Gerhard visits California and finds a distinct lack of artisan bread outlets.

Judging by all the social media activity over Christmas and New Year, more and more people choose to go away at some point over the holidays. This year I saw the largest number of poolside photos posted on Facebook and Instagram by our friends and followers.

Social media is here to stay and plays more and more of a part in the relationship with the customer. Besides receiving instant positive, as well as negative, feedback on Twitter, all social media channels provide a fantastic marketing platform.

As I go around our shops and bakeries, my message to the team is that is not just a case of being consistent with our products, but that we need to load them with the ‘wow factor’ for that Instagram moment.

Pinterest and Instagram can also serve as a source of inspiration. Once you follow a few accounts, a cornucopia of photos will pop up on your smartphone, giving you all that’s hot in bakeries around the world.

Nothing beats the personal experience and, this year, I managed to escape to California – Los Angeles in particular – after the Christmas rush. My great aunt used to work for Hollywood legend Ginger Rogers – her cookies even get a mention in Ginger’s biography – so I thought it was high time to check if any of that baking legacy has managed to survive.

The lack of convenience stores is a telltale sign that most people in LA don’t cook or eat at home. We saw more specialised dog boutiques (including a doggy-diner element in one) than corner shops or, indeed, bakeries.

In fact we didn’t see a single artisan bread shop. If it wasn’t for the bread section in Whole Foods you’d think the anti-wheat campaign had stopped everyone from eating bread altogether.

I was told most baked goods are shipped in from large wholesale bakeries based in Burbank or Pasadena, where their workers can also afford to live. We did, however, find some specialist dessert and cake shops.

In Hollywood, eating out starts with breakfast, either in a traditional diner or a hipster coffee shop. All of them offered a small range of Viennoiserie as standard. After that they go into their unique offer – a cinnamon bun here, a variety of pancakes there. For the über-trendy it has to be toast: brioche, wholemeal or sourdough, with a variety of complex toppings.

One coffee shop offered a range of rice-based porridges that came with homemade jams to cater for their young and trendy audience. I had mine with almond milk, which no doubt earned me a blessing from Saint Gwyneth!

That it’s not all health-conscious is proven by those dessert and cake shops we discovered. As to how they compared to what is on offer in London – more of that next week.