Tesco is set to shake-up its in-store bakeries as part of a major overhaul of its fresh foods operation, according to newspaper reports.
The retailer is to switch from using fresh dough in its in-store bakeries to frozen dough, the Mail on Sunday has claimed.
This will be part of a plan affecting around 700 of Tesco’s largest stores, and will see the cutting of up to 15,000 jobs as the business closes down meat, fish and delicatessen counters, according to the reports.
Tesco this morning told British Baker it was “always looking at ways to run our business more simply and efficiently”.
“Whenever we make changes in our business, colleagues are always the first to know,” added a spokesman for the retailer.
Currently, Tesco’s in-store bakery operation comprises some products that are supplied frozen and baked-off in store, while others are baked from scratch.
If Tesco does switch from fresh dough to frozen, this could reduce the staff and equipment required, but comes with challenges, explained Stan Cauvain, director and co-founder at consultancy BakeTran.
“A major issue is that frozen dough has to be defrosted to deliver good bread quality,” he said. “Dough is a poor conductor of heat and this takes time, which reduces the immediacy of bread supply. Frozen dough works less well, as the size of the loaf increases because of the time taken for warmth to reach the centre.”
“While the industry has flirted with frozen dough in the past, it has had more success with frozen par-baked products. However, even with this technology, the larger the product, the more difficult it is to deal with.”
Cauvain added that, while changing from fresh to frozen dough (or frozen part-baked) might reduce the need for fresh bakery production skills, it would not remove the need for good process control over the bake-off operation.
“This particular aspect has been the downfall of similar attempts to ditch scratch bakery production in in-stores in the past,” he said.
Tesco has invested heavily in its in-store bakeries in recent years. In 2017, when the business won the Supermarket Bakery Business of the Year category in the Baking Industry Awards, it said it had worked to make its bakeries “the most compelling reason to shop in our stores”.
Speaking on the future of Tesco’s in-store bakeries at the British Society of Baking’s Spring Conference last April, the retailer’s bakery chief Gordon Gafa said the three priorities would be simplification of product range, innovation around key trends and collaboration across its business and supply chain.
At the time, in-store bakery sales were up 4.1% like-for-like compared to the previous year.
Today, union Unite has called for urgent talks with Tesco following the Mail on Sunday report. The union is recognised at four Tesco distribution centres, where it has around 1,000 members.
“This is a very worrying time for our members who deliver to Tesco stores across the UK,” said Unite national officer for retail distribution Adrian Jones. “While the reports centre on job losses in-store, such as at the bakeries and deli counters, we still need to know what this could mean for our members.”