The New Year is bound to bring a fresh wave of challenges to the baking industry, with the effects of the sugar tax drama yet to be felt and the National Living Wage coming into force. 

But there are opportunities too, with sourdough and free-from products still proving popular and sprouted grains offering a new direction for healthy bakery. Here, British Baker looks at some of the trends and threats that might be heading the industry’s way in 2016:

Trend – Gluten-free

Gluten-free products were a key trend of 2015, not only for coeliacs but also those pursuing a healthier lifestyle due to the perceived benefits of quitting the protein. The trend shows no sign of abating, with many producers finding they can produce certain gluten-free products which are indiscernible from the regular version. Michael Carr, sales and marketing director at ingredients producer Edme, told British Baker, the trend is set to continue. “Gluten-free will expand significantly in the coming year, with increased visibility in supermarket aisles driving awareness and initiating trial. The quality of gluten-free products will continue to improve as bakers gain more experience in this field.”

Trend – Sourdough

Sourdough is set to be another key trend for 2016. The popularity of artisan bakeries and the efforts of the Real Bread Campaign continue unabated and the public is lapping up sourdough’s complex taste and earthy sentiment. Mike Holling, executive director at the Craft Bakers Association (CBA), said: “I think sourdough’s going to be very interesting, I’m sure that’s going to be another part of the growth market.”

Trend – Sprouted Grains

With the health debate increasingly as much about what to eat rather than what to avoid, sprouted grains seem poised to light up the healthy bakery market. Allowed to germinate before use, sprouted grains are lower in starch and higher in proteins, vitamins and minerals compared to regular grain. Carr said: “The market for sprouted grain has grown considerably in the US during the past year, and interest is now mounting rapidly in the UK and rest of Europe. We will be launching new products in this category early this year: watch this space! Additionally we would expect our malted products (malting involves the process of sprouting) to benefit from demand for sprouted grain ingredients.”

Threat – National Living Wage and Apprenticeship Levy

The National Living Wage is coming into effect next April, with pay for the over-25s rising to a minimum of £7.20 an hour and then climbing to a final figure of £9 per hour by 2020. Meanwhile, employers with paybills of £3m and over will be force to pay a levy to fund the government’s ambitious apprenticeship programme. Alan Clarke, chief executive of Scottish Bakers, said: “The combined costs of these policies for each bakery business are significant and are placing jobs, particularly in rural areas, at risk and it is essential that bakers pass these costs on, where possible, to their customers. Therefore bakery prices will have to rise and if they don’t then there is potential for business failure and more rationalisation, mergers and acquisitions within the sector.”

Threat – Sugar

Sugar came under attack in 2015, with a report by Public Health England linking it to obesity. Calls for a sugar tax to reduce consumption have come in from all angles, including from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. While no government action has yet been taken, a tax is still a real threat for 2016 and the public will be looking to see lower sugar in their products regardless of legislation. Holling said: “Whatever the government is proposing hopefully they will engage with us because we have worked together in the past, as we did with the reduction of salt levels. I’m sure if we all take a positive approach to it we can come to some positive outcome.”

He added: “They could implement a tax but that is not going to stop people buying sugary products. They need to have more of a policy of education and also of personal responsibility.”

Threat – Skills

Ensuring there are enough individuals with the right skills is always a challenge in any industry, especially in terms of attracting the next generation, and 2016 looks to be no exception. Clarke said: “Recruiting skilled employees across the business is still a challenge and government policy being to reduce the amount of funding provided for training should be thought of as a challenge by the sector. Not being afraid of paying for quality training and demanding high standards needs to be the norm or there is a real danger that high quality craft skills will be lost, as the older generation retires.”