Craft Bakeries for Community – Stopping Sharp Supermarket Practice (Part III of III)
Plant bakers are careful to make exceedingly limited claims for their bread. The Federation of Bakers website suggests that plant bakers produce a nutritious food, cost effectively, accessible to all consumers and that `plant bakeries are an important part of community life offering employment’.
Given that no claims are made for the skill used to make the bread, the taste, flavour, the overall quality of the bread or its authenticity, it’s almost hard to believe that between them, plant bakers and their clients, the supermarkets (along with their instore bakeries), account for 97% of the 12 million or so loaves consumed in Britain every day. And with such a large market share and so many commercial advantages to leverage, it’s logical to wonder whether craft bakers aren’t rather, well, pointless, inconsequential and generally surplus to requirements in 20th century Britain.
It is rather curious then that the 4 companies (Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury and Morrisons) who sell the majority of the bread we eat every day, constantly attempt to persuade consumers that this 97% of bread made by plant bakers and / or baked off in in-store bakeries is just the same, to all intents and purposes, as that 3% of bread made and sold by the craft baker.
Occasionally they get a bit too `persuasive’ and get in to trouble. Last year Tesco were caught out by the Real Bread Campaign and were forced to withdraw an advertisement about their in-store bakeries after the RBC’s complaint was upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The advertisement Tesco ran in national press read:
“Fresh bread. Baked from scratch in our in-store bakery. Using 100% British flour. So every single loaf is genuinely British… Born and bread”.
Sounds just like the craft baker’s genuine article, so what’s wrong with that? Nothing. If it’s true. The Real Bread Campaign suspected Tesco were making a false and misleading claim and, according to figures supplied by the supermarket in response to the complaint, it transpired that Tesco only bakes loaves from scratch in 504 of its 2,362 UK stores.
Tesco defended the advertisement, claiming the small print offered consumers sufficient clarity on the matter: “Subject to availability. Selected UK stores. British Flour used in all products that are baked from scratch in-store as stickered in pack. French Baguettes, Batons and products not baked from scratch excluded.”
However, the ASA upheld the RBC’s complaint that the advert was misleading as Tesco does not bake bread from scratch in all its in-store bakeries. The Real Bread Campaign Working Party Chair, Iain Loe, made clear the RBC’s understanding of Tesco’s intentions
“… if you plan to hide or distort the facts in an attempt to draw customers away from small, independent bakeries that make an honest living, baking honest loaves, the people of Britain won’t stand for it”.
But the fact is that over 90% of us are standing for it, retailers are getting away with masquerading factory bread as the real deal, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year.
There is a legal term for this kind of deception. It’s called `passing off’. The law of passing off prevents one person from misrepresenting his or her goods or services as being the goods and services of the claimant, and also prevents one person from holding out his or her goods or services as having some association or connection with the plaintiff when this is not true. In essence, the law of passing off is a form of intellectual property enforcement, designed to prevent misrepresentation in the course of trade to the public.
Last summer I bought a loaf from Bridport Waitrose – a packaged `White Sliced Bloomer’. It said – and you can see this clearly from the photographs (at the beginning of the post) – that it was `made by craft bakers’. I wrote to Waitrose to clarify this. I received one reply from them saying that someone would get back to me. I chased it. They never got back to me. I moved house and had lots of other things on my mind and gave up pursuing them.
I wonder if the loaf in these photos matches your expectations of a craft baked loaf? Personally I feel confident in claiming that this loaf was not made by craft bakers, but produced in a factory to an industrial process, by machine operatives. You will see on the label that although it claims `sourdough’ as an ingredient, it has all the usual additive suspects in it as well. (and I have never seen a bread made with a sourdough starter sporting such a clean white crumb). There is nothing about this loaf that looks like a traditional English bloomer either.
When I checked on Waitrose Delivers online earlier today, it appears Waitrose are still selling this loaf – although it’s hard to see what the label says, it looks just the same as the one I bought last year.
I believe that, in respect of the loaf I bought last Summer, Waitrose are guilty of passing off. In making an unsubstantiated claim that this loaf is `made by craft bakers’ they are suggesting that this article is just like any loaf you would buy from a high street craft baker. This suggestion is at best misleading.
Take Leakers of Bridport, which shares the high street with Waitrose. In the event Leakers objected to this Waitrose Bloomer and its allegedly false association with them, what could they do about it? The chances are, very little. They are a tiny business. And if consumers believe that the Waitrose loaf is made by craft bakers, as it said, then they have every right to believe that this White Bloomer is directly comparable with Leakers equivalent loaf. So Leakers are potentially losing customers to Waitrose who appear to be attempting to compete on the basis of like for like.
Supermarkets and plant bakers, constantly attempting to represent a factory made product with a convincing and enticing story that promotes a believable idea of hand crafted, flavoursome, authentic bread that is good for you; gives a clear indication of the position of influence Craft Bakers have. Remember, they only represent a tiny 3% of all the bread we consume every day, so this influence is completely disproportionate to their market share.
Over and above the important step of joining the Real Bread Campaign and promoting it to their customers, what can Craft Bakers do to collectively leverage that powerful commercial advantage and kick sharp supermarket practice in to touch?
Without an accepted definition of what a Craft Baker is, there is, in my opinion, little recourse for craft bakers to properly protect their trade and their bread. At best it is possible to do as the Real Bread Campaign have, and complain to the ASA, who give offending retailers or producers a meaningless rap on the knackles which knocks them back in to line until the next time they decide to see how far they can push the boundaries of the Food Standard’s Agency labelling guidelines.
That is not to suggest that this route isn’t important, it is and it’s a worthwhile activity to expose the fraud and have it labelled and disseminated by mainstream media as such, but ultimately it’s sticking plaster and the damage warrants more remedial treatment.
If all craft bakers acted together, what could they do? Bring a class action? Possibly. Set a standard for craft bakers and craft baked loaves loaf and label themselves and their products accordingly? Absolutely. Crucially, by organising themselves, craft bakers would communicate to the British public that hand crafted bread is made and sold by skilled Craft Bakers. In this, and in other areas like PR and lobbying, they would be supported by the Real Bread campaign, but, importantly, they would distinguish themselves from medium to large brands and large retailers by definition. This would be a stronger platform from which to lobby for regulatory change.
If you are a successful craft bakery that gets branding, gets new product development, gets diversification, delivers consistency and enjoys a customer base that can’t get enough of your bread, well done. That’s a huge achievement and I, for one, applaud your skill, dedication, creativity, talent, business savvy nous and attitude.
You could feel that all is well and there is no need for you to look beyond your own patch. Should that reflect your view I can understand and appreciate where you’re coming from. Lord knows craft bakers get precious little sleep as it is and, to boot, running a small business is demanding. But still, I entreat you to consider bonding with your fellow craft bakers in a more formal fashion to define what it is that you do and collectively brand it so that the public can unequivocally know it when they see it. Then it should become easier to prevent the public being duped by the factory processors’ and supermarket retailers’appropriation of the term `craft baker’.
With the associated support of the Real Bread campaign there will be collective benefits too: increased public understanding and appreciation leading to increase demand, which will in turn inspire greater supply and give rise to the potential for the kind of training and education that would make a craft baker proud. These kind of developments would also create a much stronger platform from which to lobby for regulatory and cultural change.
Or should we just give up and let the march of homogeneity in the name of the free market continue unabated? Hovis announced it was going further down the line of automating production this week. Maybe consumers should just settle for bread made by robots and start taking the soma pills. Ultimately it will craft bakers themselves who decide what form the real bread revolution takes. The public can support them, but until they decide to fight for their fledgling phoenix industry; to fight for better bread, there is a cap on how much progress can be made.
For my part, I am impatient. I hope they hear the Real Bread message loud and clear and get on with it quick and give those of who want better access to better bread a better chance of buying it locally.