Pasties GettyImages-615488680

Whether it’s exotic flavours, meat-free lines or new formats, canny innovation has helped savoury pastries hold their own in the wake of the pandemic.

The category has added £57m. True, volumes eased back 1.6% – but a marginal decline is an achievement in the context of two years of Covid-driven growth.

“While Covid had an impact on grocery and consumer consumption in general, savoury pastry hasn’t seen the same rapid rise and fall back that other categories have experienced,” notes Jason Manley, brand director of The Compleat Food Group.

Its Wall’s and Pork Farms brands are worth £3.6m extra, having grown volumes 0.4% and 2% respectively.

Manley attributes the category’s performance to covering a spectrum of meal occasions, while appealing across a range of consumer demographics.

The category continues to benefit from the increase in working from home and lunching occasions post-Covid, as well as increased socialising at home with hot party food, he says. “It’s difficult to think of a more versatile category,” Manley insists.

Lunch consumption of savoury pastry, in particular, is up 28% against pre-Covid 2019, points out Ginsters CEO Sam Mitchell. “Quick, convenient meals and lunch add-ons are leading the way – indicating the power of the growing lunch trend,” he says.

Against this backdrop, slices and quiches have become firm consumer favourites – in contrast to take-home hot pies, which faced a challenge from the revival in out-of-home evening meal occasions.

The latter trend perhaps explains why the category’s most premium names have faced something of a slowdown from their previous stellar growth.

Last year, purveyor of posh pies Higgidy posted the highest volume growth of major branded players, while rival Charlie Bigham’s was not far behind.

But this year, both saw unit sales reverse, with Higgidy down 6.8% and Bigham’s 3.2%. Only price rises have helped to pep up their value sales.

It’s hardly a disaster for these players, which are still up on their pre-Covid position. Still, they are looking at opportunities for growth in the new climate. Higgidy, for example, has pivoted to snacking to find incremental growth. Its muffin format added £1m this year, it says.

For now, though, it’s mid-market powerhouses driving growth for brands as they continue to outperform own label. Most notably, the top two players – Ginsters and Pukka – have added £19.9m between them.

Higher average prices drove a 9% value increase at market leader Ginsters, whose volumes edged up 0.3%. CEO Mitchell points to its core range as underpinning this solid performance, with incremental growth boosted by its new Bakes range (see Top Launch, p165) and limited-edition seasonal SKUs.

Meanwhile Pukka’s 23.7% value growth was underpinned by a 13.8% jump in volumes, as it tapped what it calls “huge scope for growth” despite economic challenges.

Pukka MD Isaac Fisher puts its success down to innovation. “We’ve made absolutely sure that any NPD is demand-driven, credible and fit to create real cut-through with shoppers,” he says.

“We don’t launch into new or existing categories for the sake of it. Instead, we focus on driving incremental growth for retailers and the category – versus taking market share from existing suppliers.”

He points to Pukka’s work in frozen, where it is looking to drive a pocket of growth as there is “only a small crossover of shoppers between frozen and chilled”.

Key launches include a pepperoni pizza pie and a “comforting” meat & potato pie, as well as new lines in its ‘just for two’ mealtime sharing range.

Younger shoppers

Elsewhere, category NPD has focused on more global flavours to add excitement and bring new consumers to the category. Take Pieminister’s Tikka to Ride onion bhaji-topped pie – set to roll out next month. Then there’s Mediterranean deli brand Unearthed’s September debut in savoury pastries. Both illustrate efforts by suppliers to attract younger consumers. Another part of the strategy is a focus on health and meat-free.

A raft of NPD for vegan and vegetarian diets has popped up over the past year– including Pukka’s Vegan Smoky Cheddar Flavour & Onion Bake, unveiled in November. It seems to be working. “We’re now seeing more younger shoppers and families attracted to the category,” Fisher says.

What’s more, suppliers are confident they can continue to attract new consumers in the cost of living crisis, as they turn to flexible and value-for money savoury pastry options.

While there have been price increases across the category, with volumes down 1.6% and value sales up 5.2%, that rate of increase lags behind many other products and categories. That’s despite savoury pastries’ exposure to energy costs, given the need for baking, and many of the raw ingredients seeing supply constraints and price hikes.

“Pastry is great value for value-seeking shoppers looking for good, honest, excellent value-for-money options that don’t sacrifice on quality,” Compleat’s Manley says.

And value brands may not be the only ones to benefit. The tightening of consumer belts could, counterintuitively, play into the hands of premium lines, Higgidy suggests. It believes the cost of living crisis could reignite Covid behaviours and see more “at-home meals and more eating together as a family”.

Mitchell at Ginsters sums up his confidence in the category for 2023. “In times of economic uncertainty, consumers seek reassurance and comfort, and we are well placed to meet this need… British consumers will look to trusted brands who offer great value for money,” he says.

“We continue to offer an affordable meal, particularly when contextualised against other categories, such as sandwiches and ready meals,” Mitchell adds.

Pukka’s Fisher is similarly upbeat. Again, he points to its frozen range as a timely innovation, as consumers look to reduce waste and buy in larger volumes.

“There’s no question that savoury pastries will play a particularly key role in shoppers’ repertoires over the next year or so, offering recession affordability,” he concludes.

“And the best thing is that this is just the start. We’re really just scratching the surface of what is possible.”

It looks like it will take more than a recession to make this category eat humble pie.

Top Launch 2022

Meatball Marinara Bake - Ginsters

Top launch Meatball-Marinara

Ginsters continued its push into global flavours, with the launch of its Meatball Marinara bake in May – adding to its move into bakes with flavours including Mac & Cheese and Harissa Spiced Chicken last year. The latest offering – aimed at the lunch market - contains 100% British pork and beef meatballs with melted mozzarella retailing at a palatable £1. Launched exclusively in Tesco as a limited edition, it further widened the appeal of its bake range, with 60% of buyers being family shoppers compared to 43% for bakes generally. Following its success so far, the SKU will be rolled out nationally in 2023.

The savoury pastries category could soon face a celebrity challenger. Tom Kerridge applied in March to register the names ‘Humble Pie’ and ‘The Humble Pie by Tom Kerridge’ with the IPO – under class 29, covering meat, and class 30, accounting for pies. Kerridge, who owns the Michelin-starred Hand & Flowers pub in Marlow, confirmed his plan to The Grocer. “It’s very early days, but it’s exciting,” he said. “So, watch this space.”

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