The phrase ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ is a common cliché. But what if you didn’t know what you could have, would you still want it? This apparent paradox underscores a recent shopper panel study, which asked whether people were really happy with the product range at their supermarket in-store bakery (ISB). An emphatic ‘yes’ was the reply from most – that is until picture cards of some of the wondrous breads sold by overseas retailers (but not in the UK) were flashed before them. This lead to hopeful cries of: “Where can we buy them?”

Research into the category from ingredients manufacturer Puratos shows ISBs are falling short of shoppers’ expectations. Insights gleaned – and the key findings apply equally to industrial and craft bakeries – include a call for more diversity in breads and an unfulfilled desire for impulse products.

Puratos undertook a series of nine focus groups and ‘accompanied shops’ with customers at Tesco and Sainsbury’s to give a snapshot of how consumers categorise the typical supermarket bakery offering. The groups were shown distinctive breads from across the world as a counterpoint to commonplace UK products. “People just went mad, asking ’Where can I buy these products?’" recalls Matt Crumpton, Puratos UK’s sales and marketing manager.

But the British public is traditionally conservative when it comes to parting with their cash. Although impressed by an exotic offering, is there a danger they will still put the same old tried-and-tested staples into their baskets?

“True, but we found there’s no point having these new products just stuck on the shelves because people will walk past them; they’re almost scared of them,” answers Crumpton. “They wanted these products, but they wouldn’t buy them unless the communication and merchandising material was there.”

Emotional attachment

The knowledge found in deli, cheese and rotisserie counter staff, point-of-sales material and samples to taste were all found sorely lacking in ISBs, meaning the strong emotional attachment that people instinctively feel towards the bakery is being under-exploited. “There’s a very strong engagement with bakery, but people want more out of it; they want more theatre,” he says.

Shoppers understand ciabatta, they almost get focaccia, but anything else and they will want to know what to eat it with, where it is from and what it tastes like. Tradition, origin, health benefits and serving suggestions could all be flagged up to encourage customers to buy. Most people recognise that wholegrain is good for you, for example, but ask them why and they will scratc their heads. So information needs to spell things out in simple terms, avoiding the jargon surrounding many health claims To garner a greater understanding of the customer’s decision-making process, how they structure their shop and what motivates their purchases, opinions given on various products were mapped according to perceived ‘need states’.

These included: ‘treat’ – where people indulge guilt-free; ‘show-off’ – to impress

others; ‘diversity’ – trying something different; ‘bonding’ – such as family occasions; ‘comfort’ – a pick-me-up; and ‘functional’ – the convenient, everyday foods.

Time to show off

So what product gaps did this highlight? “There is a gap for ‘show-off’ in ISBs,” says Crumpton. On the cakes front, there was a similar feeling that few products were hitting the target. The current offer of éclairs, scones with cream or fruit tarts simply did not impress; even a tarte au citron was perceived by some respondents as “just a fancy cheesecake” – hardly enough to impress guests at a dinner party.

The underlying message was that there are few credible cakes and desserts in ISBs that meet the emerging trend for indulgence. “People kept citing time and again the branded, nicely packaged, Gü-type products, saying ‘I could pass this off as my own’,” he says. While these are shelved among the chilled desserts, the sweet ranges in the ISB are changed too infrequently with little to excite, they thought. And there is too much cream on display, where there could be glazed or fruited items.

Meanwhile, the idea of pre-ordering products for special occasions was greeted enthusiastically, with people prepared to pay anything up to £20 per cake. Selfridges-style high-end patisserie products “really got people excited”, while there were calls for an overhaul of the patisserie counter. And interestingly, people saw the on-shelf sponge cakes and cake-bar products as more suited to the biscuits section than the ISB – an insight which could open up room for other speciality bakery items.

But it was the bread offer, not the cakes that attracted people into the bakery. So what else would help shoppers upgrade to buying speciality goods? The ‘anchor’ products, such as French sticks, must be in stock, says Crumpton. And freshness is paramount. “People want to see what’s going on in the bakery, the warmness of the ovens, the smell and the texture of the bread,” he says.

Packaging contradictions

Responses on packaging were more confused, with ‘naked’ breads preferred over cellophane, but at the same time loaves exposed to mucky fingers brought hygiene worries. Distinctive packaging, such as La Brea’s sourdoughs, which are baked off in-store and come in branded bags, however, successfully taps into that ‘show-off’ element, notes Crumpton. “Plastic packaging almost dampens people’s illusions about these ‘wow’ breads. But if you take it out of the packaging and put it in a nice wicker basket, there’s the perception that it’s made by the guy out back.”

But are the more unusual Continental breads ever going to sell in big enough volumes to attract the multiples? “Supermarkets are going to get a much higher margin for these products,” reasons Crumpton. “If retailers get the communication right, we could see more speciality products becoming mainstream, as ciabatta and naan have already done.”


Puratos’ study reinforced the difference in buying behaviour between the week and weekend. Single- and dual-income households with no kids spend little time indulging in bakery products during the week, limiting their consumption to morning toast and lunchtime sandwiches. But the weekend is more about indulgence, slowing down and taking time to appreciate more luxurious bakery products.

Younger families will buy bakery products to share and to cater for children’s fads. Older families will purchase a wider variety of baked goods and make more frequent shopping trips.

Meanwhile, so-called ‘empty nesters’ – who are retired and whose children have left home – take the ‘every day is a weekend’ approach to food shopping. They are health- and diet-conscious, eat smaller portions, and can afford more treats over frequent shopping trips.

“Customers are saying that they shop differently from the weekend to the week,” says Crumpton. “There is a logistics issue to get over, but in an ideal world you would have a range of products that are proven to sell during the week. And at the weekend you would slightly change that offer to suit the various need states, such as when people want to slow down and explore new breads.”

Puratos at a glance

International: The family-owned Puratos Group is based in Belgium. Founded in 1919, the firm now has 89 companies in 53 countries, with 55 manufacturing sites, employing 4,500 staff worldwide, with a turnover over £530m.

UK subsidiary: Started in the 1980s and now based in Buckingham. Two years ago Puratos restructured to simplify its business into three units – Bakery, Patisserie and Chocolate.

UK turnover: £30m+

UK staff: 100+

Products: Bakery – bread improvers and mixes, flavours, enzymes and emulsifiers; Patisserie – confectionery mixes, fillings, glazes, icings, fudges and ganaches, margarines and fats; Chocolate – Belcolade real Belgian couverture and compound coatings.

Key points

There are signs of consumer disengagement from the bakery category, although most are satisfied with the current offer

Shoppers say the in-store category is crowded and confused

People wanted products to be split up more in line with different occasions, such as weekend indulgence or to show off to guests

‘Show-off’ breads are a key area of interest but product types remain undefined

New bread formats need to be introduced carefully if they are to have impact, but could support a ‘super-premium’ fixture

Ambient cakes are perceived as boring and functional

Shoppers want ‘show-off’ patisserie in the ISB – a market currently being tapped by dessert brands such as Gü

There is a strong desire for high-end single portions, and those with the look and feel of products found on the Continent

Shoppers want a patisserie counter – but not in its current format. There is a lack of change and innovation on the counter

A lot of the products on display are the same colour, which people found boring

Pre-ordering for specific occasions is of real interest