Waterfields of Leigh has a two-fold strategy when it comes to healthy breads. While the company offers a range of multiseed and wholegrain products, it has also spent the past two years making its range of non-speciality breads as healthy as possible, without affecting flavour.

Waterfields’ new healthier bread range has seen its salt reduced by more than 20%. Not only does this meet the Food Standards Agency’s 2012 targets some two years early, the new salt content is also about half the recommended level. Furthermore, all breads contain less than 3% fat, are free from hydrogenated vegetable fats and contain no artificial preservatives.

Says managing director John Waterfield: "This major project has taken the best part of two years. Our key aim has been to ensure we maintain the flavours for which our breads are famous without affecting the taste. It has been hard work but we can now claim that all our breads are healthy or healthier and that there has been no compromise on flavour."

It’s a decision that makes sound business sense. White bread still accounts for just over half of all Waterfields’ sales and has risen over the past year. Waterfield feels this could be a consequence of current economic conditions as they are slightly cheaper than the premium products, which tend to be brown.On the other hand, the company has also seen a noticeable shift in sales from brown to seeded breads of about 9% during the past 12 months, proving that consumers are prepared to pay for truly premium goods. Sandwich sales have followed the same trend.

Best of both worlds

Waterfields’ new strategy gives it the best of both worlds profitable premium breads and a new white bread range that also appeals to the healthy eating market.

While it acknowledges that ’healthy’ is a good sales point, the company believes that taste, first and foremost, drives sales. Says Waterfield: "We offer a wide range of healthily labelled breads, such as Multiseed, Multigrain, dressed rye, seeded rolls and Hovis, but the flavour appeals to consumers most. There is nothing to be gained by making the breads healthier if they don’t taste good they simply won’t sell. That is why we are so excited about our bread range. We can demonstrate reduced salt, low fat and clean label breads which taste as good as before."

Waterfields has a reputation for innovation in the UK bread market. It was one of the first companies to introduce a low-glycaemic index (GI) multiseed bread in conjunction with Bakels some five years ago.

Bakels Multiseed has become Waterfields’ biggest-selling bread line in terms of both volume and value. The company commands £1.15p for a 400g loaf and £1.25 for six small rolls. "However, it is the flavour that makes it so popular with customers," adds Waterfield. "Customers come into our shops specifically to buy it. It is a reduced-salt bread, which shows that bakers can produce great-tasting bread and reduce salt at the same time."

Country Oven Low-Gi Multiseed Bread Concentrate is also Bakels’ top-selling product line. It is a blend of wheat, bran and oatflakes combined with pumpkin, linseed and sunflower seeds. Says Pauline Ferrol, Bakels’ national sales controller, wholesale: "Bakels Multiseed is a real winner with UK bakers. It ticks all the boxes as a healthy bread and a seeded product with great taste. We have put a lot of promotional support behind the brand, positioning it as a premium product."

Multiseed will play a key role in Waterfields’ healthy breads range next month. Bakels has worked with John Waterfield to develop a special sleeve (pictured) to go around the bread to make it stand out on-shelf. The sleeve highlights the bread’s attributes and directs consumers to a website that explains the benefits of low-GI bread. Says Ferrol: "These bread wraps are being made available to all our customers on a free-of-charge basis."

Adds Waterfield: "We are looking forward to our Multiseed promotion in April. We are confident of a 20%-plus uplift in sales. I am sure that our new sleeves will position Multiseed as a premium bread and help drive sales still further."