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White bread is proving a winner as consumers seek the most value from their purchases

Predictions of the death of sliced white bread have proved premature, with the cost-of-living crisis fuelling a surge in demand for sliced white loaves.

At a time when supermarket sales of all other styles of loaf are declining, the star performer of the pre-packed bread category has been sliced white – a product that has suffered years of waning sales.

“The staple white sliced bread is most certainly not dead,” declared Warburtons chairman Jonathan Warburton.

“We saw a resurgence in demand for white bread during Covid which has been maintained through the cost-of-living crisis,” he added.

According to Circana (formerly IRI) data for the 12 weeks ending 20 May 2023, total unit sales of white pre-packed loaves rose 0.6% year-on-year in the grocery market.

This is in stark contrast to the fall in unit sales of other styles of bread, and the 4.7% decline in the overall pre-packed loaves market. Half-and-half loaves have fallen 14.4%, for example, ‘bread with bits’ 11.1% and brown bread 8.6%.

The performance of white bread is being driven partly by consumers seeking the best value from their purchases in the face of the squeezed incomes and rising costs.

In the past two years the average price of an 800g sliced white loaf has soared from £1.06 to £1.39 – a level it has remained at since December last year [ONS Retail Price Index figures]. As a result of such price hikes, the total value of the pre-packed loaves market has risen 11% despite the decline in overall unit sales.

“Shoppers are buying fewer different types of bread for their household and are increasingly opting for pre-packaged white bread,” said Hovis commercial director Alistair Gaunt, adding that white loaves can often be the cheapest and are most likely to satisfy the needs of multiple people.

White bread provided comfort in times of uncertainty and was also a cost-efficient ‘blank canvas’, suggested Rachael Chard, category, insight and activation manager at Roberts Bakery.

“Consumers can experiment with interesting sandwiches and toasted sandwiches – and white bread, whether standard or premium, is usually the ideal base,” she added.

Unit sales of Roberts’ branded white loaves have risen 3.7% year on year in the 52 weeks to 20 May, and 5% year-on-year in the past 12 weeks.

But even Roberts’ strong performance has been outpaced by unit sales of own-label supermarket white loaves, which have risen 7.9% year on year in the past 12 weeks.

And, in further evidence of the role price is playing in the category, sales of ‘everyday’ white loaves rose 1.3% over the period, while premium white loaves declined 1.3%.