A new, Open University study has found that the number of small bakery businesses in the UK has increased over recent years but they are under threat from rising costs and a skills shortage.
‘Sustaining small bakery businesses: Looking to the future in challenging times’ has findings based on a survey of 202 small bakery business owners in the UK, interviews and other research. The study was conducted between May and July 2022 by the Open University with support from the Real Bread Campaign and Craft Bakers Association.
Key findings include that in 2021 there were 2720 businesses operating in the UK and of these, 2540 were small businesses (with 50 employees or fewer). More than a third of small bakery businesses that participated in the study are less than five years old and 17% have been founded since the beginning of 2020.
Other findings revealed that bakeries with a turnover of below UK£500,000 are more likely to make genuine sourdough bread than those with a higher turnover. Top three threats identified by bakery owners are the cost of ingredients, rising energy costs and cost of living pressures on customers.
The study also showed how small bakeries adapted after the first lockdown and saw an upturn in business as some started to offer online and delivery services. However, the outlook is now “bleaker”, the study concluded, as soaring costs, recruitment issues and the cost-of-everything crisis are affecting bakeries as it considers what a successful future for bakery businesses might look like.
Some respondents expressed concern about lack of regulation of bread labelling and marketing as one baker quoted in the report said the way manufacturers and retailers are allowed to use artisan, local, stoneground, hand-shaped sourdough and these terms “become meaningless”.
The report suggests that bakery owners should work together with policy makers, educators and suppliers to build more resilient supply chains, improve training and career pathways for bakers about the benefits of locally-made, fresh bread and bakery products.
“Small bakeries enrich our food culture by using craft skills to make bread in local, traditional and sustainable ways. In recent years, consumer demand for these artisanal products has increased and the number of small bakery businesses has grown,” explained Emma Bell, Professor of Organisation and Leadership at the OU Business School. “Now, in the face of soaring costs and a shortage of skilled bakers, we need to find ways to support these innovative small businesses and make sure they continue to survive and thrive.”
“This report gives an insightful snapshot of the state of micro and other small bakeries in the UK. While the Real Bread movement remains vibrant, the findings highlight the plight that many small businesses face and underline the need for the support that the Real Bread Campaign has urged the government to provide,” added Chris Young, Coordinator of Real Bread Campaign.
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