The Campaign’s inclusive vision is for everyone to have the chance to choose Real Bread, says Chris Young.
In addition to physical/geographic accessibility (ie additive-free bread available within walking or cycling distance, or being delivered) an aspect of this mission is financial. How can Real Bread be made affordable for as many people as possible?
The majority of us in wealthy countries have varying degrees of discretion about how we spend our money. Far too many people are in poverty, though. Some people have to choose between feeding themselves, their kids or the electricity meter. Why should it be that people on low/no incomes have to settle for additive-laden, industrial pap, over which hang questions of nutritional value and other factors? Supermarkets and other industrial loaf fabricators could kick the additives to start making Real Bread, then leverage economies of scale (and other aspects of their business models) to make it accessible and affordable to millions of people, but generally choose not to.
While organisations including Sustain continue to push for structural change so that more people can afford to eat fresh, delicious, nutritious sustainably-produced food, Real Bread bakers can play a role in helping to bridge the gap.
Part of the solution that the Campaign, and many of our supporters and other friends in our network, offer is sharing knowledge and skills (including through classes, workshops, books, videos and websites) to empower and enable people to make their own bread at home.
You might choose simply to run affordable classes in basic bread making or (as you get suitably experienced and knowledgeable) to run ‘lifestyle’ classes that help to subsidise your more affordable (or even free) basic skills classes.
We also encourage public sector institutions (including schools, nurseries, hospitals, the forces, prisons) and some private sector organisations (like care homes and work canteens) to adopt our suggested procurement criteria for the bread they serve.
After you have factored in all of your costs, do you set your profit margin based simply on what you perceive your products to be worth and what people are prepared to pay? Or is one of the reasons that you run a bakery to make Real Bread available and affordable to everyone in your local community, not just people who don’t have to think twice about paying X for a loaf?
Unless you set very low margins across the board, we encourage you to consider selling at least one, regularly available (be that daily or just on certain days) basic loaf at around what it costs you to produce it. You can subsidise this Real Bread for all with higher margins on luxury/discretionary products such as pastries, cakes and hot drinks. One example is the Bread Source National Loaf.
For every three loaves sold, Small Food Bakery in Nottingham makes a large, wholemeal sourdough loaf available for £2.49. To give customers what they want/need, these loaves are baked in tins, sliced and wrapped. Rather than being sold at the bakery, which owner Kim Bell understands can be intimidating, unfamiliar territory for some people, they are available from a local corner shop.
You might use a sign or label at point of sale to communicate for whom these loaves are intended eg people who are unwaged or on low pay. As asking to see evidence of a customer’s status can be stigmatising, you might prefer to leave this as an honesty-based system, or not even specify who you intend the loaves for.
While home-based microbakers don’t benefit from bulk-buying discounts, or other economies of scale, to the same extent as even a small high street bakery, ingredients account for only a small part of a home bakery’s costs. Other than yourself, you have few if any staff costs and your overheads are far lower than if you were paying rent and rates on a production unit and/or prime retail site, buying and maintaining expensive equipment and so on.
Please don’t undersell your products (or yourself) and be sure to factor in all of your costs in order to maintain a financially sustainable business but also consider what you can do to make your bread affordable/accessible to more people.
Some bakeries run pay-it-forward schemes, ie offer customers the opportunity to buy, or help to subsidise, a loaf for someone else in their local community who’s on a tighter budget. Perhaps there’s a local charity or community organisation doing relevant work that you can team up with on this.
Scotland The Bread created the Solidarity Bags scheme, inviting people to buy a sack of their flour to pass to a community bakery to craft into affordable Real Bread.
Is there a food voucher scheme in your area that you could join?
Could you team up with a food co-operative? A food buying co-op is a community owned and run enterprise that allows people to enjoy good food at affordable prices, often alongside other health, social and environmental aims. A typical food co-op will operate a farmers’ market stall and/or a subscription-based box/bag scheme with collection points and/or deliveries. By operating on a not-for-profit basis, placing regular, bulk orders with suppliers and often relying largely on volunteers, food co-ops reduce the cost to customers while still paying producers a fair price.
Food banks and other redistribution schemes
Food banks don't solve the root causes of food poverty or food waste. The risk of ‘poor people get tins and leftovers’ being embedded (if not actually written) into national and local policy is deeply problematic, and using a foodbank can be a stigmatising.
That said, in the short term they can play a valuable, safety net role.
We hear that many food banks have more bread (and industrial loaf products) then they can distribute but you could try contacting one near you to see if they’d value either any surplus you have, or loaves you produce specially for them. A number of Bread Angels and other microbakers do the latter, funded by customer pay-it-forward schemes.
Companies such as Too Good To Go help to connect businesses that have surplus with people who'll benefit from cheaper food. Some people find this a more dignified experience than food banks as they get food at a reduced price, rather than for free - a hand up, not a handout.
Felicity from Filbert's Bakery told us: "It works amazingly well. Any leftovers (lots or hardly any, it's flexible) can be bought by people who use the app. They pay £3 for a bag normally selling for £9. Everyone is very happy! We pay a bit, but it's cost neutral and no more wasted loaves at all."
To be clear, we’re not saying that micro- or other SME bakeries shouldn't make a profit. Financial sustainability is important to enable them to keep putting Real Bread at the heart of their local communities, supporting more (and better) jobs per loaf, reinvesting in their local economies and helping to keep high streets alive.
Nor are we suggesting that Real Bread bakeries should try to engage with supermarkets (or other businesses) in a race-to-the-bottom price war that they won’t win. Large retailers are able to perform the neat trick of undercutting small bakeries with lower prices at the till, while still charging a premium for sourfaux and other ‘artisan style’ products towards generating large profits and shareholder dividends. Factors enabling them to do so include economies of scale and the ability to use large margins across the rest of the store (and perhaps squeezing suppliers) to more than compensate for any promotions or below-cost selling on some factory loaves. SMEs just can’t compete on those terms, nor do we ask or expect them to.
As with all of the Campaign’s work, one size does not fit all. If you run an in initiative (or even a whole business model) that helps to make Real Bread affordable to more people, please drop us a line.
We would love to hear from you and help share your knowledge to inform and inspire other business owners.
Adapted from our microbakery handbook Knead to Know...more