As summer is almost upon us - or at least as much of a summer as Britain normally gets - most of us like to have a barbecue in the garden when the opportunity strikes, and salad is nowhere to be seen in shops by Sunday afternoon. But does this hot weather affect the sales of hot savoury food? Do consumers, who are out shopping in a busy high street on a hot summer’s day, choose to grab a pasty-on-the-go, or a sandwich?
"Summer is an interesting challenge. Pork pies and sausage rolls for salads, as well as bread rolls for homemade sandwiches and barbecue parties, usually increase with the rise in temperature," says David Smart, production director at Greenhalgh’s Craft Bakery. He feels the variation in hot savoury sales depends on the summer weather. "Last year it was a very wet summer and we didn’t notice any drop in sales. We are waiting to see what will happen this year.
"Usually in the summer, hot pies and sausage rolls face a bit of a dip - although any shortfall is usually compensated by the sale of pork pies and cold sausage rolls - while sandwich sales go through the roof. We are pushing those at the moment."
While the summer is typically a slump period for hot savouries, more generally, TNS data from previous years revealed that the hot savoury market had suffered an overall slump in sales. For example, the figures from December 2005 to December 2006 showed an overall decrease in sales of 5.4%. One of the main suggestions for this decline is thought to be the nation’s emphasis on healthier eating, an issue which has been the focus of many a TV programme over the last few years, such as ’You Are What You Eat’.
TNS’ latest figures for savoury pastries on-the-go, show there has been an overall increase in the market by 3.36% (52 w/e 20 April 2008). However, a number of hot savouries have experienced a fall in sales since April 2007 - for example, Cornish pasties have fallen by 6% and quiche by 20.3%.
But Greenhalgh’s is finding success with products such as quiches and has just launched a new range using a Scotch pie shell. Whether Greenhalgh’s production of hot savouries will vary over the summer is difficult to predict. "Production really does vary, maybe 5% less but it’s really hard to say," says Smart.
Official figures show sausage rolls have increased in sales by 2%, whereas another cold picnic favourite, pork pies, have dropped by 19.1%, and pork pie bars by 43.8%. This just shows that not all cold savoury pastry products are as popular as they were. Also on the decrease are savoury bakes, sales of which have dropped 52.2%. In contrast, however, sales of savoury slices have risen by 7.1%. It seems consumers may merely be changing their eating habits when it comes to hot savouries, rather than stopping buying them.
Figures also show that the ’other pies’ category has increased by 9.1%, and the ’other pasties’ category by a huge 127%. This could be due to the increased number of pasty and pie shops, selling products made from a much wider range of ingredients than a standard meat pie.
There are also many more products that would fall into this ’other’ category such as gluten-free pasties and vegan or vegetarian options. It seems that, in the land of 21st century pasty shops, there is a filling for everyone. Pasty fillings on supplier Proper Cornish’s menu, for example, include Cauliflower Cheese, Chicken Balti, Pork & Apple and Mexican Beef. Based in Bodmin, north Cornwall, Proper Cornish don’t tend to have a problem with a lack of pie and pasty eaters as the region is bombarded with tourists out and about on holiday, hungry for a tasty snack to eat on-the-go. "We have an enormous influx of tourists in the summer, due to the sheer volume of people coming to the south west, says Mark Muncey, Proper Cornish’s marketing manager. "Providing food-on-the-go has helped to increase sales."
The company does not promote its hot savoury products any less over the summer, but thought is given to the kinds of ingredients used in them. For example it tries to move away from the slightly heavier fillings, using different ingredients for different seasons - for example chicken and asparagus in summer. "Of course, in really extreme hot weather there is a dip, but only when it’s really hot. The important thing is the menu mix and the occasion," explains Muncey.
Outlets that cater specifically for people on the move, for example SSP’s retail chain The Pasty Shop, do almost as well in the summer as the winter months. Alan Kirkup, deputy marketing director for food travel operator SSP, explains that it depends on the brand. "We tend to use more lighter fillings in the summer, such as more vegetarian and chicken fillings, and fewer of the heavier fillings such as beef, but the main thing is to put in the things that people like," says Kirkup. He explains that products such as bacon and cheese croissants will always sell well, because they are predominantly viewed as a breakfast food, whether it’s summer or winter.
It seems the smaller pasty outfits aren’t fazed either. Ian Baldry started up I’s Pies in Brighton in 2005, opening a shop in Gardner Street, and has since opened a second shop in Queens Road. Going by sales of his hot savouries over the last couple of years, Baldry is also optimistic that sales will not falter over the summer months, explaining he only notices a drop in sales "when it’s really hot".
In terms of capturing a wide market, I’s Pies is open until later than most bakeries: for example, the Queens Road shop opens until 8pm on weekdays and midnight on Friday and Saturday. This means the shop can capitalise on people wanting an evening snack. It also offers a ’happy hour’ two-for-one promotion in the evening to draw in the punters.
It seems most producers of hot savouries are undaunted by a hot summer. The key to success appears to be offering a varied menu and to having the ability to diversify. The pasty, it seems, is as popular as ever and, with Britain’s notoriously bad summers, the industry probably has little to fear.