Letters: What is a 'craft baker'?

12 February, 2010
Page 18 

Let's define why we offer value

All credit to BB for keeping the spotlight on the battered UK craft sector. Is the definition of "craft" or "artisan" the right way to focus the challenge right now?

It is a long-running saga, as is the valiant effort of a handful of British bakers to keep up support for our ancient and under-valued craft. We are different to the industrial product and we must find an appropriate way of defining why we offer value.

There are two key areas:

1. Persuading the UK's Office of Fair Trading that predatory pricing is a bad thing for consumers.

2. Real "fresh" bread was not cooked weeks or months ago and reheated to toast the crust. Fresh bread is baked from flour and water, somewhere local in your community, today.

Some might argue that browning a pre-baked baguette in a garage forecourt shop is honestly part of baking. However, the fundamental difference is that the significant baking process cooking the starch happens only once at some point over 90C.

In December 2009, new planning policies were issued by the UK Government for England (PPS4) which, in a nutshell, require local planning authorities to take consideration of local town economies and "promote the vitality and viability of town centres as important places for communities".

Out-of-town shopping is important to a modern lifestyle, but I think England has gone too far. UK supermarkets have decimated our industry in half a century. Our French cousins are respected members of their locality and maintain perhaps a 70% market share. The definition of a traditional French bakery is protected in law.

Is it time for a fresh look at what we can do through the courts?

David Dodge, proprietor and MD, Vienna Bakery, Jersey

Robust stance is needed

British Baker has to take a more robust and brave stance on this issue [definition of craft]. When Sylvia Macdonald tries to justify the use of Vitamin C (Viewpoint, BB, 29 January), there is a disingenuous side to this statement. How many bakers do you really know who literally only add Vitamin C to their flour? It has either already been added at the mill, or, it is added as a prepared mix in a fancy coloured sachet, or from a large sack. It is not just Vitamin C, but a whole load of other "mystery" ingredients besides. Ingredients manufacturers get away with far too much under current legislation. That is why I totally agree with Peter Cook (Letter, BB 29 Jan, pg 16) when he says, "no improvers". All it does is perpetuate what Tom Herbert expresses in such a colourful way in his column in the same issue.

Quite simply, this is a wake-up call to all you big boys dealing in vast quantities of grain and fancy chemicals: it won't continue for much longer. Tom Herbert's vision for agriculture will happen. And when it does, there will be a host of independent small high street and community bakeries turning out real craft and artisan bread. How can you possibly describe Greggs as a craft operator?

The trouble is that these words really mean something to some people. 'Organic' is just the same. As soon as the big boys come along, these concepts just get bastardised. Food policy in this country has to change, and it will. There is no place for these organisations in a future world governed by sustainable principles...sorry boys!

Andrew Smith, lecturer, Newcastle College, and craft and artisan baker

What's in a name?

Craft/artisan are they not the same? The dictionary describes them as a human skill, manual art, and skilled trade. The baking industry is a skilled trade operated by humans! The different names are sometimes used to give a perceived status in the same way that 'cake shop' and 'patisserie' are used.

The large factory units are not craft bakeries, but some of the larger retail bakeries have high levels of hand-finished products and offer great in-house training to ensure quality is achieved.

I've not yet found a bakery that doesn't use at least a mixing machine, so when does a bakery lose its 'craft' status, because it uses machinery? Sourcing the best raw materials and turning them into top-quality finished products is a craft, at whatever level.

Maintaining our traditions of quality and freshness is more important than worrying about what you are called.

Colin Lomax, technical sales manager, Rank Hovis

We are all in this trade together

I read with interest the debate kicked off by the BB75 and eloquently tackled by Peter Cook. As the sponsor and judge of the Craft Business Award at the Baking Industry Awards, I thought I'd offer another perspective.

It's a shame Mr Cook feels that craft production at scale, artisanal craftsman and industrial production are discrete and unrelated camps within the baking industry.

We need the self-titled Real Bread bakers to inspire us and demonstrate what is possible with fresh, quality ingredients, sheer passion and tremendous skill. We need to have tasty, great-quality sliced bread to fill the breakfast plates, lunchboxes and food-to-go market. We also need family bakers at the heart of their communities. And our retailer in-store bakery colleagues deliver that freshly baked bread (much of it from scratch) to consumers when they want to buy it.

As a BIA judge, I'm in the privileged position of being able to see behind the scenes at some of the best businesses in the country. In the past five years, I've been surprised at and delighted by the execution of craft that I have seen. These bakers manage the tension between craft and scale so well, that to call their products mass-produced is really to do them a disservice.

We're all in this together, linked by a love of good products and the desire to give our consumers the very best we can at a price they are prepared to pay.

Sara Reid, marketing manager, Rank Hovis






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