Mainstream flour is looking a bit dusty these days as time-strapped home bakers turn to mixes.

However, specialised lines offer some hope. Self-raising flour, which accounts for half the market, is showing a drop of 2.4%, but speciality - including buckwheat, organic and ethnic products - is thriving, with 13% growth [IRI to 20 May 2006].

David Wright, director of GR Wright & Sons, market leader in bread mixes, reckons that flour and bread mixes benefit from the bad press for processed food.

"The Atkins diet and the Sid the Salt campaign, which focused on the salt in ready-made foods, had a negative impact," he says. "The GI diet has also impacted on sales, with malty, sunflower and mixed grain showing a marked increase in sales.

"Using flour and baking bread at home from scratch is the ideal way to control the ingredients that go in to the end product."

Beth Baker, marketing controller for flour brand Allinson and Billington's sugar, is also optimistic. She says that the company has undertaken a major review of bread flour and is confident that it can turn it around: "We believe there is a huge untapped opportunity in this sector."

Wright also says that the scope of bread mixes empowers a broader range of home bakers and can turn the traditional breadwinner into the family breadmaker.

"Breadmakers, similar to barbecues, are frequently a male domain, so in addition to successfully targeting a younger demographic, using mixes has opened up baking to men," he adds.

The target audience for cake mix, however, is female. Kerry Foods, which produces the Green's brand, category leader in mixes, describes the core consumer as a 25 to 55-year-old mother with several children, working part time and with a C2DE social profile. "Time-poor mothers need all the tricks at their disposal and that is why quick and easy ways to have fun making and decorating is more important than ever," says a spokeswoman.

General Mills UK, which owns the Betty Crocker brand, says baking mixes are growing faster than shelf-stable cakes, highlighting the shift in consumer eating patterns and the growing perception that home-made is better than ready made.

Betty Crocker is one of the few brands in home baking to have TV exposure, with a burst earlier this year and another scheduled for the autumn to back the launch of three muffin mix variants.

Marketing manager Mark Elderkin says that the everyday segment is showing the strongest growth. "The innovation has a lot to do with increased interest in cafe culture and everyday mixes are underdeveloped."

Children's mixes are flagging a little but Richard Ilsley, MD of Supercook brand owner Hero UK, says that price pressure has been a key trend, so value is up less than volume. However, value-added lines, such as cake activity kits, are growing faster in value.

McDougalls is targeting its Let's Cook range at eight to 11-year-olds, an age group that marketing manager Daphne Hill says has been neglected by the category in the past. "Children are the main driver of home baking but at this age tend to drop out because of a dearth of products," she says.

The two sweet options and two savoury lines come with all-ambient ingredients and child-friendly cooking instructions that encourage traditional cooking practices, such as rolling, kneading and beating. n

Character licensing Products with child appeal

Mums like to spend quality time with their children, and kids like characters - it's a perfect set-up for licensed baking products. "Children can identify more with characters than brands and instantly recognise the distinctive packaging displaying their favourite fictional character," says Richard

Ilsley, MD of Hero UK.

RHM cites figures from IRI, which show that the kids' mix segment is declining, with a 5% drop in the value of licensed products and a 13.6% fall in unlicensed products. Price promotions and increasing options for children's leisure time play their part in this but the figures do reinforce the fact that activity kits featuring TV and film characters are key to attracting younger consumers and this early interest can prove a strong basis for lifelong home baking involvement.

Green's, which accounts for nearly half the children's cake mix market, believes that mixes offer the opportunity for constructive play. The company lists Tom and Jerry, Barbie, Scooby-Doo and Thomas the Tank Engine among its 15-strong range, as well as a new kit featuring BBC TV's Dora the Explorer that targets the pre-school market.

Its latest addition is a Totally Tracy! cake kit based on Jacqueline Wilson's, popular Tracy Beaker character and aimed at 'tween-age' girls, which hit retailers' shelves last month.

Victoria Foods' licensed line-up features Postman Pat on cookie and fairy cake mix, and The Simpsons and Garfield on cookie and fairy cake mix repectively.

Fiddes Payne has harnessed two big Disney names for its range of cup cake kits and decorations. The Princesses brand targets two to eight-year-old girls, while Winnie the Pooh has a more universal appeal. Chris White, MD, says the licences represent a unique opportunity. "Disney is the world's leading licence brand and is particularly compatible with home baking." n