White bread has become the surprise consumers’ champion in tougher economic times.

Consumers are tightening their belts but not at the expense of the humble white loaf, claimed Hovis manufacturer Premier Foods this week.

Despite the price of a white loaf jumping by 40% over the past year, volume growth for June was up a healthy 4%, said Robert Schofield, chief executive. 

“We have had 10 years of the bread category going backwards, but the trend has now been reversed in the same year when inflation has been highest,” he said. “This probably means consumers are downtrading from big-ticket items to more value lines.”

The sales momentum was also noticed by Hovis’ rival Kingsmill. “For the first time in a long long time we are seeing sliced white bread in growth,” said Geoff Lancaster, head of external communications at Kingsmill parent ABF. “It is a sign that families are moving back to staple products.” 

But cost-conscious consumers were looking for more than good value said Gordon Polson, director of the Federation of Bakers: “There has been a massive amount of NPD and rebranding in the white category that has helped growth,” he said.

The Grocer 33 shows that the price of a Warburtons white loaf rose £1.16 to £1.29 across the big four in June, white Hovis rose from £1.12 to £1.24 and Kingsmill stayed on a level at £1.09.