"We are in a highly competitive business, where long-term volume and value growth is a challenge," said Federation of Bakers (FoB) chairman Mark Fairweather at the organisation’s annual lunch on 11 May.

Fairweather, CEO of Allied Bakeries, spoke of the inflationary pressures fuelled by the rising price of commodities wheat, fuel, packaging, and other raw materials adding, "These costs are real and something we live with and have to manage; we must think long- as well as short-term."

The FoB has recently established a new Corporate Social Responsibility Working Group, which will look at areas such as the economic value of the bakery sector, the jobs and skills it offers and the carbon footprint of bread from field to plate, explained Fairweather. "It is early days but the emphasis will be to add value and not to duplicate what has been done elsewhere."

He summarised the work already done to reduce salt in plant bread, but warned that alternative bakery products could be eaten in substitution for bread, chosen by consumers because they were perceived to have a greater taste. He stressed that the consumer must be at the heart of its members’ thinking.

Manufacturers and retailers needed to ensure they found ways to improve their offerings to drive incremental sales, he added.

Fairweather also discussed the potential return of the issue of bread fortified with folic acid. While the FoB had always taken the view that it was not for them to decide the medical merits of folic acid fortification, he said, it would still like to be involved from the start if this were to be introduced.

The £3bn plant baking industry, in retail sales value, employs 21,000 and supplies over 80% of the nation’s bread.