But, of late, I’ve been wondering whether that heritage is weighing them down and holding them back – a thought that’s been hammered home to me in the past few days as I’ve written about the national roll-out of Dave’s Killer Bread in the US.
Dave’s. Killer. Bread.
The name alone is so different from anything found in the bread aisle of a UK supermarket. As is its logo -a guitar-wielding rocker with big biceps and bigger attitude.
White Bread Done Right
Then there’s the individual DKB products – the likes of ‘Powerseed’, ‘Good Seed’, and ‘White Bread Done Right’.
Rolling out across the US following its acquisition by Flowers Foods, DKB (even the acronym has attitude) offers a mix of rockin’ image and wholesome products (the range is organic) that leaves the loaves I see in UK supermarkets looking a little, well, tired.
And I reckon the Hovis boy and his bike has a lot to answer for. Many BakeryandSnacks readers may – for reasons of age, geography, or both - not be familiar with this flat-cap wearing lad, so I’ll explain:
Back in 1973, a young Ridley Scott (six years before he terrified us with Alien) directed a beautifully crafted TV commercial offering the bucolic image of a young boy, in what appears to be 1900s, struggling up a steep cobbled street to deliver a loaf of Hovis bread.
'The Hovis music'
So powerful are associations with this ad in the psyche of Brits of a certain age that the soundtrack, from Dvorak’s New World Symphony, will always be known as ‘the Hovis music’.
And I can’t help but think the mainstream British bread industry – not only Hovis – is stuck in the past conjured up by the likes of that ad.
Before Britain’s bakers fire off disgruntled emails, I’m not ignoring the amazing work that has, and is being done, in the UK market.
There has been fantastic innovation – some that stuck, much that didn’t. And, despite my reference to the Hovis ad, some great marketing work. Recently, Warburton’s inspired work with Sylvester Stallone and The Muppets stands out. And Hovis has updated the boy on the bike theme to give it a modern twist.
UK bread sales down by $213m
But the cold truth is that UK sliced bread needs more than this to turn it around.
The value of the UK pre-packed bread market fell 10.5% in 2015, according to IRI, which is more than £150m ($213m) as a result of supermarket price competition and consumers turning their backs on standard sliced bread.
And for all the strength of the heritage behind the likes of Hovis and Warburton’s, these brands may feel a little too traditional to some consumers, particularly younger ones.
Consumers who, I think, could be swayed by something along the lines of DKB.
The experts say...
I reached out to a few UK marketing experts to get their views, and it appears I’m not alone.
“UK mainstream bread brands are uniformly dull,” bluntly puts Robert Metcalfe, CEO of agency Richmond Towers. “I think it is something to do with the perceived need to be wholesome and safe, alongside a lack of product innovation that might permit more adventurous brands.”
He adds that there is a “huge amount of room” for more adventurous presentation in the bread category.
And Don Williams, CEO of PI Global, feels that while the category is slowly changing with the introduction of more interesting products, bread marketing activity still feels ‘big business'.
“What Dave’s Killer Bread does is inject some quirky personality into an otherwise fairly bland fixture,” he adds. “It has the ability to engage consumers and drag them out of a robotic shopping script mindset.
“From an emotional perspective it works in the same way as small brewers do. It’s fresh and intriguing and it has individual personality. There’s a perception that it’s created by people with passion, not a factory focused on profit.”
While I love the big British bread brands I grew up with, and hope there is always a place on fixture for them, I’d also like to see a quirky DKB-type brand roll out across the UK and give shoppers a reason to get excited about buying pre-packed bread again.
A business that offers young Brits interesting products with real personality could do well. Might make a killing, even.