The independent artisan bakery segment has built its reputation on fresh, well presented, artisan-style breads and pastries. However, the days of freshly baked French sticks to sourdough bloomers stacked enticingly in the window or lined up in baskets are over, at least for the time being.
Open, unwrapped product cannot sit unprotected on a counter anymore. One sample might be on display but it is not for sale and everything else will be bagged, instilling confidence in customers that it is safe and uncontaminated.
It’s all about perception. I heard someone say, “if it doesn’t look hygienic, I’m not going to buy it”, so for the retail bakery category, packaging is here to stay.
Previously handed directly to customers, all product is now becoming packaged: individually wrapped or bagged.
This is essential, not only to guarantee the highest standards of hygiene, but perhaps even more importantly to give consumers confidence about their purchases.
The clear way forward
Until coronavirus, the whole bakery category was all about using less packaging, down-gauging films and in many cases, doing away with packaging completely. Now, and for the foreseeable future, those days are over and almost all bakery will go into clear bags.
This move to packaging fresh product represents a massive change for bakeries of all sizes. Those who have been talking about reducing or eradicating packaging are having to rethink their offering. However, many don’t know what type of packaging best suits their produce.
Almost overnight, bakers with no previous packaging experience need to become expert in machinery and what grade of material they should be using. Of course, there are many, many packaging options alongside film – kraft, greaseproof, wax-paper, cellophane, and more.
Some are biodegradable or compostable and here an outlet needs to consider its stance on environmental sustainability. Over the past few months, there is no doubt these issues have slipped down the agenda, but in the long term, as packaging is reintroduced, its environmental impact might become important to a brand’s long-term reputation. A new debate will certainly ensue about the trade-off between the environment and human safety.
Cost and weight are also key considerations. Films need to be of the lowest possible gauge, which improves clarity, and in some cases, reduces cost.
Apart from great taste, the essence of artisan bread is provenance and presentation, while a visit to bakery itself is all about aroma and ambience. Consumers demand maximum visibility, so bakers need to choose ultra-thin films that maintain the aroma and hide little of the look of the bread.
Until now, the perception of artisan went hand in hand with fresh, unwrapped, reduce, recycle and re-use. Now it is all about ‘protect’ – protecting products, customers and reputation. To enhance customer confidence, bakery needs to discover a way to bring safety and hygiene into the conversation.
Wrapped is now the future of bakery.
If we don’t protect our artisan bakers, they might go the same way as the Percy Ingle bakeries – which closed its entire network of bakeries serving east-end London communities after 66 years - and that would be a sad and avoidable loss.
Kevin Curran founded Tri-Star Packaging in 1991, growing it to a £35m concern by 2016, when it was sold to Bunzl. For the past 28 years he has been instrumental in bringing many foodservice packaging products to the market, including the Artisan range, Porta-tray, the Tri-pack range and Eco-street bowl, among others.