How to get consumers back in love with Britain’s high street bakers

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

CBA's most recent survey found 70% of Brits buy half or more of their total bakery needs from the high street. Pic: GettyImages
CBA's most recent survey found 70% of Brits buy half or more of their total bakery needs from the high street. Pic: GettyImages

Related tags Craft Bakers Association artisanal bakeries sourdough plant-based shopper behaviour High street Sustainability Price Social media provenance

A survey by the Craft Bakers Association (CBA) provides valuable insight in understanding bakery shoppers, what gets them across the threshold, what concerns them and ‘the issues that might help us understand a little bit more about what we, as an industry, could or shouldn’t be doing.’

It might surprise some that today’s bakery shopper is much younger than widely presumed.

This is just one valuable morsel provided by the CBA’s most recent survey, carried out by Mortar Research among 500 18+-year-old British consumers and 39 bakers.

The research found that five in six Gen Zs (18-24s) pop into their local bakery once a month, while four in 10 Millennials (35-44s) seeking out a baked treat from their high street baker at least once a week.

“Considering these people are probably feeding a family - certainly feeding more than one or two people - [this] potentially has opportunity for them to buy more,”​ said Jennifer John, MD of Ceres PR, during her presentation of the findings at the CBA’s Business Day, held in London on 14 June.

“These are the shoppers of tomorrow … the ones that are going to be feeding families in due course. So, this is something definitely to remember.”

However, while the younger generations are still actively supporting local bakeries, the survey found they have distinctly different expectations from their older peers.

“We also did a small survey of the sample of high street bakers to ask similar questions in reverse. The results across the two might surprise you,”​ said John, adding Brits are “not shopping quite as frequently as the bakers that we talked to believe.”

Supporting the high street

Baker shaking hands with consumer Ilhor Bulyhin
Pic: GettyImages

The mainstay of UK high streets for much of the 20th​ century, retail is now in structural decline. Last year, almost 50 shops a day closed down as retailers grappled with the predominant shift towards online shopping, the cost-of-living crisis and the overheads in keeping a brick and mortar entity afloat.

But all is not lost, as CBA’s survey found that 78% of regular bakery shoppers believe it’s important to support local.

“This survey provides some valuable insights to help high street bakers futureproof their businesses,”​ said Karen Dear, CBA’s recently appointed CEO.

“Bakers need to understand their customers’ buying habits, prioritise the things that matter to them, and highlight their skills and commitment to sustainability.

“The good news is tomorrow’s shoppers - the 18-24’s - appreciate the bakers’ work and are committed to supporting them. There’s plenty of goodwill out there and a wealth of positive opportunities to build on.”

The CBA’s study found that 70% of shoppers buy half or more of their total bakery needs - be it the daily loaf or an indulgent treat - from the high street.

White bread and rolls are the most popular purchases, followed by wholemeal products.

Nearly half (48%) of all bakery shoppers - and three in five men - frequent their local bakery for a sandwich or food-to-go item at least once a week, with slightly fewer (46%) making the stop to purchase pastries, cakes and biscuits equally as often.

“Isn’t it lovely to think that when people want to treat themselves, when they want something special, it’s the high street baker that they’re going to,” ​said John, noting several CBA surveys have confirmed the increasing demand for individual treats from high street outlets.

Shopper concerns

Bakers young bakers Todor Tsvetkov
Pic: GettyImages

It’s no surprise that what consumers want from high street bakers is evolving.

“We already knew high street bakers’ customers were currently driven by price, but this research shows that there is a wide range of topics that matter to today’s bakery shopper,”​ said Dear.

“The results show they are also driven by sustainability, food waste and provenance, as well as health, and convenience - all of which are major motivators to purchase.”

However, “the big eye opener in the survey was what we learnt about the younger generations shopping there, and what they’re looking for.”

Gen Z’s are far keener than other generations for plant-based products, and 42% of under 25’s buy sourdough in high street bakers at least weekly, compared to one in seven of Boomer (55-64s).

These trends chime with widespread research that shows a growing cohort of consumer are prioritising plant based. Gen Zs (65%) are particularly focused on health and sustainability, and a plant-forward lifestyle checks both of those boxes.

As a baker, “you should shout about the fact that you’ve got plant-based on display, particularly as there’s such a high quality of plant-based products out there at the moment,”​ said John.

Sourdough, too, is ticking a lot of boxes - authenticity, clean label, minimal processing, no additives - but more so for being nutritious, easier to digest and sporting a lower glycaemic index, resonating with the 73% of consumers concerned about gut health.

“We have seen a steady increase in the interest in gut health, gut microbiota and fibre - this is going to continue to drive sales,”​ said John.

“I know there’s big debate out there, but many people believe that sourdough is easy to digest, so combined with the interest in gut health, this is very much a trend that is here to stay and one that’s likely to grow.”

With Gen Zs three times more likely to buy sourdough compared with 55-to-64s, John pondered the correlation with this generation’s fondness for sharing all they eat.

“Sourdough gets a big slice [of social channels], but it could be argued that Gen Zs are [driving] that story,”​ she said.

“They’re part of enhancing the profile of sourdough and therefore its popularity.”

Rating the high street

High street bakery window Getty
Pic: GettyImages

CBA’s survey found high street bakers score well with customers for quality, choice, craftsmanship, personal service and sustainability:

  • Three quarters of consumers prefer their local baker for quality and choice
  • 59% like to pop in for the personal service
  • 81% believe high street bakers are trained to a high level
  • 55% think high street bread and bakery is baked by hand
  • 63% believe it’s made from scratch

Said John, “81% [of shoppers] are coming for quality and the choice. They want to choose, they want to have a look at what’s on offer, they want to see what's actually titillating their fancy at that particular moment in time. But it’s also really good to see that so many people are coming because of the service. They think that’s a key piece of the story.

“We all like to buy directly from people who are passionate about what they do, who are knowledgeable about what they do … so, it’s really important for bakers to remember to make sure their staff know how important they are in telling that story.”

The survey also revealed that 66% of Brits judge it to be more sustainable to shop on the high street.

“You could argue that [sustainability] has taken a bit of a sidestep for consumers in a current cost of living crisis, but it’s definitely a trend that’s here to stay and one that will grow even stronger,” ​said John.

“Consumers want to buy from brands and businesses that they see care for the planet. They want to know that by shopping with those businesses, they are also doing their part to look after the planet.

“So again, make sure your customers know what happens to your food waste, whether you [limit] single-use plastic, what ingredients are net zero. All of these things are part of the story and all part of the value that you are bringing to [consumers].”

Futureproofing the sector

Sad baker ljubaphoto
Pic: GettyImages

Much more can - and should - be done by high street bakers to engage consumers.

The country is in the grips of a cost-of-living crisis, so it’s not surprising to learn that 42% of consumers consider the price of baked goods sold on the high street to be too steep. As such, bakers need to be aware that value is more important than ever, so cross-channel marketing like tasting and promotions, and deals like discounts, money off or multi-buys, will go a long way in attracting both loyal and new shoppers.

To show their devotion, over a third (37%) of those surveyed said they are willing to travel up to five miles to buy bread and bakery. But - and this is a big disadvantage - nearly half (47%) say they won’t buy from local bakers unless they can park outside for free.

And, despite the rise in ecommerce, the survey found fewer than 30% of shoppers expect their local baker to offer an online ordering facility.

“The High Street clearly matters to our bakery shopper, and they very rightly recognise that if people don’t shop on the high street and at businesses like bakeries - which have been the mainstay of communities in many cases for umpteen generations - those town centres will ultimately die,” ​said John, again emphasising the importance of highlighting the role that bakers play in their communities.

“I have worked with CBA members for years and I know the fantastic work they do,” ​she said.

“Make sure customers know what you do and that you are a mainstay of that community. Because again, people will love to come in partly for that story.”

The Craft Bakers Association represents approximately 500 bakery businesses in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland - from startups to established bakeries - supporting a total of 3,000 shops on the high street (alongside wholesale companies and specialised confectionery businesses).

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