Brown bread rising

Bread consumption remains stable in terms of penetration, but brands that are perceived to offer a health benefit are taking an increasing slice of the market as the drive to improve our diet continues

It may well have passed many of you by, but National Bread Week, which took place last month, is now in its seventh year. Bread is a staple of most consumers’ diets. Between 2002 to 2007 according to the latest TGI data consumption of bread has remained virtually universal among the UK population (aged 15-plus), and supermarket shelves are stacked with a plethora of varieties.

Yet, there are noticeable differences in product preference, with white bread consumption levels becoming stale and other varieties of bread such as wholemeal and granary rising. In 2002, 86% of adults consumed white bread compared with 79% today whereas penetration of the overall brown bread category has risen from 58% to 68%.

The types of bread people choose to eat “most often” has also changed and further reflects the move away from white bread. The proportion of the bread eaters who choose to eat white “most often” has declined from 66% in 2002 to 53% today – a decline of 13%. However, over the same period, granary consumption has increased from 11% to 16%, brown bread penetration has risen from 14% to 17% and wholemeal has jumped from 21% to 26%. Looking at the most frequent consumers of bread (more than once a day) the decline of white bread is further highlighted by the proportion of adults who eat it “most often” decreasing from 64% in 2002 to 49% in 2007. This is counterbalanced by an increase among equivalent regular eaters of brown bread where the proportion has increased from 25% to 31%.

Given that bread is a key staple for most of us, the healthy eating trend affects this category more than most. On the one hand those white breads perceived either as positively unhealthy – perhaps due to a high glycemic index or salt levels – or simply having low nutritional value, are losing consumer support. Conversely, brown bread is gaining popularity on health grounds. It is interesting to note that bread consumption is fairly stable in terms of penetration, but consumers in search of positive health attributes are turning to more premium brown and speciality breads, which has the effect of contributing to category value growth.

Consumers most concerned about their calorie consumption are the most likely to be “light” consumers of white bread while being comfortable to be “heavy” consumers of brown bread. Indeed regular brown bread consumers are 26% more likely than the average adult to consciously look for ways to include more vitamins and fibre in their diet.

With television wellbeing programmes stressing the healthiness of brown bread and brown rice, it is of little surprise that regular viewers of such shows are 57% more likely to be heavy brown bread consumers than its white equivalent. In addition to concerns about diet and health, another possible reason for this increase in brown bread consumption is that consumers of this product are well above average in avoiding artificial additives and genetic modification. Consumers of this product see brown bread as being more natural with “nowt taken out”.

Demographically, there are noticeable differences between heavy consumers of white and brown bread, which might help us to understand attitudinal perceptions. Regular white bread consumers are more likely to be young men in lower social grades, who are perhaps less likely to worry about health implications because of their age and are generally dismissive towards health foods overall.

Their brown bread consuming equivalents are more likely to be older women in higher social grades and, for them, the regular consumption of brown bread is arguably a conscious health choice. This group, for instance, are 29% more likely to be interested in health-related press articles.

In terms of the top bread brands consumed by the two groups, regular white bread consumers are more likely to consume Sunblest, Mother’s Pride, Mighty White and Kingsmill. The corresponding brown bread group are more likely to consume brands such as Allinsons, Nimble and Weight Watchers. Again, the perception of health is a key driver for this group, which is being exploited by brands that position themselves as being healthy options, particularly in comparison to white bread. Interestingly, unlike in many other sectors, named brands such as Kingsmill, Warburtons and Allinsons have increased their brand share over supermarkets’ own brands. For instance, the proportion of bread eaters who consume Warburtons “most often” has increased from 15% in 2002 to almost 20% today.

Sandy Livingstone, director of Enlightenment at BMRB, contributed to this week’s Trends Insight

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