What were the chances that two new and completely unrelated upmarket piemakers - named Tom’s and Timmy’s - would approach The Grocer on the same day?
With sales of posh pies up 13.5% (or £7.7m) in the past year [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 7 December 2014] perhaps it’s less of a coincidence than at first it seems. Especially as British Pie Week gets under way next week (2 to 8 March).
It was Higgidy who first spotted the gap, at the start of the recession, for more upmarket pies and quiches. Sales are still growing, up 39% year on year [Higgidy/Kantar]. “It’s always been a category with a number of smaller, artisan producers,” says Mark Campbell, commercial director at Higgidy, of the new entrants. And he welcomes the competition. “Anything that builds the category and the premium end we feel is an opportunity.”
But is there room for more?
Tom’s Pies was founded in 2006 and after several years focusing on foodservice and delis, this week launches five varieties in Ocado (rsp: £3.49/250g). “There’s quite a few people in that premium space; it’s increasingly busy, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” says sales and marketing director Tom Little (not the Tom of the name - that’s his business partner, chef Tom Cull).
“The public’s appetite for good food has increased enormously and so has the amount they’re willing to spend to achieve that provenance and background.”
This became especially true after the horsemeat scandal, which caused a slump in overall pie sales. According to Campbell, the scandal benefited premium pie suppliers using high-quality, traceable ingredients.
To stand out, Timmy’s Pies is taking a different tack. Starting out on a market stall in London in 2011, Timmy Wilkes is hoping to combine pie premiumisation with two other trends: customisation and celebration. His personalised gifting service, which delivers a box of 18x70g mini pies decorated with letters spelling out a message of the customer’s choice (£30), is a savoury alternative to cakes in the celebration stakes.
Full size pies are also available at £23.70 for 6x190g.
Using social media, online sales this month were six times higher than in December, and Wilkes is now seeking investment.
Jon Simon, founder and MD at Pieminister, offers a word of caution for fledging producers. “The market is already crowded,” he says, “and we are only planning on growing so I wouldn’t want to be launching a premium pie brand with such fierce competition.”
However, Campbell believes there is room to grow the category - particularly as penetration for premium branded pastry stands at just 5.1% [Kantar 52 w/e 4 January 2015]. The challenge, he says, is “getting people to come back to the category they probably left a long time ago”.
“Very often we get emails saying: ‘I would never have bought a pie, but I saw your packaging,’” he says. “Our brand awareness is still only about 25%, so the challenge for us is getting out and known by more people.”
He’s confident the opportunity for growth is there, though. Just two years ago Higgidy, which has no external funding, invested £3.5m in doubling the size of its kitchens, and Campbell says it is already planning further expansion. It looks like our appetite for posh pies isn’t satisfied just yet.