Brits have bought the equivalent of 93 million fewer loaves of bread in the past 12 months than the year before, equating to a massive £159m being wiped off the value of the category. Hardest hit by this ongoing decline in standard wrapped white bread has been market leader Warburtons, which has lost more than £50m in sales in the past year.

The company isn’t taking the situation lying down. “We have a huge investment planned in 2015 to communicate the quality of our products, build awareness and drive trial,” says brand director Megan Harrison. “As the wrapped bakery market continues to evolve we will continue to diversify.” Most recently, this diversification brought the launch of premium Warburtons loaves such as one containing Mexican honey, and another made with a sponge and dough method for a “rich and flavoursome” white bread.

Bread tpt

It is a similar approach to that taken by Hovis, the only big-three bread brand to have gained volume - although this appears to have been at the expense of value. Months after the January split from owner Premier Foods to form a joint venture with The Gores Group, Hovis launched the Taste Sensations range of flavoured loaves in Sundried Tomato, Basil Pesto and Fiery Sweet Red Pepper variants. Hovis customer marketing head Tim Dummer believes NPD is key to driving growth. “Shoppers are increasingly willing to try new variants and genuine breakthrough innovation,” he adds.

For Kingsmill, innovation has been about changing perceptions of white bread with the launch of higher-fibre Kingsmill Great White (see below). “Consumers are looking for healthier products that provide variety and convenience,” says Mark Fairweather, CEO at Kingsmill owner Allied Bakeries.

Roberts, which is bucking the decline in the overall market, says its own healthier white bread - 50% white 50% wholemeal - is performing particularly well. “The ‘white plus’ category is going from strength to strength as families switch to an alternative bread that has the healthy qualities of brown but with the taste of white,” adds Frank Roberts & Sons commercial director Tim Wild.

Others are avoiding wheat and ­gluten, which has helped drive almost £4m growth for Genius. “retailers are increasingly seeing the value in investing in support for the free-from category due to increased demand,” says commercial director Dave Shaw, adding activity has included retailers signing up to Coeliac UK’s Gluten-free Guarantee, which commits them to stocking at least eight core gluten-free items across all of its stores.

Warburtons is also cashing in. Its gluten-free range Newburn Bakehouse is up 27.1%. Still, it has a long way to grow before it can offset Warbies’ total losses.

kingsmill great white

Top launch: Kingsmill Great White by Allied Bakeries

Allied Bakeries admits developing a white loaf with as much fibre as wholemeal wasn’t easy, but is confident it was worth the effort.

Produced by adding fibre with a neutral taste at the start of production, Kingsmill Great White has been pitched as the saviour of the declining plant bread category by making white bread ‘permissible’ to consumers who want to eat healthily.

Allied also hopes it will take a thick slice of the bread market and become a £100m sub-brand with three years.