Tesco and Warburtons have been quick to take advantage of a relaxation in approach to bread sizes by Trading Standards Officers (TSOs), ahead of a change to the law next spring.
Both are launching loaves that fall outside the standard 400g-multiple formula. Local authority co-ordinator LACORS has confirmed that, while the law is not yet in place, it has ordered TSOs not to prosecute any firm making non-standard bread unless they are defrauding the public.
Current laws, which date back to the Bread Acts of 1822 and 1836, state that bread weighing more than 300g must be sold in multiples of 400g - hence the bakery standard of 400g and 800g loaves. But a European directive, to be implemented next spring, will relax the tight controls on bread sizing.
Tesco has been quick off the mark to capitalise on the situation, launching a 600g loaf and 1,000g loaf within its in-store bakeries. Tesco’s bakery category manager Neil Franklin said more innovation will follow.
"This provides us with a number of other opportunities, although I wouldn’t want to give our competitors an insight into what we’re planning. We think this is the right thing to do for the customers and they seem to be responding well to it."
Asked whether Tesco was in discussions with plant bakers such as Warburtons on stocking non-standard loaves, Franklin said: "There’s an opportunity for bread weight deregulation through the whole wrapped bread sector. At the moment we’re going into in-store bakeries because that gives us a greater degree of flexibility, but we are exploring other opportunities."
Other supermarkets are taking a more cautious approach. Andy Clegg, bakery director of Morrisons, which has plant bakeries geared up to manufacture in traditional sizes, said there was no rush to follow suit and consumers would need "a long period of education" before they understood the changes.
"We will always look at what the market is doing and react accordingly," he said. "It’s early days and you cannot just wipe out 700 years of history and expect customers to understand it. We’re about evolution, not revolution."
Both Asda and Waitrose said they had no immediate plans to launch non-standard loaf sizes.
Warburtons is the first plant baker to take advantage of the law change, with the launch of a 600g loaf range in mid-October.
Gordon Polson, director of the Federation of Bakers, representing the plant sector, said that now the law is almost in place, "I wouldn’t be surprised if people want to take advantage of it."
Jonathan Brace, operations director for Brace’s Bakery in south Wales, expressed concern at the situation.
He said: "I think a range of different sizes will lead to a great deal of confusion for consumers. For example, a 300g loaf in packaging may look the same as a 400g loaf on shelf but customers may not realise the weight difference and end up paying more.
"Other manufacturers may rush into producing non-standard loaf sizes but we have no immediate plans."
Sam Wells, production director at Hobbs House Bakery in Chipping Sodbury, Bristol, said the law change could open up business opportunities, such as selling chunks of larger loaves, priced according to weight.
=== In Short ===
== Fire at Sayers Bakery ==
The former Sayers Bakery in Norris Green, Liverpool was severely damaged by fire on 28 September in a suspected arson attack. Firefighters arrived at the bakery just after 8pm and it took 13 fire crews to control the flames. Merseyside Police said the fire had started in multiple locations. Forensic officers will now conduct an investigation. The bakery has been closed since June, when Sayers’ parent company, Lyndale Group, was put into administration.
== Action group plan ==
The National Association of Master Bakers (NA) is hoping to create an ’action group’ with the hope of redressing certain perceptions of the craft baking industry. A statement from the NA said: "In recent years the craft bakery sector has come under pressure from many fronts. This has led to many companies struggling and a poor perception of the industry to customers, government and potential employees." The action group will plan a campaign to persuade consumers to support the independent craft baker.
== Yorkshire spice ==
Henderson’s Relish, a spicy Worcester sauce, is the new flavour launched by Yorkshire Crisps. It is the first time Henderson’s 100 year-old sauce flavour has been available to buy outside Sheffield. Yorkshire Crisps produces hand-cooked crisps, that are free from MSG, artificial flavourings, colourings, preservatives and GM ingredients.
== Smaller biscuit packs ==
United Biscuits (UBUK) is launching McVitie’s biscuit assortments, Victoria and Masterpieces, in smaller pack sizes. The Victoria biscuits will be launched in a 250g format, and Masterpieces will now be available in 175g packs.
=== Bread weights and the law ===
European directive 2007/45/EC on nominal quantities, which will be implemented into UK law on 11 April 2009, will repeal the previous laws relating to food weights.
While it is technically still illegal to sell-non standard sizes of bread, businesses will not be prosecuted for it.
Local authorities co-ordinator LACORS has advised Trading Standards against prosecuting businesses for offences relating to prescribed quantities in the run-up the the law change. "A caveat to that is they will prosecute anyone who is defrauding the public," a spokesman for the Local Government Association said.
The move by the European Commission has been fraught with controversy since it was first proposed in 2004. Last April, MPs signed an early day motion, calling for a rethink on moves to end the standard British loaf, citing concerns about consumer clarity.