One of the things enjoyed in the ’community’ of baking is the chance to network, share ideas, and enjoy good food and wine. There is a real ’warmth’ in the bakery trade that you don’t find in other sectors, said a Sainsbury’s buyer recently, and this was apparent at the British Society of Baking (BSB) conference.

Held on 4-5 October under the chairmanship of Bakels’ Keith Houliston, the event saw several speakers deliver very different papers that enlightened delegates and broadened horizons.

As an audience of around 100 took their seats at Ardencote Manor in Warwickshire, grocery guru Ed Garner of Kantar Worldpanel kicked off proceedings and whizzed delegates through how different supermarkets were performing and how their niches were perceived. "One thing is clear," said Garner, "the 2008 recession is over premium is back! But how long for? We wait to see the results of spending cuts. But ’free-trade, free-range and local’ are all selling points."

Kantar assembles its supermarket sales information every four weeks. "Ignore what shoppers say, watch what they do," said Garner, making a succinct negative point about focus groups.

Research showed that Asda is perceived to focus on price or quality, with too many promotions and discounts, even on its Extra Special range. Sainsbury’s reputation is for balancing value with values. It offers the largest Fairtrade range, but is seen more as giving value-for-money rather than low prices. In this, Justin King has been very successful in targeting middle-class shoppers, said Garner.

Morrisons is strong on its ’Market Street’ retail theatre and provenance with its ’Ask the Baker’ slogan, for example. It also performs particularly well at Christmas in getting shoppers in, and their spend up.

"Recession and Waitrose do not mix," said Garner. But since 2008, it has been the fastest-growing grocer, regarding itself as the ’connoisseur’ of food. It is the only store in which organic is growing and is perceived as ethical, with always a good food ’story’ to tell.

Aldi is currently losing ground, while Marks & Spencer shoppers have always needed to shop elsewhere as well, he added. But watch this space! M&S is now fighting back and introducing more brands.

Tesco is biggest on internet shopping, but with most growth coming from premium. It still maintains its ’ethical’ stance.

"What can be done about promotions?" asked a BSB delegate. "NPD and strong branding especially strong branding," answered Garner. He cited Warburtons as still being an industry leader in this respect.

He also mentioned promotions "buy one, watch the second one rot!" as a key to why Sainsbury’s had pioneered a mix of products on offer, which was proving very successful.

Health and psychology

Health and wellness are here to stay, said CSM Europe’s Roel Orsel. Look at them as an opportunity, he told delegates. "Fewer people are on a diet; instead they are trying to eat more ’better for you’ products," explained Orsel.

Shoppers are increasingly looking for low-calorie, reduced-fat or ’lite’ products and there is great interest in fortification, with vitamin, calcium and wholegrain claims helping sales, he added, saying: "Bakery products can deliver all these fortifications."

Orsel said that, in the US, 85% of the population has a fibre deficiency something that has not yet been focused on here. And he pointed out that people are very visually driven. On labels, they want to see ingredients such as proteins and vitamins but less fat and less sugar.

Taste is king, but wellness also applies to indulgent products, so suppliers must look at reformulation and communicate positives such as ’natural flavours’ he said.

Kevin Kingsland, a business psychologist who counsels and develops individuals or companies to become more fulfilled and successful, told BSB delegates he was interested in the construction of reality, saying that it helps individuals to have insights into themselves. A really authentic person is one whose inside thoughts and feelings are consistent with their behaviour. He then took delegates through the history of branding, explaining that the future is ’authentic branding’, which adds value and matches consumers’ needs. Kingsland explained the history of PR, begun by Edward Bernays, the father of spin, who wrote a book, Propaganda, read by Goebbels. He gave several examples of its influence: Bernays told suffragettes that cigarettes were ’torches of freedom’, which is why so many later died from lung disease. And Bernays explained that consumerism (consumptionism) is the science of compelling people to use more and more things "that is how you control them and get rich!" He also warned delegates to watch the economy in February, it would be a real danger time.

On a more historical note, Master of the Worshipful Company of Bakers, David Goddard took delegates through the history of the Bakers’ Co. Founded in 1155, it has a very high proportion of bakers, over 50% and, as well as supporting charities such as the Bakers’ Benevolent Society and Cor-poration of the Sons of Clergy, its main thrust is supporting young bakers with scholarships, bur-saries and sending them on overseas training courses.

Archy Cunningham, MD of United Central Bakeries (UCB), founded 1989, joined the company in 1998 and led a £4m debt management buy-out in 2002 with a £2.4m loan from 3i and a £1.8m overdraft, with his "life on the line", as he described it. But by making products people really wanted and implementing cost savings, he turned the business around, paid off the debt and sold the company in 2005 to Finsbury Foods, staying on as MD.

In 2006, fire destroyed two-thirds of the factory, which was rebuilt in seven months. Highly automated, it includes the largest hotplate in the world and makes potato cakes and scones. The company is the biggest supplier of yum yums and makes the award winning gluten-free loaf Genius. Its complete free-from range includes flatbreads and pizza bases, speciality breads, Viennoiserie and Victoria and chocolate sponge.

UCB’s customer profile has widened out to Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and others, with Sainsbury’s and Tesco the biggest customers. In fact, UCB claims around 80% of the free-from bakery sector. Its forward strategy, said Cunningham, was clear-cut: to continue to be first to market, to concentrate on innovation and to replicate top-selling bakery lines.

Cake trends

Ted Rich, MD of Rich’s in the UK and Europe, works for the family business, which started up 60 years ago and now operates in 100 countries. Rich guided delegates through new developments for cakes, explaining how in different sectors of the world Asia for example there is a strong trend for attractive packaging and detailed decoration of small cakes. Jellies, sesame and fermented rice have become popular, as well as lighter, more aerated products such as mousse cakes. More fruits are also used. In Latin America, the latest trend is to soak cakes, in apple and cinnamon or orange and chocolate syrup, for example. Edible flowers have also caught on, but notably there is less use of sugar and fat. Single portions are up, as is the use of exotic fruits such as passion and mango.

In the US, by contrast, celebration cakes are a very big focus, especially in-store. They are still very sweet, but there is a tendency towards less use of cream. Flavour fusions are ’in’, such as berry cake with lemon icing.

Eastern Europe is moving towards artisanal production. Cupcakes have caught on and, overall, cakes are becoming lighter, with more fruit, better decorations and again smaller, single-serve portions. Rich emphasised: "Cakes are about tapping into people’s emotions for personal and indulgent."

UK team for World Cup

The Louis Lesaffre Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie takes place every four years in Paris. This year, for the first time, Britain will take part in the heats, British team captain Mickael Jahan told delegates. He said the aim was to improve and advance the reputation of the UK baking industry. There are three sections: best hand-crafted breads, Viennoiserie and artistic piece. Britain is competing against 12 other European countries in a bid to represent the continent of Europe in the world finals.

Designing an image

Speaker Tony Parsons designed the new BSB logo. A fresh approach, not a formula, is essential to success, he said, so he takes care to really listen and understand customers’ business, whether they want to project a state-of-the-art or traditional image. Based near Newbury in Berkshire, but operating nationwide, his clients vary hugely in size. One was Nash’s Bakery near Bicester, which had been given a successful new logo and image that translated through to every item of publicity and packaging and had already reaped rewards.