Gerhard’s… away, this is Martyn’s blog

British Baker editor Martyn Leek asks whether the competitive bread market has claimed its first real casualty.

Everyone has their own version of the man on the Clapham omnibus.

It’s usually a person they use as their sense barometer in a number of things, and, when it comes to retail, it is usually my mum. She’s a savvy shopper, who loves a bargain – and was swapping brands and stores long before it became fashionable to do so, as she chose different supermarkets for different reasons.

So when she asked me: “What’s going on with the cost of bread?” I knew then that the heavy discounting on bread was beginning to filter through the Ivory Tower of the B2B world that I inhabit and into the consumer realm.

We reported in January how an 800g Hovis loaf costs just 78p in Tesco and that the average price of the three branded loaves had slumped to £1.17, compared with £1.27 from the same month the year before.

The past 12 months have seen some heavy discounting on bread, as the supermarkets face their own varied and numerous problems. It seems to have kicked off with The Co-operative’s cuts to its own-branded loaves and then filtered through to the brands. It’s not just Hovis that has seen a drop in price, though; the price of an 800g loaf of Kingsmill was 79p at one point in Asda last year.

This, we know, is hurting the ingredients suppliers into the supermarket bread sector - whether they supply any of the big three or are used in own-label production. The flight to value in bread echoes that of milk and yet we don’t see MPs debating the topic.

This week, it could be argued, we have seen the first high-profile casualty of the ongoing supermarket bread wars with the departure of Allied Bakeries’ chief executive Mark Fairweather. The company is not saying this, of course, and in fact they are saying the exact opposite and praising him for the ‘transformation’ of the business. Also, there can be no doubt that Allied, the producer of Kingsmill, has some of the finest plant bakeries in the country. However, suspicious commentators, of which there are many in the baking industry, suggest this departure may be a coincidence too far.

Fairweather aside, and returning to the falling price of bread, here at British Baker, we have been blown away by the level of industry support for the #WeLoveBread campaign. So far, it has been supported by the Craft Bakers’ Association, Scottish Bakers, British Society of Baking, the Worshipful Company of Bakers, the Federation of Bakers and the National Association of British & Irish Millers. This campaign has galvanised the wider industry like never before and, with the average price of a loaf falling in our supermarkets, this has to be applauded and supported.

Remember #WeLoveBread and show the public what you are doing – whether you’re Warburton’s or the local baker on the high street.

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