WHEN you see chocolate-flavoured hotcross buns, giraffe bread, pizza, garlic bread and cakes in supermarkets they probably began life in Bicester.

And this week British Bakels, which makes ingredients for all these products, expanded its business by opening a £500,000 state-of-the-art baking centre at its UK headquarters and bringing recent investment in the site to £2.5m.

It was officially opened by Frances Quinn, winner of last year’s BBC TV series of The Great British Bake Off.

The firm, which develops and creates ingredients, is one of the town’s biggest manufacturers.

Managing director Paul Morrow said: “The only way to grow and survive in this world is to invest in facilities.

“This baking centre is not the end of the story but it’s one of the most exciting things we’ve done so far. It puts Bicester on the map in the world of baking. It’s a world-class facility.

“This will really help our customers grow their sales, the more they sell the more they buy from us.”

The new centre, in Granville Way, will be used for training as well as by scientists who develop food products from a concept idea to laboratory trials. Also under construction at the site is a £900,000 warehouse.

The firm makes more than 500 different ingredients which are sold to supermarkets, artisan bakers and wholesalers across the world.

Between January and Easter, the firm’s ingredients will make 75 million hotcross buns, and its products are sold by three out of the four big supermarkets.

Sainsbury’s is British Bakels’ biggest customer.

Another big seller is caramel – Bakels sends a full container to customers in Australia.

Norman Bolster, Cherwell District Council’s executive member for estates and economy, said: “It’s brilliant to see investment in Bicester and it’s a sign the economy in Bicester is doing well.”

A key function of the business is looking ahead for the next big trend.

Greg Woodhead, product development manager, has one eye on the future in terms of the products we will be eating next.

He said: “I manage a team of six food scientists. We are constantly looking at what’s going to be the next thing.

“At the moment it’s artisan bread and we are doing a lot of work on gluten-free products.”

He said retro flavours, such as rhubarb and custard and fruit salads, were also fashionable at the moment.

Mr Woodhead said this year’s surprise hit with shoppers has been the chocolate-flavoured hotcross buns the firm developed with Tesco.

Another longer-term project is looking for a sustainable alternative for palm oil, which is used in many products.