Vince Bamford, editor of British Baker, considers whether the audience for artisan bread is limited to middle-class foodies

Who do artisan bakers make their bread for? That’s a question I’ve been pondering since a baker recently told me they produce bread for middle-class consumers rather than the masses.

It’s a comment that shocked me.

Of course, the price tag for a slow-fermented, hand-crafted loaf – typically somewhere between £3 and £5 depending on location – means plenty of consumers won’t buy them every day. And supplements in papers such as The Observer and The Times played a big role in making people aware of the likes of sourdough and rye breads. But I see people from all walks of life buying artisan bread at local shops and markets – surely bread shopping habits aren’t determined by class?

“I don’t think it’s a class thing – I have people of all types buying my bread,” one well-known artisan baker told me. “The people who buy my bread are people who understand the health benefits, and/or respect the concept of a skilled tradesman.”

It’s a view echoed by other bakers, who are benefiting from growing consumer interest in food provenance and in the nutritional value of hand-crafted bread.

Jo Bottrill of Jo’s Loaves in Hertfordshire says one woman, who is recovering from a major illness, travels 10 miles on the

bus to buy her bread, and adds that she has recently learned another regular customer sells The Big Issue.

“While next month I shall probably give her a loaf without charge, there is part of me that recognises she had a choice; she could have popped into the town’s supermarket to buy a much bigger loaf for less money, but she didn’t, she decided to spend her limited means with me,” says Bottrill.

Many in the industry feel it is the job of bakers to educate consumers about the value and benefits of artisan bread, and explain why the higher price charged is a result of factors such as economies of scale, paying skilled staff a fair wage, use of high-quality ingredients, and longer fermentation time.

“Chorleywood Processed bread played its part in freeing women from being tied to the kitchen stove and in producing a product with a long shelf-life for supermarkets,” says one baker, adding the public is now waking up to what long-fermentation bread can offer in taste, texture and nutrition.

“It is the mission of small bakeries like ours to provide those things to as many people as possible.”