Laura Gibbons, a final year bakery and patisserie undergraduate at University College Birmingham and Dawn Foods’ first student ambassador, on the challenges faced by young bakers in a competitive market

The baking industry has changed in recent years and there are now many more people my age and in their early twenties moving into it.

A lot of employers want hands-on experience for roles, however, and if you are coming into bakery as a graduate, it can be difficult without it. It would be great to see companies offering more opportunities for young bakers who could benefit from mentoring and learning from industry experts.  Having been appointed Dawn Foods’ first student ambassador, I have been working with Dawns’ head application chef Robin Loud on the campaign Creating New Traditions – taking existing bakery products and giving them a new twist. It has been an amazing experience and I’ve had the chance to experiment with a vast range of bakery products. 

Combining Robin’s extensive knowledge with the skills I have learned at University College Birmingham (UCB), we have been experimenting with flavours, fillings and inclusions to create fresh takes on bakery classics. Having the chance to formulate recipes and execute them completely allowed me to get hands on, which I really enjoyed.

I find the fast-moving development side of bakery very interesting, as new product development is really taking off – especially with the demand for free-from ranges such as gluten-free and dairy-free being at an all-time high. Consumers are now making many more dietary and lifestyle choices  – expanding shelf presence is evidence of this.

Looking to the future, I think we will see growth in vegan and free-from substitutes as an increasingly popular trend, with so many items already on offer that cater for special dietary requirements.

Provenance is also a big trend and local ingredients are a popular feature of many recipes – for example Cotswold lavender. We were experimenting with all kinds of different flavour combinations at the most recent session I had in Dawn’s development kitchen, which was great fun.

I’m glad I followed my dad’s advice to do something that I love, as it spurred me on to choose my degree with UCB. It has been an incredibly interesting and varied course, which has broadened my knowledge and given me a vast insight into the industry as a whole – learning about functionality, sustainability, product development and business. Also, our year group is the first to finish the degree, which is a great sign for the future of bakery.