The recession has driven a resurgence in home baking. But it’s not all about thrift, with a raft of on-trend product launches turning up the fun factor. Simon Creasey reports

When home economics made way for food science on the school curriculum, it heralded a dark period for the home-baking category.

People didn't even bother with baking kits, let alone baking from scratch. Why bother when you could buy all manner of enticing bakery goods ready made? But that was then.

Over the past few years there's been a resurgence of interest in scratch cooking and this, coupled with the recession, has conspired to reinvigorate the home baking category. Sales of home baking goods have gone from strength to strength over the past year, jumping 9.1% in value and 3% in volume reversing the previous 1.2% volume decline [Kantar Worldpanel 52w/e 16 May]. But with a good chunk of the value growth down to commodity-driven prices rises, is growth sustainable? And will consumers desert the category once the economic outlook starts to improve?

It's a remarkable achievement that, despite the price rises, consumers are not only shopping the category more often, they are also buying more per trip, although, ominously, fewer people are buying (see boxout p44) and cake mixes have enjoyed mixed fortunes, four of the top 10 experiencing a fall in sales.

While the recession has undoubtedly played a large part in the category's otherwise strong showing, industry players say it has not been the only factor in its rise. The once thrifty endeavour is now seen as a fashionable pastime and major brands have been quick with new products, such as the cake du jour, the whoopie pie.

"Endorsements from celebrity chefs, bestselling cookbooks such as Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and the fashion for home baking and personalisation are all contributors motivating customers to buy more ingredients and decorations to make their own cakes and make them more exciting and glamorous," believes Dr Oetker's ambient marketing director Gill Davies.

Mary Young, Premier Foods' commercial controller of home baking, agrees, adding that TV chefs such as the Hairy Bikers who dedicated a whole series of programmes to the joys of baking are making baking accessible and encouraging a new generation to give it a try. "Historically you were taught to bake by your gran or mum and then you did some at school and then you continued as you nested and had your own family. But a missing generation didn't learn to bake. They grew up during the microwave generation when convenience was king. What we're seeing now is the antidote to that."

To address this shortfall in baking skills and handed-down recipes, companies like Dr Oetker and Premier have set up recipe websites. The latter also produces popular recipe books through its flour product range from Be-Ro, now in its 40th edition with 38 million copies sold worldwide, through to a recent initiative that saw McDougalls partner with illustrated children's book character Flossie Crums to provide recipe suggestions for kids.

It is these new bakers who have helped significantly boost sales, and interest remains as strong as ever from the usual WI suspects, says Petty Wood brand director Giles Reynolds. "Sales of home baked biscuits and cakes are massively popular fundraising activities with lots of local and national charities and schools regularly holding coffee mornings and cake sales."

Home baking is also tapping into consumers' increased interest in provenance. "Many consumers are becoming more aware of what they eat and are interested to know where it is coming from," says Vanessa Day-English, The Silver Spoon Company group brand controller. "Local provenance continues to be important, scratch cooking and baking is in clear growth and natural claims are increasingly prevalent in manufactured foods."

'Natural' is becoming a particularly important selling point. One brand looking to capitalise on the 'natural' drive is Silver Spoon's Allinson through its "100% British" Nature Friendly Self Raising and Plain White Flour, recently launched in Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons. Sales of the flour brand are up 7.8% to £7.4m [SymphonyIRI 52w/e 15 May].

"It is milled from Conservation Grade wheat from farms actively managed to help preserve British wildlife," says Day-English. "The farms are monitored by the Conservation Grade Guild to ensure farmers grow wild plants and flowers to create a more biodiverse environment, dedicate 10% of their land to natural wildlife habitat and prohibit the use of harmful agro-chemicals."

Also responding to demand for natural products, Queen Fine Foods recently launched a four-pack of Natural Food Colourings and additive-free Writing Icing and Glitter Icing four-packs.

As well as the new natural products, there have been a number of other high -profile launches across the category. Petty Wood's Reynolds says launches such as its new Mini Marshmallow range have contributed to more than 16% of the company's sales growth in home baking. Victoria Foods has successfully launched a number of new products under its Jane Asher and Nestlé labels "with much more innovation about to go to market", according to MD Dan Ross.

And last September, Silver Spoon extended its product portfolio into cake decorations and baking ingredients, launching 55 SKUs from baking chocolate through to marzipan. "With distribution across the top three retailers this core range provides a solid platform for driving category growth over the next 12 months through exciting NPD and in-store activation," says Day-English.

Cake mixes have also been selling well, with value sales of sweet cake mixes standing at £27,428,820, up 5.6% on the previous year [SymphonyIRI 52w/e 12 June]. However, not all brands have been selling well. Fiddes Payne cake mix sales have fallen 28.2% to £717,100 [SymphonyIRI] and has launched a host of new products, including a Toy Story Cookie Kit (rsp: £1.79), to turn this around.

"Baking mixes offer a great value-for-money alternative to more expensive chilled and ambient options but now have the added benefit of delivering on recipe," says Fiddes Payne marketing development manager Lesley Loveday. "Formats such as rocky road, cookies, fudge brownies and muffins have provided consumers with easy-to-make, great-tasting options."

The popularity of fashionable US baking products, such as cupcakes and whoopie pies, are driving the types of mixes launched. Cupcakes have been around for some time and continue to bring new bakers into the market but the latter a sponge cake traditionally filled with buttercream and topped with icing is set to be a major hit, according to Dr Oetker's Davies.

"In the past few months we've seen them go on sale in Harrods, Sainsbury's and M&S," she says. "We'd seen them in trend tracking for some time and there had been a lot of talk on the internet around them. It was clear people were getting excited about them so we got a recipe out pretty sharpish on our website and it's currently the most sought-after recipe."

Exciting recipes for products such as whoopie pies fuel people's imagination and help drive sales for retailers because of the number of different, and often more expensive, ingredients involved, says Davies. "For every baking occasion that's a whoopie instead of scones, the retailer gets more sales. It's the same for cupcakes. They're much more lucrative."

Earlier this year, General Mills launched a mix aimed at cupcake-loving adults rather than kids. "We launched Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge Cupcake Mix in January in response to research that showed shoppers were looking for a product appealing to adults and easy enough for the whole family to get involved," says the company's UK sales director Andy Foweather. "All of the 'extras' icing, sprinkles, etc are already in the pack, which means consumers are more likely to make the product because everything they need is all in one place."

The mix (rsp: £1.99) has gained listings across a number of retailers and is performing in line with expectations, says Foweather. Sales of the Betty Crocker cake mixes, which have risen 26.7% in the past year to £7.8m [SymphonyIRI], have also been helped by a relaunch. The new packs have been designed to give greater stand-out on the shelf with the use of colour coding and more prominent GDA information making it "easier for consumers to shop the fixture", according to Foweather.

Dr Oetker also gave its products a facelift in May this year, to tackle declining cake mix sales down 19.1% to £1.7m [SymphonyIRI]. It repacked its entire range to make it "more modern and trendy" to capitalise on the growing number of younger customers who are trying their hand at home baking.

"We have introduced much more fun into the category using bright and modern day tea party packaging," says Davies. "In addition the introduction of PoS, such as recipe cards showing quick and easy ways to bake and decorate, encourages sale at fixture, inspiring and innovating customers to experiment."

Since 2009, Dr Oetker has spent more than £3.4m on marketing its brands. Products under the Betty Crocker label have benefited from a £1m marketing campaign, running throughout 2010, including a national TV campaign featuring its popular Devil's Food Cake. "The current TV advert has had a notable effect on sales," says Foweather. "We saw a 101% uplift in sales on Devil's Food Cake alone with a 90% uplift in sales across both featured products Devil's Food Cake and Chocolate Fudge Icing and a halo effect of a 66% rise across the total Betty Crocker range."

While the brands have been busy promoting their products, the retailers have also upped their game with own-label to good effect. Although value sales of branded products were up 7.5%, sales of own-label products posted 9.8% growth [Kantar] and sales of own label cake mixes rose 12.3% to £6.4m [SymphonyIRI].

Economy own-label home-baking products enjoyed stronger growth than any other tier, up 48.8%, due to higher shopper numbers and price increases [Kantar]. "In 2010, retailers have recognised home baking is on the increase and have worked hard to improve fixtures, moving away from what once was considered a 'dusty' category lacking in innovation," says Davies.

Revamping fixtures has helped greatly, but own-label performance has been largely driven by in-store promotions, with "secondary brands" hardest hit by the switch to own-label goods, says Victoria Foods' Dan Ross. "There is still demand for innovative super brands such as Jane Asher and Nestlé but some brands will have lost their market share to own label," says Ross. "We have seen value for money either everyday low price or special promotional deals as a key driver to attract consumers to try alternatives to their usual purchases."

This high level of promotional activity has worked in some areas such as vine fruit, but it hasn't been successful across all categories, says Whitworths marketing director Clinton Orchard. "Many experienced home bakers are not prepared to trade down and compromise on the quality of home-baked food. That's why we relaunched our flagship home-baking range to offer consumers the widest possible choice of quality baked fruits and nuts at prices that reflect the improved offering."

And Whitworths isn't the only company trying to persuade consumers to trade up. Dr Oetker's Davies says its super-premium range, which was trading well prior to the recession, slipped back in the downturn as shoppers traded down, but in the past 12 weeks there has been a "lot of life" in super-premium. It's an area RH Amar & Co product marketing manager Victoria Rusz predicts will grow strongly in the future.

"Premiumisation in home baking will drive growth bringing in ABC1 shoppers, high-quality ingredients, Fairtrade chocolate, speciality sugars, etc," she says.

As for the big question about whether or not shoppers will desert the category when consumer confidence returns, Premier Foods' Mary Young is in no doubt.

"We are in an interesting position in that we are attracting new consumers: people who are already home baking are baking more and consumers who have left the category are coming back in," says Young. "By the nature of that combination of factors we will take people with us. They won't automatically leave when times get better because they'll still enjoy baking."

In short, the ingredients are there for home baking to remain baking hot.

Focus On Home Baking