“With the best will in the world, nine times out of 10 the free-from section looks like a disaster zone – there’s normally a lot of gaps and products missing. It’s trying to be a shop within a shop, which is of course hard,” Chris Hook, Warburtons’ free-from director, told BakeryandSnacks.com.
“One of the biggest criticisms we have pointed at us is availability. People will go in and they’ll see our wraps, sandwich thins or whatever and rather than buy one, they’ll buy half a dozen because it’s there and then the next person comes along and there’s none.”
The UK bakery major has 15 gluten-free items under its Newburn Bakehouse brand, including loaves, muffins, wraps and sandwich thins which are stocked in free-from aisles across the UK.
Hook said the goal for 2015 was to dramatically improve availability of products via better on-the-ground communication with retailers through Warburtons’ retail development team.
Free-from sections, he said, remained a lower priority for retailers compared to fresh bread aisles, which caused problems for the Newburn brand as the products were fresh or had a seven-day shelf life. “It’s very hard for retailers to manage that; it’s not a natural fit.”
Free-from aisle v. mainstream
Newburn Bakehouse had however, trialed retailing several items in the mainstream aisle over the years.
“We have tried with individual retailer groups putting the product in mainstream bakery sections,” said Hook. “In Tesco Express, for example, we had two loaves and some muffins in the mainstream bakery aisle but they got lost and people just didn’t associate with them.
“But that’s not to say that experiment is over. We’re talking to retailers about how we see the future and where we believe products should be placed.”
One large retailer told Warburtons that gluten-free would likely follow organics, he said, and slowly move mainstream once the marketplace had settled.
Asked how that would affect business, Hook said: “Then, securing shelf space becomes a big issue. If you take bakery, for example, we’ll then be fighting our colleagues (Warburtons) and fighting Kingsmill and Hovis, as well as all the own label side.”
Sandwich alternatives and better nutrition
Remaining competitive in the sector meant gluten-free NPD, Hook said, and the Newburn team was particularly focused on sandwich alternatives and nutrition.
“We see the success our core bakery colleagues are having in sandwich alternatives – that’s the beauty of working in a big organization like Warburtons, is that we can pick up on trends and really try and adopt and develop a gluten-free alternative.”
Newburn Bakehouse, for example, had already developed three gluten-free sandwich thin variants – white, seeded and fruited – which had proved “equally successful” to the regular thins by Warburtons.
The R&D team was also looking at incorporating pulses and proteins – ingredients that were “naturally cleaner”, he said, along with continued efforts to cut salt, fat and sugar.
Its seeded wraps were recently voted Product of the Year 2015 in the free-from category – a vote cast by UK consumers following submissions from a number of fast-moving-consumer-goods firms and a jury selection stage.