sausage roll unsplash

Higgidy and other meal-focused pastry brands have benefited from the continued growth of at-home dining occasions

With the reopening of pubs, chip shops and high street bakeries, savoury pastry sales threatened to go stale in grocery.

Certainly, there’s some evidence of a slowdown in the category, which was further driven by the ongoing downturn in on-the-go consumption last year: six of the top 10 brands have seen volume declines in 2021.

But price growth and premiumisation have been accompanied by heavy investment in branded NPD, pushing up overall value by 3% – exceeding the 2.8% growth we reported last year.

Admittedly, last year’s figures were somewhat skewed by Wall’s, which saw sales figures drop after inflated growth in 2019, when it temporarily supplied a major retailer.

Still, there’s no denying the positive impact of the premium, meal-focused players in the market this year.

Charlie Bigham’s is a prime example. It enjoyed a 14% surge in unit sales, while fellow upmarket player Higgidy is also in strong volume growth – up 8.8%.

“Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen a rise in consumers wanting to treat themselves,” says Higgidy CEO Rachel Kelley. “Particularly during times of recession, we know comfort is a key purchase driver.”

There is an element of lockdown behaviour at play, too – despite most Covid restrictions ending in the latter part of this data period.

Higgidy and other meal-focused pastry brands have benefited from the resulting growth of at-home dining – with about 15 million extra evening meal occasions taking place within the category, according to Ginsters, Higgidy’s stablemate at owner Samworth Brothers.

Most notably, however, the savoury pastry sales are being enlivened by growing focus on the newer at-home lunch market.

An estimated 91 million at-home lunch occasions have led to something of an NPD boom, with leading suppliers rolling out a wealth of new lines in recent months.

“Shoppers want to fill their fridges and freezers with exciting products they can eat as a satisfying snack or meal though the day, meaning there is a huge opportunity for the category if innovated in the right way,” says Rachel Cranston, head of marketing & innovation at Pukka. Hence Pukka’s latest range of handheld slices and sausage rolls, which rolled into stores in September.

The new formats play into a wider push to expand the category’s reach and bring new consumers to savoury snacking. Ginsters MD Sam Mitchell says it has “invested in insight-led innovation to broaden usage occasions and engage, new, younger shoppers to drive overall category growth”.

In particular, this has seen the introduction of non-traditional flavours to capitalise on what Mitchell calls the “explosion in world cuisine”.

Ginsters international bakes

Ginsters said its new Bakes range - which contains 100% British farmed meat, with no artificial ingredients, and can be eaten hot or cold - would appeal to younger shoppers looking for easy on-the-go options and tap the demand for “on-trend world flavours”.

See Ginsters’ addition in the autumn of Bombay Potato & Spinach and Cajun Spiced Sweet Potato & Chickpea pasties – followed by the launch of its four-strong range of Bakes, inspired by American and North African fusion cuisine.

Compleat Food Group’s new Carnival Kitchen brand also plays on this trend. Unveiled in September, it comprises flatbreads, pies and bites based on “fabulous street food from around the world” – including Thailand, Jamaica and South Africa.

Carnival Kitchen “challenges traditional choices and flavour profiles within the category” says Michael Holton, brand manager at Compleat Food Group, new owner of Addo Food Group (see below).

Moves to broaden the flavour palette of savoury pastries have come alongside efforts to change traditional perceptions of the category. That’s come through in the growing number of meat-alternative products, such as the launch of Pukka’s Vegan Sausage Roll in October, Meatless Farm’s Plant-Based Sausage Roll in March, and Pork Farms’ Porkless Pork Pie in autumn 2020.

Demand for such products has increased by more than 150% year on year, says Holton, with younger consumers emerging as a crucial demographic.

These innovations have helped brands grow ahead of the market at 4%. Still, it’s important to remember that savoury pastry remains dominated by own label via traditional sausage rolls, pasties and pastries.

As cheaper options, their position could well strengthen as prices rise. Average price per pack has already crept up during the year by 1.5% – and further inflation is inevitable, suggests Holland’s MD Nigel Church.

He points to manufacturing cost increases and dwindling in-store promotions due to availability concerns related to the ongoing HGV driver crisis.

Meat snacks boom

In meat snacks, however, average price is down by 0.8% – and sales are booming. Brands, the dominant force in the sector, have driven that with a £44m gain.

The growing consumer focus on health plays to its favour given the meat snacks are “healthier alternatives to sugary counterparts” says Peperami & Jack Link’s marketing director Laura Trivulzio.

All six top brands are in double-digit value and unit growth, as Brits sought out protein-rich snacks while working from home.

“Covid triggered a significant new cohort of health-focused consumers to adapt their diets in line with their health goals,” says James Newitt, CEO at New World Foods (NWF), which was snapped up by Valeo Foods this year. To cater for the growing popularity of healthy snacks, NWF has launched sharing and family bags, while its Kings brand has targeted the fitness and sports market.

Despite the meaty nature of the category, plant-based alternatives are another growing trend here. Most notably, decidedly carnivorous brand Peperami launched Vegerami (see Top Launch, p155) and NWF also brought out vegan NPD in a bid to expand the sector’s reach.

As Newitt sums up: “Market penetration still remains very low in the UK – the category is only in its infancy, meaning we’re just scratching the surface of the opportunity.”

Top launch 2021

Peperami Vegerami | Jack Link’s

Vegerami PepUp 35g

Peperami’s meaty mascot, The Animal, found his plant-based side in June with the launch of this meat-free Vegerami sub-brand. Chick’nless Bites come in Pep’d Up and Smokin’ – each made from pea protein and promising no more than 134 calories per 40g pack (rsp: £1). Targeted at “nutritionally aware young adults”, Vegerami made its debut a month after Peperami overhauled the look of its core range’s packaging in an effort to attract “mainstream and younger” shoppers.

The Grocer’s Top Products Survey 2021: who’s up, who’s down – and our overview of the key trends