Following public health minister Anna Soubry’s comments last week about how “oversized” bakery goods have become since she was a wee nipper, it feels to me as if the bakery police are now out in force.
I don’t know what annoys me more – the fact the health minister believes a crackdown is needed on cake and croissants, which almost feels like bakers cannot be trusted, or the lack of support for independent high street bakeries when it comes to the government’s latest front-of-pack labelling initiative.
First of all, let’s think about why customers come into your bakeries and purchase your beautifully crafted items. Many bakery goods are there to be eaten as a one-off or on a special occasion. What’s more – and forgive me for my presumption – are we really a nation of idiots if we cannot figure out that a cake or similar bakery good is a treat or not?
The health minister’s comment suggests that by making these products, bakers are fuelling the obesity crisis in Britain. But the truth is they are simply offering something sweet and indulgent to their customers, which can be consumed as part of a healthy diet.
Meanwhile, the government’s latest labelling move also concerns me. At a time when smaller, independent businesses need the most help, and are the heart and soul of our high streets, yet again the multiples and food retail giants seem to be getting a helping hand from the government when it comes to front-of-pack labelling on product packaging.
The Department of Health has said the new voluntary labelling format, due to come into force next summer, will ensure businesses remain consistent, with a mixture of traffic light colour-coding and Guideline Daily Amounts highlighting the levels of fat, salt, sugar and calories in products.
But is this government thinking about how this labelling could be adopted by craft bakeries or smaller outlets for their own goods? Is the funding being put behind these businesses who need it the most? The short answer is ‘no’.
I hope that Soubry, along with the rest of the government, when they are sat down in their local independent bakery or coffee shop biting into a hand-crafted iced bun, realises that this process is missing out a large proportion of the baking industry.
I’m sure that they, like anyone else visiting their local high street bakery, would like to know the calorie content or sugar/salt/fat levels something like this would contain, as would bakers like to have the option to promote it to customers who are becoming more health-conscious.
But there is simply no way these businesses can afford to do this on their own, especially when revisions to the sky-high business rates from 2008 have already been pushed back another two years. And the government is not giving any glimmer of hope that these companies will feature in their plans in a year’s time.
Read more on the labelling debate on page 6 in the latest issue of British Baker (2 November 2012).