Bakery retailers are increasingly turning to thaw-and-serve and bake-off goods to complement their own baked-from-scratch goods. This adds value with more upmarket offerings, helps diversification and enables bakers to accommodate an ever-more-discerning population hell-bent on premium novelties. Or as Arnaud Rannou of Traiteur de Paris succinctly puts it: "Bakers receive our products frozen and repack them in posh boxes."

Although only a small proportion of this French firm’s UK business comes through selling into the high street - the rest being in foodservice - its export director believes that more bakers are now willing to consider buying in top-end fare, such as Traiteur’s thaw-and-serve petit-fours, in order to stand out as specialists.

"I definitely see this area developing," says Rannou. "This enables the baker to offer or propose to their customers a fine line of petit-fours without having to go to the trouble of making them. People are looking for more sophisticated products in the UK than used to be the case."

Traiteur also supplies thaw-and-serve savoury and sweet muffins. "The desserts area has not been developed fully and there is further potential for growth there," says Rannou. "We may yet see higher-quality desserts at higher prices, as we’ve seen happen with coffee. This trend has been evident in what I call ’specialised bakeries’, such as Costa Coffee and Starbucks, but has yet to spread to mainstream bakeries."

He predicts this will change, especially with chains like French bakery Paul gaining ground.

Traiteur de Paris, meanwhile, is a ¤30m business with around 8% of that now in the UK. The company is on the lookout for major chains in the UK involved in the frozen supply chain to develop bespoke products.

Rannou says: "You often have fewer additives in frozen products than so-called fresh or chilled products. We create a high-quality product using a combination of the industrial process and the handmade approach."

Thaw-and-serve finished

Value outstripping volume growth across the bakery market is indicative of a healthy upper end in bakery, and is providing an opportunity for thaw-and-serve products.

"As an industry, we must make this message very clear," says Maggie Dagostino, marketing director of Dawn Foods. Given longer trading hours and greater availability of products with less chance of wastage, Dagostino believes that, "a frozen product that can be defrosted to order is a good service solution."

Although consumers want good-quality products and choices, innovation in thaw-and-serve has been limited compared to the chilled sector, says Dagostino. But while consumers are willing to try new things, they also display the caution that comes with long-formed habits.

"The urge to experiment is tempered by the risk of disappointment, so it’s very much ’evolution, not revolution’ when it comes to getting customers to try new products," says Dagostino.

Focusing solely on the high-street bakery market is the Danish Cake Company, which made its UK debut in September with a limited range of bake-off pastry bases and laminated rolls. It hopes to extend the range as it secures distribution. Products are supplied frozen from a factory in Denmark and it also has the services of a bakery in London to provide finished baked-off goods.

Four Danish bakers set up the firm to make pastries and laminated rolls for their own shops after failing to find enough skilled staff between them. This freed up capacity to begin exporting. "We’re targeting bakers," says owner Bjarne Nielsen. "They have the same challenges in the UK as in Denmark."

The aim was to provide a product "produced the traditional way, but in a factory". The lamination process is by hand while the cutting/rolling takes place on a factory line. "Many of our rivals’ products come pre-proved and frozen," says Nielsen. "Our crown is empty for bakers to fill and personalise in any way they want."

He also believes the products have a longer shelf-life because they are supplied as a solid, frozen mass, so don’t dry out quickly. "Anyone can bake a pre-proved product, but ours requires a little skill to fill and bake. It needs to thaw for three hours, which requires pre-planning, but when you taste the flavour and quality, that’s when you realise it’s worthwhile." >>

Healthy-style finishing

Fresh fruit fillings, inclusions and toppings could help tap into the trend for "healthy indulgence". Kate Raison, marketing director at Bakehouse, says: "On the face of it, the two concepts clash, but you could, for example, include larger, fresh-fruit pieces to deliver ’healthier-style’ products."

On the finished goods front, Bakehouse has introduced a Superfruits Booster Bar and a Honey & Hazelnut Booster Bar, which count as one of the five-fruits-a-day, and are sold loose. They are bread-based, low in saturated fats, high in fibre and high in antioxidants. Raison believes there is room to carry on developing healthier breads with seeds, fruits, nuts and longer fermentation.

functional trend

Meanwhile, functional breads are emerging into the bake-off sector with the launch of the i-Bread Functional range from Cotswold Food Partnership (CFP). Initially the range will feature four varieties, available frozen or part-baked for bake-off as well as in pre-mixes. They include a light, multigrain bread enriched with Omega 3 and linseed; a white bread with the nutritional value of wholemeal and a multigrain loaf with dietary fibre inulin, designed to assist the digestive system and a healthy heart bread, developed in association with the Dutch Heart Foundation.

"Functional foods are established," says CFP director Mark Rooza. "We call i-Bread ’intelligent food’ - concentrating on flavour as well as function can have a major impact on sales." The breads will be distributed by Kluman & Balter.

Speciality and niche bread offerings are also working for bake-off specialist Mantinga, which is championing the deli and farm shops market. "There is a continual demand for speciality breads in all sectors, be it large or small retailers," says managing director Steven Mackintosh. "This is a customer base we’ve been serving very well."

Mackintosh has high hopes for the newly launched Pür-et-nü range (translates as ’pure and naked’), which will add to the 40 products already launched this year. This is a line of "natural breads", sandwich carriers and rolls that use only basic organic bread ingredients.

"We’re looking to bring out ranges rather than one-offs," he says. "A lot of positioning in coffee shop-type concepts is about ’natural’ and ’no additives’.

"Our bakery customers are either moving to a coffee concept to hold people in the premises, or trying to cut staff levels and do bake-off. It’s a constantly changing environment." n


=== Consumer watch ===

The frequency of eating and drinking on-the-go is increasingly determined by the hectic lives that modern consumers lead.

Shoppers in the UK have the highest number of on-the-go food and drink occasions per person, per year in Europe, at 338 (see table below), which Datamonitor defines as follows: "On-the-go consumption occurs when consumers are engaged in other activities or in environments that are not particularly suited to food or drink consumption.

"It occurs in one of three contexts: while on-the-move, while multi-tasking, or while taking part in leisure activities."