Ginsters’ recent TV advertising campaign for its savouries featured the ’Man Plea’ a man clutching a Ginsters’ pasty and begging his "sweetheart" to serve it for dinner. His argument was that the product is made with prime ingredients, including "vegetables", and that he should no longer have to keep his out-of-home pasty habit a dirty little secret.

The campaign might not win any prizes for services to feminism. But it does show that savouries suppliers are bidding to extend their market reach. So what are the challenges facing the sector, and, aside from grovelling, how do you conquer new markets?

Data from market research companies suggest that pies and savoury sales are fairly sluggish. On the retail side, figures for Kantar Worldpanel show that the total market for pies and savouries is in marginal growth, up 1.1% to £774.7m in the year to 17 April. Growth in the sector is being driven by sausage rolls, up 3.9% to £139m in value. However, pasty sales are 3.9% down on value to £77.8m and 2.6% on volume.

On the food-to-go side, market research company NPD Group has tracked out-of-home eating occasions in the year to March 2011, and found that the total meat or vegetable pies eaten out of home declined sharply. This is the second consecutive year of decline.

Its report also finds that consumers of pies tend to be older; some 40% of all out-of-home pie sales source to consumers aged 50-plus, it says. Price points are key, as consumers tend to be price-conscious, it adds. And it concludes that there is an opportunity for products to be re-engineered and marketed to appeal to younger consumers, while maintaining their traditional appeal. Indeed, whether it is by introducing new products, new retail concepts or pressing new marketing messages on consumers, pie and savouries suppliers are following the routes it suggests.

New ideas

Pukka Pies recently launched a range of microwaveable pies into the foodservice and wholesale markets. Unlike other Pukka Pies, which are made using puff pastry, these are made with a microwaveable shortcrust pastry, developed by Pukka Pies’ research team. MD Tim Storer says: "Creating a microwaveable pie such as this has been something of a holy grail for the industry. We are delighted with how they have been received in the market. Sometimes, preparing pies in a conventional oven is not an option."

Supplier Wrights recently introduced its own landmark piece of innovation, the Wrights Burger Bar. This is a puff pastry savoury slice comprising 95% lean beef pâté with a smoky cheese sauce and tomato relish topping. It was in development for two years, says MD Martin Watson. "We wanted to take our ’food to go’ offer to the next level by developing a three-layered savoury product, which had the familiar flavour of a burger," he explains. Ensuring the consistency and integrity of the fillings meant designing and building a new depositor system. The product has since enjoyed huge success, he says. Even in an economic downturn, consumers demand quality, rather than choosing the cheapest option, adds Watson, who says: "We have seen a significant upturn in demand for our beef-based premium pies and savoury products across the frozen unbaked and baked categories."

A question of provenance

For Nick Ringer, MD of foodservice and retail supplier Crantock Bakery, the key to the future is marketing products on the back of their provenance. He also argues that increasingly people are seeking better quality. Crantock has seen considerable success in the production of ’seasonal ranges’, appealing to what he calls the growing consumer desire to eat with the seasons. Crantock’s recent spring selection of pasties was received well, he says. The menu included Lamb & Rosemary, Chicken & Tarragon Pasty, and Rhubarb & Custard pasties. Ringer also suggests that the recent award of EU Protected Geographical Indication status to the Cornish Pasty, which means the product can only now be produced in Cornwall, has spurred consumer interest.

Supplier Peter’s is also a believer in provenance. It is calling for the corned beef pasty to be recognised as the national dish of Wales. Marketing controller Clare Morgan says: "Making this product a national dish would benefit a huge number of local producers." The company is to attempt to win political backing at the Welsh Assembly for its bid.

However, Mark Muncey, marketing director of Proper Cornish and the newly appointed chairman of the Cornish Pasty Association, fears that margins remain under threat, even as retailers promote premium products. He explains: "The convenience-driven blurring of the line between foodservice and retail presents a great opportunity for our industry, but it comes at a price. Service stations and supermarkets alike are responding to consumer demand for premium-quality foods, but without a premium price tag."

Protecting margins

Supplier Country Choice, meanwhile, has found a way to address margin erosion. It has created an ’ambient’ savoury pastries category, which it says allows retailers to gain extra sales and protect margins without experiencing any steal from their hot products range. Regulations allow retailers to sell certain savoury pastries at room temperature, where the product is baked in the normal way and allowed to cool. These ambient savouries do not incur VAT, allowing improved margins.

New product concepts from Country Choice to liven up the sector include a ’Potato Dog’ a frankfurter sausage wrapped in potato rosti which has become one of its top 10 sellers.

Meanwhile, Ian Toal MD of Delice de France UK and Ireland is taking a softly softly approach. He says that while new product development is vital, appealing to traditional values also remains key. He says: "Demand for traditional English fare remains strong and, as a result, we have made a definite response to this trend with the launch of a broad selection of classic English hot pie and savoury products over the last year that offer great value for money." New launches from Delice also include a Jumbo ’Demi’ Sausage, designed to increase morning sales and a limited-edition Pork and Chilli Roll.

Andy Valentine, head of brand marketing at Ginsters, says new product development helps in keeping sales up and attracting new consumers. New products from Ginsters include the ’love child’ of the sandwich and the pasty the Cornish Bara, with fillings including Flame Grilled Chicken, Hog Roast and Spicy Meatball sealed inside a baked bread dough. The sealed bread dough cuts down on the mess, which is often a drawback of on-the-go snacking, Ginsters says.

So the ’Man Plea’ approach to ’er indoors who does the cooking is not the only weapon in the Ginsters artillery.