Supermarket sales of speciality bread have bounced back from the recession as shoppers opt to save money by cooking at home rather than dining out.

Value sales for the category increased by 4% to £485m in the 52 weeks to 21 March, according to data covering in-store bakeries and plant bread from Kantar Worldpanel (formerly TNS).

Meal accompaniments, such as dough balls, naan, ciabatta and sliced products, including garlic bread, were the big winners in the category, as people opted to ’treat in’ rather than eat out during the tough economic times.

"Speciality bread is a natural partner for many meals and we’ve also seen more people making their own lunches at home to take to work," said Ken Glennon, speciality director at Maple Leaf, which owns La Fornaia. "Sales have also been boosted by retailers offering products like ciabatta and focaccia as part of meal deals."

Sales have picked up notably since Christmas, said Glennon, as confidence in the economy returns and people trade up. This is backed by 12-week figures from Kantar, which showed that value sales in speciality bread grew 6%.

The Co-op launched a new range of speciality breads in its ISBs this month, including Grand Rustic Loaf, Pain de Campagne and Truly Irresistible Sourdough Boule. Bakery buyer Ian Kevitt said achieving the right price is key to maintaining sales. "In partnership with our suppliers, we have made our price points more affordable, so that our new Sourdough Boule will retail for around £1.50. A few years ago this would probably have been more like £1.89."

Dough balls have performed particularly well, with sales up 15% over the year, led by the Pizza Express brand and backed up by own-label ranges. David Marx, sales director at Giles Foods, said dough balls have grown to account for around 10% of the garlic bread market. "It’s one of the fastest growing lines in the sector, with sales driven by flavour innovation, such as our tomato and chilli variation."

l Speciality Bread Product of the Year, sponsored by Bakels, has been launched as part of the Baking Industry Awards 2010. See pg 18 for details.