Bread barons on the way out

The big British ‘bakers’ such as Hovis and Kingsmill are cutting our bread with crap. I use the term ‘bakers’ loosely because the practice is more like alchemy; in factories across the UK, Hovis mixes flour improvers, preservatives and other E numbers into their dough with little or no regard to the ramifications on the health of the British public. According to the Real Bread Campaign, any ingredient other than flour, water, yeast and salt is ‘by definition, unnecessary’. The Food Standards Agency rules that churned milk and salt are the only ingredients allowed in butter; add anything that doesn’t come from a cow’s udder to a carton of milk and it can no longer legally be called milk. These staples are as pure now as they always have been, so where did British bread go so wrong?

From the customer’s perspective, there is an increasing distance between the way our brains process the food on offer and the way our bodies then process that food. The human body functions best when it receives a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, pulses, grains and lean meant and fish, but the influx of salt, sugar and fat (the fast food trio) into our diet on a daily basis has devastatingly altered our ability to identify what we should be putting into our bodies. Our eating culture has arrived at the point where we are forced to trust the dietary information on the side of a packet instead of trusting our bodies to tell us what they need.

Wholemeal Sourdough Bread

Wholemeal Sourdough Bread

As for where that food is coming from, never has a manufacturer so literally had its fingers in all the pies as Premier Foods, Britain’s biggest food producer. As well as Hovis, brands such as Sharwoods, Oxo and Mr Kipling are owned by this industrial food giant. How is it possible to truly care about the quality of the food you are responsible for when your day is spent in a boardroom desperately trying to manage twenty three different brands and running at a £1Bn deficit all the while? As the recession continues to wrap it’s coils around the country, Premier Foods is showing signs of decline. Michael Clarke, Premier Foods CEO, recently closed two Hovis factories, cutting 900 jobs due to rising wheat prices and falling demand for a product that is increasingly recognised as floppy, tasteless and indigestible.

Sliced bread

Sliced bread made using the Chorleywood process

The deficit that Clarke is trying to reduce indicates that big corporations might not hold the answers to the future success of the British food industry. If half of those 900 newly unemployed bakers find work in small independent bakeries; or even better go on to set up their own bread businesses, it would be a step in the right direction. Small bakeries offer far greater variety than Hovis and, if the principles of the Real Bread Campaign are followed, produce a more nutritional, tastier loaf.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Chorlewood process, an innovation that was developed to make a softer loaf that would keep for longer. The process uses twice the yeast of traditional bread and facilitates the production of huge quantities of identical sandwich loaves. This is what the people wanted in the post war years, but now we are demanding both more and fewer from our bread, that is, more quality and fewer ingredients. Chorleywood bread has had its day, the renaisance of artisan bread is at hand.

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9 thoughts on “Bread barons on the way out

  1. I may not live in the UK consuming the products and brands you speak of here. But I sure do feel as passionately as you about the corruption and devastating direction our food industry is going. Will look forward to more of your posts.

    • Hi Sharon, thanks for your response to my post. The good news is that real bread truly is coming back in the UK with the Real Bread Campaign much as producers of real ale have increased fourfold since the founding of the Campaign for Real Ale in the early seventies. I read your Journey through Food and see that you and I share a passion for real nutritional food and a dislike for the processed world! Through working with my parents’ bakery I have met many people who have experienced gut problems while eating comercial yeasted bread who have no problems eating our slow proved 100% sourdough loaves. You have clearly put a lot of research into the food with which you fuel your body; is sourdough something that you have looked into?

  2. Very interesting post. Can we be certain the flour we use to make our own bread isn’t also contaminated with additives? As far as the corporate thieves are concerned, our health is a very poor secondary concern.

    • Thanks for your feedback. Thats a very good point and one that I will have to look into. The Real Bread Campaign website has a six point checklist designed to inform customers on exactly what they can expect from the bread sold at any bakery that is part of the campaign;

      (http://www.sustainweb.org/realbread/bakery_finder/?outlet=1069&pc=TA210HG&ls=0&rbb=&rbf=&rbl=&rby=&rbe=)

      One of the 6 checks is “product is certified organic” and I know from working on a local goat farm that organic certification is very strict in this country.

      I have recently quit my job working for a sushi restaurant chain and am now working for a small independent deli. The difference in the ethos of the two places is incredible with regards to the respect paid do the food, the staff and the customers! I have never felt more confident in the merit of small community businesses than I do at this point!

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  4. I agree whole heartedly with you. Because we have come such a long way away from being in a good relationship with our food it is easy to be blinded by correct but out of context ‘science’. The large bakers and supermarkets don’t put chemicals into the bread but they will add extra gluten (which is created in bread as it is made), but it is not natural to consume it in such large quantities. And the Chorleywood process does not allow any of the natural processes to occur which start to change various proteins so that they are more easily digest by us. We have been normalised to expect to eat bread at least once a day (Why?) So we eat too much of a product that CAN hurt the gut, put strain on the digestive system, affect our mood and ability to think, work and interact with eachother. On the surface it looks so innocuous, a pointless argument but only because we keep being distracted from the bigger picture. A little bread is great, a natural loaf is fantastic. Eat good food, from people who care and know what they are talking about.
    Really glad to hear about the new job.
    🙂

    • Thank you for your comments on my blog. It is great to know that there are other people out there that are as excited about the renaissance of artisan bread as I am!

      • I stopped buying factory made bread 3 years ago when I bought my breadmaker – I make 2 loaves per week which provides all the bread my family need at a cost of £0.50p. The bread looks good and tastes good. Considering the amount of bread flour my local supermarket sells it seems to me that a lot of people are doing the same thing. Goodbye Chorley Wood – hello good bread.

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