White bread sales are soaring as credit-crunched shoppers switch from brown to what they see as a cheaper, and more family-friendly option.

Strong sales of white helped reverse the 0.7% volume decline that the whole category suffered in 2007 to a growth of 1.5% [TNS 52w/e 22 February 2009]. In a remarkable turnaround, volumes of white increased 2%, compared with a 1.5% fall the previous year.

Price hikes on Hovis, Warburtons and Kingsmill helped push branded white value sales 16.2% to £955m - up on last year's 11.9%.

Branded white vastly outperformed branded brown, which recorded markedly slower value growth at 9.3% and a 0.6% drop in volumes. The trend was replicated in own label, with white up 5.5% in volume and brown down 0.6%.

"The recession has turned people to staple foods," said Kingsmill CEO Mark Fairweather. "White bread has struggled over recent years, with the premium end of wholemeal growing. Now we've seen people switch to white sliced and away from wholemeal and seeded."

Price difference was a key driver, said Edward Milner, head of category management at Hovis. "White has the lowest price position of the bread sectors and there has been a greater demand for bread in general in the past year. As the largest bread sector, white sees the greatest benefit."

Consumers saw white bread as more likely to be enjoyed by the whole family than brown, he added.

The quality of white bread had improved in general, said Asda bread buyer Chris Bates. "Brands have pushed improving the flavour and quality of white bread and this has been a key aspect in the growth of the market overall."

Warburtons is the market-leading brand, with sales growth of 16.4% to £594m [IRI], but Premier Food's £30m investment in relaunching Hovis last year helped prompt a 9% increase to £426m. However, ABF's Kingsmill recorded the fastest growth - up 24.2% to £339m.