Pork, ginger and rhubarb, mutton and turnip, and shrimp and butter were some of the more unusual pie varieties entered into the 2010 British Pie Awards this May. But while these eye-catching recipes offered a new take on the classic dish, traditional recipes such as steak and kidney scooped most of the top prizes.

And in the wider market, classic varieties such as beef and onion, lamb and mint, and steak and kidney are still the dominant force in the hot pies and savouries category, which has continued to see healthy growth over the past 12 months.

According to manufacturers, the recession had a positive impact on pie sales, as consumers turned to value-for-money, filling foods. This trend has continued into 2010, even though the recession is officially over. "It’s affordable and it is comfort food," says Paul Pearce, marketing director of WC Rowe.

"Despite the economic downturn, traditional products, such as pies and pasties, continue to do well, as do handheld products, such as sausage rolls and steak bakes," says Stephen Clifford, marketing director at Country Choice.

Value-for-money remains very important, adds Clifford. "We expect to see more meal deals and multi-buys involving savouries, quite often linked into coffee. We feel it is important that consumers don’t feel as though they are being short-changed on size and, in response, we launched a jumbo sausage roll. We are likely to see more initiatives like this in the future."

Positive performance

The overall market has seen steady growth. According to Kantar Worldpanel data, total value sales of hot pies increased by 2.2% to £230m in the 52 weeks to 18 April. Pasties were up 0.6% to £83m, slices were up 8% to £71.7m, but sausage rolls declined 0.6% to £135m.

Some pie companies have seen rapid expansion. Shire Foods has gained a lucrative contract to manufacture a range of Tesco Finest pies, after investing over £1m in new production machinery. Kevin Newey, retail sales executive, says the company’s turnover has increased by nearly 40% as a result of new contracts.

Manufacturers are also optimistic about the opportunities presented by this year’s World Cup in South Africa. The fact that the UK is in the same time zone as South Africa means matches will be played at sociable hours, which is good news for companies making footie-friendly snacks.

The 2006 World Cup generated around £1.25bn in retail sales, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), and manufacturers and retailers are banking on the latest tournament being just as profitable.

"2010 could well be the year of the pie," says Michael Dickson, MD of Dicksons, which runs 20 traditional butcher’s shops in Tyneside, as well as supplying football stadiums and delis. "The World Cup is providing a great platform to encourage further growth in the sector and attract new customers." Dicksons has devised a promotion based around the idea of picking a ’pie team’, which will allow customers to pick and mix between five varieties of mini pies to take away 12 at a set price of £5.49.

Country Choice is also getting in on the act. It has produced a football-themed display counter unit for retailers, designed to hold mini bite-sized pasties, which can be displayed for up to 12 hours once baked. The display unit can also hold sausage rolls.

Recipe investment

Looking past the World Cup, the industry remains optimistic, and is investing in new recipes. Kelvin Meyler, sales and export manager of Welsh firm Lewis Pies, says it has recently opened a new £2m manufacturing facility and is launching new products. "Very often what you may find inside new sandwich trends can also be adapted to pastry," he says. "Some of our new young modern fillings are sweet chilli chicken, chicken and chorizo sausage, chilli beef, piri piri chicken and Caribbean spicy fillings. They all work well encased in succulent pastry. One of our newest and most popular filling is cheesy beans and sausage a simple filling but, once tried, is generating good repeat sales."

The industry is also grappling with the Food Standards Agency’s targets for reducing saturated fat and salt, but pie-makers seem confident they will be able to achieve the required standards without affecting the quality of the product. "It hasn’t really made any difference," says Peter Mayes of Pukka Pies. "We are very careful with our pies and it is totally about consistency, so if you have a Pukka pie now and one in six months it should be exactly the same. So when we do any reformulation, which is actually rare, we are very careful that it doesn’t make any difference."

Newey says he believes the salt targets are counter-productive: "I speak to people who never used to add salt but now they are adding it to their food because things taste bland." He predicts MSG, which is not added to Shire Foods pies, is likely to be the next ingredient banned by the Food Standards Agency.

In the meantime, new recipes are being introduced. WC Rowe says its has had success with its Caribbean pastries. In the past year it has launched several products flavoured with Levi Roots’ Reggae Reggae sauce. The pasties and patties are sold in Rowe’s high street shops as well as in the supermarkets. "There is a range of savoury patties a chicken, a spicy beef and a vegetable patty," says Pearce. "There are all sorts of synergies between the Cornish pasty and Jamaican patties, and that is to do with historical reasons, such as the trading of spices.

More Reggae Reggae products are in the offing, adds Pearce. "Caribbean cooking is really in its infancy in the UK at the moment, but with a figurehead like Levi getting behind it, it is only going to move in one direction. We have done a lot of development work with it and there are recipes in the locker room we can take to market as and when appropriate. The success of the Reggae Reggae brand speaks for itself."

Tesco latches on to trend

Tesco is rolling out hot food-to-go counters next to its sandwich chillers, following the success of Cornish pasty counters in its south-west stores.
WC Rowe sells its range of hot pasties, slices and sausage rolls in 22 Tesco stores, which Tesco bakes-off in-store. The retailer now plans to extend this to an additional 40 stores within the next year, and will source products from local suppliers.
Morrisons leads the way in supermarket hot pie sales, with its Pie Shop and Oven Fresh concepts in most stores.

Shire Foods is the UK’s biggest supplier of half-time pies to football grounds. The chicken balti pie is its best selling recipe, according to retail sales executive Kevin Newey, and a Facebook group dedicated to the recipe has messages from devoted fans across the country. "I love balti pies so much that I once ate one out of a bin, when the mighty Gills were away to West Brom. Because of this, all my mates call me Balti," one member writes.
But despite having devoted fans and supplying more than 50 clubs, Newey says this business has been knocked by the economic downturn. "People are just about affording match day tickets, and half-time catering and match day programmes take second preference."
However, this hasn’t deterred new entrants to the stadium pie market. Yorkshire butcher’s Wilsons started supplying Leeds Rhinos last year after the club approached them. John Green of Wilsons says warm pork pies served with peas and mint sauce is the best seller, which is served from the company’s Jiffy van.