Dozens of bakers, suppliers and retailers gathered at Campden BRI’s site in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire last week for the British Society of Baking’s spring conference.

Attendees were treated to a host of presentations, with topics ranging from waste management to what clean label really means. Health and obesity were also discussed, as well as what makes a successful bakery business, while many tried, and failed, to avoid the dreaded B-word (Brexit).

The over-arching theme of the event, albeit a coincidental one, was that small changes can make a big difference. Here are some of the key lessons we took from the event:

The food industry is to blame for Britain’s obesity crisis

Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar, had some choice words for the food industry during his presentation, making what was probably uncomfortable listening for many in the room.

“Unhealthy food is the biggest cause of death in the world,” he said, pointing the finger firmly at food and drink manufacturers as efforts to educate consumers have had little effect.

Why? The food industry said people could choose healthy products, he believed, but then spent billions of pounds convincing people to eat unhealthy ones.

Yet despite MacGregor’s lambasting, it wasn’t all bad. The baking industry has made great strides when it comes to salt reduction, for example. Industry action has also meant less effort for consumers.

“We wanted to do it in a different way by getting the industry to remove the salt. It’s a much better strategy because you don’t ask the public to do anything,” he said, pointing at lessons for the next challenges of sugar and fat reduction.

“We need to change the food environment and reformulate those products, just like we did with salt, and get fat and sugar levels down. We also need to restrict the marketing of those products.”

MacGregor warned that bakery companies should act now as the success of the sugar levy on soft drinks meant tax was an increasingly appealing option.

“You’re in the last-chance saloon. If you don’t do something now, you will face punitive incremental tax on unhealthy food and a marketing ban on unhealthy food – you have been warned.”

Better segregation means cheaper waste management costs

A small change that could make a big difference was the segregation of different materials for recycling. This was the message shared by James Astor, chairman of waste firm Regen Holdings.

Discussing waste management in food production, Astor noted that huge cost savings were more likely to be found from effective handling of materials – not haggling over skip and bin rates.

“You can achieve up to a 30% cost reduction by helping organise the waste on-site in a more sensible way,” he said.

This means segregation of anything of value, whether it’s plastic, paper or cooking oil.

“The more segregation at source, ultimately the cheaper the disposal costs ought to be,” he told attendees. “If you can have clean paper, clean plastic and clean tins, then some of those will have a value. If you mix everything together, the value is driven down to that of the lowest component.”

What’s more, Astor advised businesses to request waste data from their collection companies, which would ultimately help identify any problem areas.

“If you can separate out the stuff that doesn’t need to be burned then you are probably creating value for your business.”

Clean label isn’t clear cut

Clean label might be gathering pace, but as Campden BRI’s bakery science section manager Mike Adams pointed out, clean label means different things to different people.

“We’ve seen tremendous growth for clean label over the past decade, but it is a very ambiguous term,” he said. “It is seen as an industry standard, but it really does have no clear definition.”

It begs the questions ‘is bakery prioritising the correct areas when it comes to clean label?’ Possibly not. At least that’s what research presented by Campden BRI suggested. Of the 100 food and drink businesses polled, only 20% said they had a formal clean-label policy.

What was more, what consumers considered to be clean label could be very different to what those in the food industry considered to be clean label. Some believed only using store cupboard ingredients was clean label, while others thought it was about avoiding artificial sweeteners and preservatives. Meanwhile, some consumers believed that free-from products met the criteria for clean label.

These difficulties were further compounded when it came to functional ingredients in bakery products, such as emulsifiers, preservatives and flavourings.

“Many functional ingredients used in baking are not clean label, and alternatives are predominantly less effective and more expensive,” noted Adams.

Using sugar reduction as an example, Adams explained that the consumers polled by Campden BRI did not want to see sweeteners, e-numbers of artificial ingredients in its place, leaving the industry with few viable options – however inulin or chicory root fibre was promising, he added.

Folks in Derby can’t get enough of cream cakes

Birds Bakery has been celebrating 100 years of business with a series of activities planned around its centenary year from new packaging to reviving classic recipes for customers to enjoy once again.

It has grown from humble beginnings, founded by three brothers Frank, Thomas and Reginald Bird in 1919, to a business with 63 shops across the Midlands, producing 35,000 loaves of bread a week.

While Birds has adapted its product range over the years, cream cakes remain an important component of its menu with 80,000 produced a week.

“Cream cakes are an important part of our business and account for 14% of our weekly sales,” Birds marketing director Mike Holling told conference attendees. “A lot of people have moved away from making cream cakes, so freshly-made cream cakes are vital for us.”

To ensure freshness, Holling noted that Birds didn’t start filling any cream cakes until 1am in the morning, leaving a very tight window for delivery.