While many canny retailers already have bake-off in situ, growing their businesses further to satisfy consumers with a yen for unusually flavoured bread and snacks is at the top of their wish list. The quest for a point of difference between c-store chains, however, has sparked a trend for solus suppliers, increasing the heat between the already fiercely competitive bake-off operators. Last year Cuisine de France signed an exclusive deal with Alldays to install L'Art du Pain bake-off units in 220 stores, and these units are now also offering hot food to go from CdeF's Hotshop concept. Its latest conquests have been the "recapturing" of Scottish retailer David Sands and the appointment by Scottish wholesaler Aberness Foods as its sole supplier. UK sales director Brian O'Hagan says these chains are deliberately looking for a one-solution partner. "We do direct deliveries to the store, provide one oven that can cook everything in store, and supply hot and cold food. "Since the relaunch of the brand in Scotland we now have nine people based there and have a national account manager specifically for the Scottish trade." CdeF's promotional activity includes couponing and tailormade store promotions. O'Hagan says: "With the Co-op we recently did a major link-save tying up with Bird's instant custard, so that if consumers bought a deep-dish apple pie, they got a free sachet of custard with it. "And we are looking at doing more link ups such as with soup for September/October time." CdeF is owned by the acquisitive IAWS Group, which also has Delice de France and the newly acquired US based artisan bakery group La Brea under its wing. Its plans for CdeF include a new factory at Stone in Staffordshire, which is now scheduled to open in July 2003 after a short delay. CdeF's bestsellers are honey star and sun-dried tomato bread ­ the latter, it says, is doing especially well in the Midlands and Scotland. The company is currently revamping the Gourmet range it launched last year. "Gourmet is now part of our core range. We've tweaked the packaging so that you can see more of the product on shelf," says O'Hagan. Speciality is the in thing, he says, and everyone is bringing out a speciality range to supply consumers with something different. However, he believes writing off French bread is a no-no. "French bread still outsells the rest at a rate of five to one," he says. Speedibake, part of Associated British Foods, offers more than 650 products and has a turnover in excess of £70m which, says managing director Andrew Johnson, it hopes to double within five years. More than £9m has been invested in rejuvenating its business. This includes closing down its Northampton site, opening a new speciality bread plant at Wakefield and a production unit at Bradford, and investing £1m in an innovation centre. The company's new office complex is being built next to the innovation centre at Wakefield and is due for completion in September. Based at the innovation centre is an 18-strong team headed by Hillary Harrison, whom Speedibake recruited from Northern Foods. Johnson, who joined the company in October, has ambitious plans for npd, particularly in speciality and chilled goods, two areas which he sees as ripe for moving into. "In the past the company has tended to be production led. Our main focus now is on our products and expertise and, more importantly, making people aware of our offerings. "We now have a dedicated team working together to bring new products to market," he adds. Speedibake is aiming to concentrate on five product streams: French breads, special-ity bread, filled products, cakes and doughnuts. Since October it has created more than 50 speciality breads and added a 12-portion tear-and-share line to its frozen garlic bread range. Called Perfect Partners Bread Bites, this can be baked from frozen in 12 minutes. Speedibake claims the frozen garlic bread sector is worth about £36m, and that its share of the filled/garlic frozen bread sector stands at 77%. However, Speedibake wants to be seen as more than just a garlic bread producer. Its research into consumer preferences shows that savoury, crusty and accompaniments are the star performers in bread, appealing to impulse purchasing and eating occasions. But size of loaf is also seen as important. "Consumers want it closer to what they can manage to eat. Some on the market have become too much like pizzas. "We have become a nation of globetrotters who want bread to be just as it is in the country visited. They want French bread and ciabatta with the right texture." Rival Le Pain Croustillant, part of RHM, has heavily supported its manufacturing facility to satisfy demand for its traditional French baked bread made exclusively from grain from France. Recent investment includes £7m for a new high-speed Mecatherm Mega line in the UK, which can produce 10,000 small baguettes an hour. Another line will be added this year to further increase capacity and help boost the company's turnover of £65m. Last year it launched more than 50 speciality breads and, it says, a notable success was its seven-strong organic range. Country Choice says if done properly bake-off will increase footfall and spend per visit. Its Bake 'n' Bite concept offers not only a range of bread and pastries but hot and chilled food as well. New on the bread front for 2002 is its range of exclusive French-style, hand-crafted speciality breads from Bakehouse. These include a rosemary and raisin navette decorated with a sprig of rosemary, a black olive fougasse, and baguette levain, all of which bake off in 10 minutes. The company is also trialling frozen bake-off bread that can be filled with chilled sandwich fillings. This, says marketing controller Rajesh Tugnait, will be launched in June and will provide retailers with "a professional, convenient and freshly filled sandwich operation". Tugnait claims its growth is coming from two areas ­ CTNs and small independent convenient stores, and existing bake-off users. "In response to the first, we've launched a smaller and modular bake-off unit for smaller c-stores on an easy lease package that pays for itself by minimal product sales. "The second trend is supported by a range of food to go products such as chicken fillet burgers, drumsticks and potato wedges. The most successful launch for us has been the chicken wings of fire." Hot food to go has become a necessary accompaniment to bake-off and Cuisine de France is pleased with the success of its Hotshop concept. "It's only 7% of our total sales but that's from a low base. This time last year it was only 1% of total sales. With a total turnover of £60m, we're happy with that. "We've taken one or two lines out and improved it with others such as a new Cornish pasty made by Proper Cornish," says O'Hagan. One of the positive sides to the business is that it isn't price sensitive. Hagan's view is that retailers should check out the marketplace and the meal deals on offer. "See what McDonald's and KFC are charging and pitch the price to be competitive with them," he says. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}