The papers delivered at this autumn’s British Society of Baking Conference were excellent. I think every delegate left feeling they knew more about the potential of several major categories including premium cakes, thanks to George Thomopoulos of Rich Products, organic and wholegrain, revealed by Huw Edwards of Asda, and the current state of the harvest and world markets from Jon Tanner of RHM.
The changing sandwich scene was covered in an informative address from Nigel Hunter of Buckingham Foods.And Gordon Polson, of the Federation of Bakers, made it clear that strong, concerted lobbying is the only thing that may, just may. save us in future from prescribed bread weights.
In the following weeks we shall look at some of the papers, and the issues they raised, in more detail. But Asda’s Huw Edwards made a point that is worth repeating. He said that the Americans are really seizing the opportunity to talk up wholegrain breads and the health aspect, whereas in this country the breakfast cereals brigade - a big rival to bakery - has really taken the initiative and seems to be doing a far better job. On the train home I thought about all the advertisements for cereals and realised he is right.
Here is a big chance to boost wholegrain breads as being healthy, full of fibre, fortified with essential vitamins, yet these are the very words being used to great effect by the breakfast cereals industry. And of course this industry has a big bonus in that it can target the lunchbox category too because 80% of sandwiches are made at home! We have reduced salt, increased grains but are failing to fully jump on the bandwagon - or better still lead it.
Behind the scenes, where much of the networking goes on, the main topic of conversation was worry about the lack of students coming forward to learn about bakery. Not just the bakers of the future, but the bakery food technologists, and new product developers.
As George Thomopoulos of Rich said: "How on earth can we communicate the passion we all feel for this industry when the youngsters are all going into catering where they work much longer hours, usually for a lower salary?"
It is still a crisis in search of a solution.