanish breadsticks that the world is falling in love with

Thanks partly to celebrity chef José Andrés, an obscure bakery now makes over €5 million in sales from its ‘picos,’ which were born out of a production mistake

A worker at Obando Bakery in Utrera, Spain.
A worker at Obando Bakery in Utrera, Spain.PACO PUENTES

Jaime Obando, 44, recalls the time when celebrity chef José Andrés tried his star product, the gourmet country-style picos. These crunchy little breadsticks are traditionally served at restaurants across Andalusia, and Obando’s take on this humble classic was sitting on the table where Andrés was having a meal, at Restaurante Antonio in Zahara de los Atunes, on the southern coast of Spain. Next thing Obanda knew, his bakery had become the sole supplier of Andrés’ chain of restaurants in the US, which include the Washington-based Jaleo.

That was 10 years ago, and it marked the first foray by this small family business from Utrera (in Seville province) into the global market. Since then, Obando has made inroads in the Asian market, with a particularly strong presence in South Korea. The company has also closed a deal with its first Australian supplier. In 2021, the Obando Artisan Bakery had sales worth €5.1 million.

Founded in 1965 by Francisco Obando, who inherited a run-down establishment from his father-in-law, Obanda’s was no more than a modest business for decades. “In those days, they used to knead the dough with machinery moved by donkeys,” says Jaime Obanda. “It was all quite manual. My father, one other worker and 50 kilos of flour a day were enough to produce about 250 loaves of traditional bread. Totally handmade,” adds Jaime, the youngest of the founder’s six children, who has taken the reins of the company together with his brother Victor.

From the town of Utrera, 30 kilometers from Seville, Obando has managed to transform a simple village bakery into a global concern. “My father grew the company slowly but steadily, turning it from a purely local business to distributing to several towns in the province.” But with time, the company began to invest in technology that helped it optimize its production methods and develop new products, such as the picos, which today account for 80% of its production.

“In a desperate bid to find new products at a time of crisis [the 2008 recession] when bread was being given away free in restaurants, we opted for the picos,” says Obando. “And almost by chance, we realized that the leftovers produced by a failure in the manufacturing machine were almost more popular than the regular breadstick itself, so I decided to modify the technology to deliberately produce the leftovers. So, you might say that our gourmet country-style pico was the result of a mistake.”

The new product soon found its way into large supermarket chains such as Carrefour, El Corte Inglés, Makro, Alcampo and Aldi, pushing this village bakery to cross borders and reach 25,000 customers scattered across the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, the US, Mexico and South Korea. “My father never left the village, and I never stop traveling,” says Obando.

Now the Obanda Group employs a staff of over 60 and growth is on the agenda. “Exports now account for 15% of our total sales,” says Obando, who explains the secret behind their international success in countries with a limited tradition of eating bread with their meals: “The key is the jamón. [Top-tier Ibérico ham brands] Joselito and Cinco Jotas use our breadsticks for their tastings. When a customer is buying ham, he is also buying our picos,” he says.

The brand’s short-term expansion plans include the construction of a new production plant in Utrera, with which it hopes to double its workforce and significantly increase its current production.

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