Astraw poll of bakeries up and down the country has revealed that the meltdown on the high street witnessed by non-food retailers has not yet infected bakery retailers. While many felt twitchy throughout December, the last few days before Christmas came good, with sales often matching - or even exceeding - those of 2007.
For 19-shop Chatwins of Nantwich, like-for-like sales were down. It saw a dip of 3-5% in the five weeks from the beginning of December to the first week in January, but this was tempered by better-performing sales of savoury lines such as sausage rolls. "Sales of traditional Christmas items were down, as people scaled back," said joint MD Trevor Mooney.
The upwards savouries trend has also helped Greggs achieve strong sales figures over the festive period. The company said like-for-like sales over Christmas, comprising the four weeks to January 3, increased 5.3%. This no doubt prompted CEO Ken McMeikan to announce a step-up in store openings to 50 a year from 2010.
Those who made an extra effort with windows or products seem to have reaped the rewards. Christopher Freeman of one-shop Dunns of Crouch End, North London, reported that sales of mince pies, chocolate logs, Christmas puddings and stollen went very well, with turnover up 4% and footfall up 1.5%. "We felt that when customers wanted something really good, they knew where to come. We made fabulous window displays. We opened again on the Saturday after Christmas and bread sales that week were up," he said.
== Non-bakery boost ==
A focus on non-bakery food boosted sales for 10-shop business Janes Pantry in Gloucester in the two weeks commencing December 22 and 29, by 5.5% on last year. The arrival of a chef in December gave a more rounded offering, including a new range of five fresh homemade soups, hot meals and hot sandwiches, including a turkey version for Christmas, which were an immediate hit. "The build-up to Christmas was slow, but we had a really buoyant last three days," said Janes Pantry MD Neville Morse.
Others have had to redouble their efforts just to tread water. Gloucestershire craft firm Hobbs House Bakery began selling mince pies a week earlier than 2007, offering six-packs for the first time as well as in-store sampling and evening openings. This helped edge up mince pie sales by 0.5% on last year to 30,000.
Even where Christmas sales matched those of 2007, some were predicting a tough 2009. "There are fewer shoppers on the high street," said Thomas Adams, MD of the Northampton-based 28-shop Oliver Adams bakery chain. "Confidence is the problem. The press is talking us into a recession, as people believe what they read."
Others have felt the pinch in wholesale supply due to lay-offs at nearby firms. The Cavan Bakery in Hampton, Surrey saw overall sales down 22%. "There are lay-offs on industrial estates, which we supply via third parties," said Jeff Greenall. While Christmas products sold well, bread and savouries fell off and customer spend in its three outlets was also down 4-5%. "We sensed an air of caution among shoppers," he added. Yet an investment in ovens and a new fourth shop in Teddington, mean he is "cautiously optimistic about 2009".
Carol Herd, MD of three-shop business Peter Herds of Wilmslow, Cheshire, said 2008 Christmas trading rose 7% on 2007, following a marketing push and efficiency drive. "Over the year we got our costs down - but not quality. Our Christmas cakes, logs and tortes all went well. I’m a fighter so I’m quite optimistic about 2009."