As the supermarket price of standard sliced bread hits a new low, how hard is it to convince shoppers to spend £5 on an artisan loaf?
Tesco is currently selling two large loaves of Kingsmill bread for £1.20. Or, to put it another way, that’s an 800g loaf of bread for 60p.
In such a commercial climate, how does a baker go about encouraging customers to spend up to ten times that amount on their hand-crafted sourdough or rye loaf?
There’s no doubt that the profile of sourdough is rising, with such products increasingly found in bakeries, delis, pubs and restaurants.
Brits have taken to the taste of sourdough, and the style of bread, says David Astles, bread ingredients product manager at CSM Bakery Solutions.
“The popularity of sourdough bread has soared over the last few years,” he adds. “Consumers have warmed to the complex taste and earthy sentiment of sourdough, and the style of bread has been appearing on more and more menus.
“Taking the form of broad loaves, pizza dough, and commonly appearing in breakfast dishes, sourdough is adaptable and an important consumer food trend that shouldn’t be ignored.”
Ingredients supplier Bakels suggests a couple of approaches bakers go take to selling sourdough: providence and a signature bake.
“Consumers take huge interest in the provenance of products, which is why artisan breads are proving so popular. They are taking as much interest in where it comes from as much as what it tastes like,” Michael Schofield, marketing manager for Bakels, tells British Baker.
He also suggests that a baker develop a flavour unique to his or her business: “This clearly takes a lot of skill but offers the business an excellent marketing edge over its competitors.”
East London bakery Today Bread, which sells a one-kilo loaf of sourdough bread at £3.70, has found that explaining its uses of organic ingredients and slow fermentation can encourage customers to purchase.
Obviously, consumer knowledge and education has a role to play in selling sourdough. Shoppers in parts of London, at least, already appreciate the care and time that goes into producing a sourdough loaf.
“Our customers know that sourdough takes longer to process, and they are fresher than the average loaf on a supermarket shelf,” says Alice Cullen, office manager at Hackney-based E5 Bakehouse, which prices its loaves at between £4 and £5.
The business has a mix of customers for its sourdough loaves, including a few wholesale customers, local cafes and restaurants.
“Our head baker works out estimates of how many loaves we usually sell a week and we have a computer system that keeps track of how much bread will be needed for our customers every day,” adds Cullen.
The Snapery Bakery, also in London, has found sampling is a successful way of encouraging purchase.
“The best way I’ve found is to get people to try the bread and then fortunately, they have all immediately wanted it,” founder Richard Snapes tells British Baker.
Snapery Bakery prices its sourdough loaves at £5 at retail, although it main business is wholesale, to local restaurants or cafes around Bermondsey. The business also operates at Druid Street Market, Bermondsey on Saturday.
“I’ve found that most people there are food lovers - probably due to the proximity to Maltby Street Market/Bermondsey Street as the area has a reputation for excellent places to eat,” says Snapes. “We also get a lot of European (mostly French) customers.”
The Polish Bakery based in West London, which recently won the Business of the Year award at the West London Business Awards, supplies breads to independent and specialist retailers, as well as major multiple grocers such as Waitrose, Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s or Morrisons . Its sourdough loaves typically retail for £1.10.
“We have always had the highest quality standards, which our customers appreciate. The breads have a particular taste and texture, which sets them apart from many other breads,” says managing director Agnes Gabriel-Damaz.
The breads are bought by a wide variety of consumers, both Polish and non-Polish, she adds. “They all have a desire to buy bread with superior taste, texture, and quality, made with natural sourdough and free from artificial additives and preservatives.”
Consumers beyond London, however, may require a little more persuading.
Lee Smith, a multiple winner of the Britain’s Best Loaf champion and a Baking Industry Awards Baker of the Year runner-up, describes sourdough as a “hard sell” in his home markets of Bexhill and Eastbourne on the south coast. His business sales large sourdough loaves at £2.65 and smaller ones at £1.65.
Smith also supplies sourdough to a number of wholesale customers with sourdoughs.
“If they require something that we do not make as standard we will work with them to produce the sourdough they would like,” he adds. “We have just come up with a light rye and honey sourdough for a new Austrian restaurant.”
Nottingham-based Speciality baker Butt Foods has also been busy with innovation, creating and launching a sourdough naan bread aimed at the foodservice sector. The Baked Earth naan is made from a natural and authentic process that takes up to ten days from starter through to mother dough, mature dough and then final dough, says the manufacturer. It uses no raising agents and contains pure butter ghee to add colour and taste.
It has been developed in response to research into the changing UK Indian restaurant scene, which shows the increase in “exciting new wave eateries” that offer various degrees of all-day dining.
The sourdough recipe is so light and bubbly it can be topped, filled, folded and wrapped, says Butt Foods managing director David Williams.
“Butt Foods has been baking naan breads for more than 25 years but this sourdough naan is more bubbly than any we have ever produced before,” he said. “Granted it takes longer to make, but it is a premium product and one that has various applications, and we felt the time was right to launch a sourdough naan into the foodservice market having looked at the eating out trends.
Edme says interest in rye - as a sour dough and in other applications - has risen hugely in recent years. But bakers are still a long way from exploiting its full potential as an ingredient, suggests Edme sales director Mike Carr.
“Rye sourdough is just one of many options. Adding a proportion of malted rye flour and flakes to standard wheat flour bread and other baked goods enhances the flavour and texture - and increases fibre content. An inclusion of wholegrain rye, with its flavour and nutritional benefits, helps premiumise products.
Carrs adds that interest is not only being driven by wholegrain rye, with his firm’s new Wholesoft sprouted rye is proving popular and being used “to fabulous effect” by artisan bakers in sourdough, and by plant bakers in a variety of speciality breads.
Snapes of The Snapery Bakery, meanwhile, is developing rye and spelt-based breads after being inspired by a holiday to Norway and enquiries from customers.
He adds that, as a relatively new business, the Snapery is trying out new techniques to try and improve its production methods.
While the ingredients cost for artisan breads is relatively low, they can be expensive to produce in terms of time and labour. A bulk ferment can take up to 60 hours.
“A sourdough loaf takes about three days to produce so we’ve taken the time to develop a schedule that works with the number of employees we have,” says Snapes.
“At the moment we’re still a growing business so we run our bake shifts and dough shifts concurrently, which helps manage the production costs.
The business invested in a larger mixer last year, which it says has probably saved at least two hours a day and enabled it to increase the volume of bread produced.
Bakels has introduced a range of products, that it says both reduces the time and complexity in making sour doughs, without compromising on the “rustic flavour and experience, delivered to customers”.
“Bakels Artisan Bread Complete, for example, has seen growth as bakers enter the mainstream artisan bread market and discover just how lucrative it can be,” Schofield adds.
“Simply open a bag, mix with flour, water and yeast, allow to bulk ferment for just 60 minutes and mould and bake. Its sister product Artisan Bread 7% just needs the addition of flour.”
Producing a traditional sourdough bread doesn’t have to be a difficult task,” says CSM’s Astles. “Our Pantique Ancient Grains mix from Arkady, for example, incorporates dried sourdough to the mix. This produces bread with the flavour of sourdough without the effort required for a traditional sourdough.
CSM has just refreshed the Pantique Ancient Cereals bread mix by changing its name to Ancient Grains Ultimate and introducing new packaging. CSM stated that the Ancient Grains Ultimate mix is unique in the market as no other mix contains the ancient grains Emmer and Einkorn, which are known to be the two oldest bread grains and date back to 10,000 BC.
Paul Whitely from Arzyta adds that one option for bakers is to buy in quality, frozen sourdough with artisan skill and knowledge – using starters to raise the sourdough naturally, resulting in a better texture and flavour.
“If the methods are pure, the ingredients are top quality and the skill in bringing this all together is as high as it possibly can be, then using frozen should never be viewed as a compromise,” Whitely says.
“Choosing frozen safeguards against waste and ensures ultimate consistency, while offering a speedy solution when service is up against the clock.”
But for bakers including Vanessa Kimbell, who runs workshops and classes in the art of fermentation at the sourdough school in Northamptonshire, there is a romance to baking a sourdough loaf using a living culture.
“Making sourdough is far more than just an ingredients list and a method,” Kimbell tells British Baker. “Making your own sourdough is about connecting your bread and getting to know the dough. Baking sourdough is romantic in this sense.
“The more you bake the more familiar you will become with the dough. Each loaf has its own personality.”
It’s a view echoed by Mark Bennett, owner of Patisserie Mark Bennett, who last year took home the trophy for Speciality Bread Product of the Year at the Baking Industry Awards for his Jurassic Sourdough made with beer, chillies and Cheddar.
"Sourdough is a very natural product," he tells British Baker. "With manufactureed ingredients you can produce a perfect loaf each time, but with sourdough you need real skill."
Exploring sourdough’s role in salt reduction
Researchers and food developers are exploring the role sourdough can play in salt reduction.
With bread a major contributor to salt in British diets, bread companies have moved “heaven and earth to reduce the salt and sugars in their products”, according to Jonny Bingham, co-founder of food innovation business Bingham & Jones.
Having removed salt, they are now looking for ways to add back some flavour.
“They are seeing that their customers are, in the main, moving away from packaging sliced breads, due to concerns over quality and flavour and are seriously looking to try and win those customers back,” Bingham says. “Things like miso and seaweed powders are being trialled by some of the larger players.”
Consumer perception of salt flavour can be enhanced in bread by adding sourdough, according to studies by the University College of Cork, Ireland. Researchers looked into compensating for sodium chloride reduction in wheat bread by using functional sourdoughs.
The impact of sourdough inclusion on the sensory characteristics of bread were evaluated by descriptive sensory evaluation, with researchers finding that: “The flavour attribute ‘salt’ could be enhanced by sourdough addition and increased the salty perception.”
“The use of sourdough is a natural option to overcome the broad range of technological issues caused by salt reduction and also a more popular alternative compared to existing chemical salt replacers.”
Meanwhile, food and drink advisory service Campden BRI has found that, thanks to its fuller flavour, salt levels of sourdough bread can be reduced without detrimental effect on the product’s flavour.
Campden is also researching how large-scale bakeries can exploit the benefits of type 1 sourdough, which does not use baker’s yeast.
“It is believed that type 1 sour dough bread offers digestive health benefits, but this type of sour dough remains a challenge for plant bakeries,” Karen Jones, marketing and communications manager for Campden BRI tells British Baker. “Industrial bakeries instead use types 2 and 3 sour dough, which impart some of the benefits of sour dough without the complexities of managing the cultures or extended fermentations.
“As part of an Innovate UK project, we are researching the digestive benefits of sour dough and the opportunities to reduce the salt levels of sour dough bread.”
Recipe: pesto sourdough
Source: Vanessa Kimbell
- Fresh seasonal herbs such as oregano or basil, 75g
- Salt, 1/8 teaspoon
- Olive oil, 110g
- Chopped walnuts, 15g
- Garlic, 1 clove, minced
- Freshly ground pepper, 1/8 teaspoon
- Parmesan cheese, 75g grated
- Water at exactly 28°C/82.5°F, 650g
- Leaven, 200g
- Stoneground organic white our, 800g plus extra for dusting
- Wholegrain flour, 200g
- Sea salt, 20g mixed with 50g of water
- Organic polenta, for dusting
Leaven is made by taking 20g starter and adding 90ml cold water and 90g strong white organic flour. Leave covered with a damp cloth for six to eight hours; you will see that is it bubbly and it is ready to use.
1. Early in the morning, whisk your water and starter together in a large bowl then add the flour. Mix until there is no more dry flour. Do not knead. Cover the bowl with a clean damp cloth and leave the dough to rest in a cool environment for 30 minutes.
2. To make the pesto, add the herbs, the salt, a little of the oil and pound the ingredients in a pestle and mortar. Add the rest of the ingredients and a little oil at a time and taste before you season.
3. Once your pesto has been made add the saline water. Don’t worry if it looks wet, the flour will absorb it as you stretch and fold.
4. Lift and fold your dough over on itself. Do a quarter turn of your bowl and repeat three more times. Over the next three hours, using wet hands, lift and fold your dough every 30 minutes, becoming ever-more gentle with your folds.
5. Place your dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide in half. Use a good dollop of the pesto in the centre and fold over each corner of the dough so that the pesto is in the centre of the ball. Flip the dough over 180 degrees so that the seams are underneath and gently but firmly roll it to create a boule. This is not a loaf to be shaped twice as the pesto needs to be in the centre.
6. Shape your dough lightly but firmly and place into a dusted banneton. Dust with flour and cover with a damp tea towel and leave to prove in the fridge until the following day.
7. The key to successful sourdough is in the steam in the oven. If you don’t have a deck oven or you want to test bake the recipe then you will need to use a cloche. Preheat the oven to 260C for at least 30 minutes before you are ready to bake with your baking dome in the oven. The dome must be very hot. Take the dish out of the oven and sprinkle a little polenta over the bottom. Put your dough into the dome and slash the top of your bread using a grignette (or lame) then place the lid back on top and return to the oven as quickly as possible. Bake for 35 minutes then reduce the heat to 200°C/170°C fan/gas 5 and bake for a further 30 minutes. Finally remove the lid and bake until you are happy with the colour.
8. Bake until you have a dark brown crust for an authentic loaf. Sourdough is best left to cool completely before slicing and is even better if left for a day or two. If you don’t like a crunchy crust, then wrap your bread in a clean tea towel whilst it is still warm.