The biennial conference of the Irish Association of Master Bakers, which despite its name covers both the plant and craft sectors, highlighted the warmth of Irish hospitality extended to English and Scottish guests, but also widespread concern about the image of bread.
No-one at the conference could have predicted the latest dramatic headline in last Friday’s Daily Mail (pg 4) suggesting white bread raises the chance of getting kidney cancer.
After highly popular outgoing president Mervyn Hempton of Allied Bakeries Northern Ireland handed over to new president Patrick Smyth of Yeast Products, we pitched straight into a new addition to the conference - a brainstorming session on how to improve bread’s image. This is an issue increasingly reflected in the national media and elsewhere in this week’s magazine (pg 13, pg 16).
The brainstorming was an excellent addition to the agenda. I hope other associations might consider something similar for their conferences. But be warned: it was all too lively to be contained in one hour - it needed longer. Concerns centred on the fact that sales of pasta and cereals are growing while the image of bread seems to take one knock after another, which affects sales.
Positive points that came out of the session included: highlighting the health benefits on the wrapper (as per breakfast cereals); mentioning lower salt levels; and following in the footsteps of the meat industry and the dairy industry, among others, by applying to government for support and for consideration to be given to a levy on flour to be used for generic advertising of bread.
And despite the fantastic range of loaves available there were comments such as: "Every cheap loaf turns people away from eating bread." I also heard: "Own-label is putting too much pressure on prices." And: "Bread can be perceived as bland and boring."
Indeed it can. In fact all three of those comments also reflect the lack of students choosing bakery as a profession despite the fact that those within the industry have a real passion for their products. One of the advantages of possessing passion must surely be to pass it on to others.