Back to scratch?

08 May, 2009
Is reverting to scratch baking rather than using premixes one answer to greater cost control? One baker believes so, but premix suppliers argue otherwise. Anne Bruce reports
Page 36 

Turning your hand to a bit of DIY is the obvious riposte to the credit crunch. From bringing your own sandwiches to work to washing the car yourself, there are savings to be made if you are prepared to suffer a little inconvenience.

But how does that philosophy apply in the baking industry? Well, Ian Thompson of Thompsons Bakery in Newcastle upon Tyne recently told British Baker he was considering moving to scratch baking more items. He commented: "Standard bread is not as profitable as it was, and certainly confectionery isn't. Because of the increase in the price of confectionery premixes, I'm starting to consider going back to scratch methods - not for everything, but for some products - and that's to control the profit margins we make."

So what should Thompson be doing? Would it be worth his while going back to scratch? And have sales in the premixes sector been particularly hit by the credit crunch?

According to premix suppliers, such as Unifine Food & Bake Ingredients, the credit crunch is making for a "strange" market, which is still developing as customers look to reduce costs.

Simon Solway, managing director of Unifine, says that sales are pretty flat so far this year. "Everywhere is different. Some people are making more from scratch, but with larger manufacturers, many are going the other way, asking us to compile ingredients for them."

At the same time, there is a lot of activity in the sector which is bringing advantages as well as disadvantages: "The market is very busy on new product development at the moment. People are looking for new ideas and innovation. There is a lot of emphasis on reducing costs by reformulating products. That can actually mean you need more flavourings; if you cut down on butter in a recipe, for example, you might use elderflower which has a creamy buttery flavour."

Solway says Unifine's products can enhance a baker's offering by providing an easy short-cut to products that stand out - he calls them "building blocks", not premixes.

"Using our ingredients, you can make a whole host of different items. We can offer value and individuality," he says. "With our products, we show people as many uses as possible; we don't want one product-one job, we want a versatile product. We recently launched a chocolate fondant product, with a gooey inside. It is very convenient to use and very difficult to make from scratch."

Andy Pollard of Cereform agrees the credit crunch is playing out in the ingredients sector: "There is undoubtedly cost control and value engineering going on. People are looking for cheaper options - perhaps offering doughnuts instead of muffins, for example."

Admitting it is an argument he has had to make frequently over the past few months, he stresses that trying to do it yourself is not the answer. "The temptation is to do it yourself rather than using a premix, but there are so many arguments against that - the hidden costs. These include increased waste, sourcing a wider range of stock, variations in the quality and availability of materials, inconsistent results, increased labour costs and complexity."

Melanie Somerville, marketing manager at ADM Milling UK, says ADM has not experienced any significant impact on premix demand or noticed bakers making more recipes from scratch. She comments: "ADM is constantly looking at ways to improve our premix range, from sourcing new flavourings to carrying out research in partnership with our customers. We offer versatile, cost-effective premixes that enable our customers to produce a variety of delicious treats."

Somerville says customers tend to use premixes as an alternative to scratch recipes, because they can quickly produce a new item without having to source numerous ingredients.

Other arguments she puts in favour of premixes include the fact that they are easy to reproduce and provide consistent quality every time. They are also relatively simple to make and can be used confidently by semi-skilled workers or trainees, and one bag could easily produce more than 20 different varieties, just by adding a personal touch to the end-product.

The versatility of cake premixes can also offer a route into burgeoning product categories such as cupcakes, which have been increasingly in demand over the last year. BakeMark introduced Extra Moist Cake Mixes, available in plain, chocolate, and the newly launched Toffee flavour, to support two of the fastest growing sectors of the cake market - cupcakes and loaf cakes.

"The demand for kitsch, retro treats continues to grow," says David Astles, marketing manager at BakeMark UK. "The cupcake market is demonstrating a continual rise in sales figures year-on-year - a trend that is set to soar even further in 2009."

John Gelley, technical sales manager of Dawn Foods, says Dawn is being asked more and more, for 'add water only' - for cost control and production ease. But he says that despite the credit crunch, Dawn is being asked for high-quality mixes - customers still want a cake product to be an indulgence they can truly enjoy.

Some very large manufacturers have reverted to scratch production in an effort to save costs, he reports, and so have some high-street customers. But in some cases this has been a false economy and customers are returning to the proven method of premix.

He comments: "I actually had a high-profile customer tell me last week, 'I use this premix because I simply cannot produce cake of this quality from any scratch recipe that I have ever seen'."

Another customer moved his doughnut production to scratch a couple of months ago and was making what looked like a nice product, he says. "However, he called me three weeks ago to order another tonne of our doughnut base. His customers had complained about dryness and others were simply deserting him."

Just like Paddington Bear's DIY disaster, when he wallpapered over a door, doing it yourself can prove to be a false economy for the time-pressed baker. But each, like Mr Thompson, must of course make their own business decisions.

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=== Trends in confectionery premixes ===

? Increasing versatility

? Real fruit pieces, from conventional fruits such as strawberries to more exotic fruits

? Single-portion indulgences, including cupcakes and brownies





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