For once, the national press have been the baker’s best friend. This week began with: "Snow crisis: it’s panic in the shops" (Daily Express); "Panic buying hits supermarkets" (Daily Mail) and, our favourite, "Grit hits the fan" (predictably, The Sun). With images of barren shelving offering a helpful visual cue to spark anxious consumers into skidding to the shops, sales of bread went through the roof. If bakers gritted their teeth in anticipation of the snow storms, it didn’t come from falling flat on their face on the high street.
Difficulties in getting supplies through appeared largely localised and sales of bread in supermarkets shot up 10-15%. "Inevitably there have been a few problems with distribution, with some customers in the Cotswolds difficult to reach, but we are getting through to virtually everyone," said Joe Street, MD of Fine Lady Bakeries, a major supplier to Tesco. "The bigger issue has been people ’panic-buying’. It’s always a big week when the kids go back to school, but we’ve seen orders increase significantly as people stock up because of the snow."
Indeed, the reported panic-buying was overstated and short-lived, but the retailers reported a spike in bread sales. "We haven’t seen panic-buying, but people are picking up an extra loaf or two when they shop," said a spokesman for Sainsbury’s. "Conditions are challenging, but we have a lot of experience in overcoming logistical issues. Deliveries are getting through and there have been no store closures."
The impacts on trading were mainly felt in staffing bakeries, distributing amid a lottery of gritted and iced roads, getting staff in to open shops and customers failing to make it into work.
"You expect to see a couple of weeks of snow every year we saw two last February," commented Ken McMeikan, CEO of Greggs. "But the severity of the snow this year and the length of time it is set to last is a challenge for all businesses. For some it could be the final straw."
Higher bread sales
Nevertheless, the likes of Martins Bakery, which has 28 bakery sandwich shops around Manchester and which struggled to get deliveries through to its shops, found positives in higher bread sales. "It has been very difficult all week...getting deliveries and our products to the customers," said financial director Kirsty Harvey. "We have managed but with great difficulty." While roads around the city centre cleared, Manchester City Council faced difficulties when it came to gritting. As many of Martins’ shops are located in the surrounding suburbs or on side streets, customers found it difficult to reach them. Despite this, bread sales were up. "We have been trading very well in bread and rolls as people have come out for bread," she explained. "So we’ve had to make more to meet demand."
Aberdeenshire was one of the worst-hit areas in the UK. Past SAMB president John Smith, with one shop in Pitsligo, another in Fraserburgh, plus wholesale to local shops and hotels, witnessed nearly 5ft of snow. "We are on the main street in New Pitsligo and lorries stop for savouries while passing through, but we anticipated that big bread lorries would not get through to the supermarkets on time, so we are making and selling up to an extra 100 large loaves a day. Some of my staff cannot get in. When that happens, I manage on two to three hours’ sleep a night, but have kept up production and deliveries."
David Gunn, of Gunns Bakery in Bedfordshire, said that the weather hadn’t caused much of a problem, even though the company is located not far from the snow-hit A1. While many local schools were closed, it meant that children and their parents came in later to buy treats. "It has been a slightly different sort of trade," he said.
While Gloucestershire had "a massive dump" of snow, said Tom Herbert, director at Hobbs House Bakery, they found ways to battle on and get bread to customers. "We’ve been able to meet most of our delivery obligations, but Wednesday and Thursday last week were the worst. We dented two vans and we’ve had a lot of orders cancelled. The people who have been the busiest have been the village shops; we’ve been able to get bread to them and they’ve been so amazingly grateful," he said.
And as if to underline the baker’s blessing of a nation prodded towards hysteria, he added: "We managed to shift most of our bread by encouraging a bit of panic-buying, saying, ’You don’t want to be caught trapped without bread’. It worked a treat! It was little bit naughty, but we knew they were getting bread they would enjoy..."