Take two loaves: one, sliced medium white, wrapped in cellophane; the other an unsliced sourdough, wrapped in brown paper. Decades ago the white loaf would have been the beginning to many a comparison and the sourdough seen as nothing special.
Today however, the sourdough is the new best thing since sliced bread. Who would have thought that Britain would embrace a £10 loaf 10 years ago, but they did, and things moved on from there. Once again, slowly but surely, artisan bakers have come into their own again as a squishy white loaf loses favour. T
The loaf that generated attention in 2002 was from artisan bakers Poilane and cost £9.62. Poilane opened two stores in London, in upmarket Belgravia and Chelsea. Waitrose sells cheaper Poilane loaves - for between £4-6 - with sale up 5% on last year. Sales of Gail's luxury breads in the chain have risen by 16%, while Waitrose speciality breads are up by 18%.These expensive bread sales are concentrated within London, but the same phenomenon can be seen in in-store supermarket bakeries across the country. People are apparently willing to pay more, and sometimes significantly more, for a "luxury" loaf.
Whilst there is still a place for the white sliced loaf which accounts for over a quarter (£920 million) of the total bread and baked goods market value, it is on the decline. It was hit by a 3% drop in sales between 2010-11, according to Mintel.
In these current times, that does seem hard to believe as many people struggle to feed their families and food banks are on the rise. Bizarrely, bread has become a luxury item, and people are going for it.
Perhaps it’s because it’s a staple food, perhaps it’s because of the variety available nowadays. Remember when the choice was white or brown – that’s it? Or perhaps it’s because when you combine the two – staple and variety- that people are willing to be more adventurous and spend a little more on something that most of us eat day in day out.
So there you have the question – bread is it there to fill you up, or is it to be savoured and enjoyed as a luxury item? A bit of both really – no one spends £10 a day on a loaf of bread. Do they?
Charles Banks, co-founder of food trends agency the Food People, agrees that there will always be demand for bread "that is essentially a carrier for other things", especially when it comes to children's meals.
But he says the luxury bread boom is here to stay.
"People understand that this artisan bread, with its distinct flavour profiles, texture and developed crust, is a very different food experience to what is known as the white sliced 'fluff'," he says.
Another thought – why not bake your own?