Can the sliced bread market find a new champion?
The British consumer’s love affair with the sliced loaf has been waning for a few years now.
Earlier this year, data from market analysts Kantar Worldpanel showed £138.3 million had been sliced off the UK bread category in the past year, with 50 million fewer loaves sold by supermarkets.
Euromonitor International figures predict the overall market will decline by a further 1.14%, from £4.8bn in 2016 to £4.7bn in 2018.
So why has this once staple part of the British diet started crumbling?
The rise of influential food bloggers and “wellness gurus” – such as Body Coach Joe Wicks, Deliciously Ella Woodward and Gloopy Gwyneth Paltrow – have all contributed to the growing perception that bread, because of its complex carbs and gluten, is not great for you.
The shift towards higher protein and lower carbohydrate diets, along with a revival of freshly-baked, artisan variants like sourdough, rye and flavoured breads, poses a growing problem for packaged bread manufacturers, which are battling it out for retailer space and consumer spend.
This hasn’t been helped by the supermarkets where, on average, the number of bakery products they carry has dropped by 6.8% (1,000 products) between 2013 and 2015, as they seek to bolster margins under intense price competition.
Giants Kingsmill and Hovis have seen sales plummet. In fact, Warburtons is the only big bread brand to have achieved volume growth in the last year, according to The Grocer, but even it has reported a 2.4% drop in operating profits in the last financial year.
The problem is that many consumers have lost confidence and trust in sliced bread.
It’s no coincidence that, in the last two years, Warburtons has focused heavily on its family positioning, with its “from our family to yours” brand strategy, even featuring chairman Jonathan Warburton in adverts (most famously with Miss Piggy and Kermit), as it tries to capture the family market.
For me, the time is right for challenger brands to tackle this, and for some of the smaller wrapped bread producers to take the lead in giving families confidence in an everyday bread, pushing trust and authenticity whilst challenging consumer behaviour and beliefs.
One brand I think is well positioned to take up this challenge – if it wanted to – is Jackson’s Bakery, through its Yorkshire’s Champion brand. Jackson’s is a fifth generation family business and, with its Hull bakery and locally-sourced ingredients, has a great story to tell around its Yorkshire roots, provenance and product values.
Its “honest Yorkshire goodness” brand focuses on people, trust and integrity, meaning there is huge potential to deliver truly engaging, creative and wide-ranging marketing and PR campaigns.
Consumers warm to brands with strong tradition, transparency and simple honesty. And there is a huge opportunity for Jackson’s, and other brands, to use this mindset to make its products resonate with the customer by celebrating quality, traceability and provenance.
For me, there are some clear parallels with the black tea market.
With a declining market, black tea is not only facing challenges from innovations in the coffee market, but also a substantial growth in herbal and green teas, as younger consumers seek to replace caffeine in their diet.
Despite this environment, Yorkshire Tea took seventh place in the 2016 YouGov BrandIndex tracking list and was the only FMCG brand to bag itself a spot in the top 10 above other brands including PG Tips and Douwe Egberts. The brand also scored highly in terms of reputation, quality and purchase intent.
Yorkshire Tea attributes this to a focus on communicating its personality and challenging consumer behaviour and perceptions in a market traditionally dominated by a few big brands.
Through a £5m marketing campaign, the brand pushed consumers to reconsider the choices they make in the supermarket aisle, to choose their black tea rather than another brand.
Like the bread market, Yorkshire Tea was against some big brands that have significant history. However its ‘Proper Brew’ positioning communicated the things that make the brand distinctively different.
‘Brew’ is grounded in the brand’s northern roots, while ‘proper’ epitomises the values and belief in the way Yorkshire Tea operates as company, and its product values.
In the first 20 weeks of the campaign, Yorkshire Tea saw a seven per cent uplift in sales while its market share was averaging around 20 per cent in a sector that had declined by six per cent.
And I think there is a real opportunity for a bread challenger brand to do the same and address perceptions amongst consumers, by focusing on heritage and brand positioning to make the pre-packed loaf a wholesome, healthy, honest and versatile option.
As a fan myself, I would love to see Jackson’s Yorkshire’s Champion rise to this challenge, but whether it or any other bread brand will take advantage of the opportunity we will have to ‘wheat and see’.