May I draw your attention to a brilliant article entitled, “A tale of two breads”, by Vanessa Barford, who was writing for the BBC News Magazine recently.

She starts her commentary taking us back 10 years to the days of the Artisan Bakers Poilane in London, who were producing their special sourdough based breads for just under £10 each... well they were in Chelsea and Belgravia. Possibly a PR stunt at the time, it undoubtedly made its mark, as it was in all the trade and national press. It definitely started the revolution of the comeback of real bread.
In contrast at that time, the major retailers such as Tesco and Asda were selling their fluffy, white and organoleptically bland sliced white mass, which masqueraded as bread, at prices as low as 9p. Indeed, Kwiksave sold its “No Frills” loaf for 7p.

To this day Waitrose still sells cheaper Poilane loaves – for £4-£6 each depending on variety - with sales up 6% on last year. Sales of Gail’s luxury breads in Waitrose have risen 16% and Waitrose’s luxury breads are 18% up on last year. While I appreciate that the examples given are all London-based, where affluence is markedly higher, the phenomenon of luxury breads is spreading quickly and it is noticeable that people are prepared to pay more - and sometimes significantly more - for a good-tasting “luxury” loaf, even here in the north west of England.

Meanwhile, the bland white sliced loaf is in decline – a drop of 3% in 2011 according to Mintel – and in a market worth £920m, that is a big drop in sales. Well-respected firms, such as Warburtons, are busy innovating and getting into other flour-based markets because of this worrying decline in sales.
The BBC report quite rightly states that, from 10 years ago, there are all different types of bread reaching the market, from ethnic and cultural varieties to a plethora of flavours, mixed seeds, spices and/or herbs, breads that incorporate vegetables and fruits... all are becoming a norm within the market of bread. This takes its toll on the 800g sliced bread market, whereas 10 years ago there was only white, brown, and wholemeal.

So how can we as bakers capitalise on the changing mood?

First and foremost let’s be clear on one point, you are not competing with the local supermarket or the corner convenience store; YOU WILL NEVER WIN THAT BATTLE. The only way forward is to go in the opposite direction, go upmarket, as far as you can away from the banal. Make variety, make quality and charge well for it, and don’t be sorry for making quality bread and expecting a good price; be proud that you are a real baker.

If the customer wants craft quality, they will pay – they have already bought some supermarket bread for quick convenient snacks, don’t worry about that, they are now in your shop looking for something different, something exciting and they are looking for that WOW factor. All you have to do is sell it to them. But be warned, they will want a different WOW next week, so be on guard and innovate.

The trend for some time has been breads made with the sourdough techniques – I will be so bold as to say, if you are not making any type of sourdough breads, then you are already behind in the game. So wise up and start to research the topic as if your business success depends on it, as in fact it does.

Start with a commercial culture; most of the major bakery ingredient companies have them for sale. They will come into your business and show you their use, or invite you to one of their training centres for instruction. If the latter is offered, I would strongly take it, even if it is abroad.

Then it is all up to you, to make it your own style of bread, your own flavour, which nobody else can replicate. Whether it is heavily or lightly, soured depending on the culture and time, slowly customers will become to appreciate real flavour in breads.

Charles Banks who is the co-founder of the food trends agency, states “there will always be a market for bread that will be a carrier for other things”, especially children’s meals as a filler, but he says the luxury bread boom is here to stay.

“People understand this is artisan bread, with distinct flavour profiles, textures and crust. It is totally different from the white sliced fluff,” he says.

So give it a go – who knows where it will lead/ But I promise you one thing, you won’t be disappointed.