Innovation has put this sector successfully astride both the traditional and innovative cook Manufacturers determined to get out of the commodity rut are making bigger inroads into the lucrative speciality market. Both white flour and white sugar have tended to be caught in this commodity trap, bombarded with aggressive pricing structures. More than 330,000 tonnes of sugar is consumed in the UK each year, much of which is used for home baking, says Tate & Lyle. But the company believes certain sectors are growing and showing increased activity. This year it launched its first range of organic sugars ­ granulated, caster and demerara ­ made from organically grown raw cane, and carrying the Soil Association endorsement. Rival Billingtons is convinced that increased awareness of natural, unrefined and flavoursome sugars, which include its organic lines, are helping to revive the interest in home baking. Marketing manager Mark Bosworth says: "Some retailers have been quicker to develop the organic opportunities than others, although there remains the predicament of where to merchandise organic home baking ingredients. It currently varies dramatically between retailers in terms of priority, position, order and adjacency, and research shows this frustrates shoppers. "While they want to bake, they tend to shop the fixture quickly and any impediment can have significant consequences." Its research also shows consumers are influenced by adjacencies' and that cross merchandising sugar with, say, coffee can achieve results. There's no economic reason for the sudden boom in speciality bread making flours and organic ingredients because most people can easily buy a fresh loaf of bread, but the phenomenal rise in bread making machines is recognised as a key driver. Throwing bread dough on a flour dusted surface Jamie Oliver style may release some pent up aggression, but consumers are more likely to take the easier route and invest in one of these electrical wonders. McDougalls commercial director Kate Taylor says the big news in flour over the past few years has been the return to growth. "It's grown 1.8% year on year, driven by bread flour, and the sector is growing at 31.6% on a MAT basis, helped by an increased number of TV cookery programmes, and the popularity of bread machines." Hovis bread flour sales, up 74.8%, have been helped by the launch of Hovis Super Strong white in January which carries bread machine manufacturer Panasonic's endorsement. The company also makes Atora suet, a key scratch baker's accoutrement which has also benefited from the traditional cooking revival, increasing in value by 82.5% [AC Nielsen]. Waitrose home baking buyer James Dickson says: "Home baking is a destination category for us, but you have to encourage people to go back to the fixture. If you sit back and wait for the interest to happen, forget it. "The reason why we do well is that we have a loyal customer base which is tuned into scratch baking. This allows us to source material in the area they want. We do well in strong bread making flour and organic. "Our fixture isn't getting any bigger. It's been the same size for the last three years. But this makes us focus more carefully on what can be put on it. "We've tried bread and pudding mixes but these haven't been successful. Our customers either buy it ready made or make it from scratch. "However cake mixes tend to stay the course and we've always managed to create some interest with these." Three brands dominate the speciality bread flour sector ­ Hovis, McDougalls and Allinson. Kerry Foods' Homepride is noticeable by its absence. It doesn't have any speciality lines at present but would provide healthy competition if it did launch into the speciality sector with Fred at the helm. Westmill Foods produces 10 varieties of Allinson flour which includes three organic ones packaged in striking orange bags. Marketing director David Reay says: "As consumers become more discerning, time for home baking becomes increasingly precious. Although this has benefited from a revival through consumers wanting to know exactly what is in their food, we as suppliers must meet the demands of both the traditional baker who spends time creating in the kitchen, and the aspirational cook who wants quality but has little time to achieve it. "Home baking also used to be seasonal but with bread making machines hitting the scene, this has changed." More innovative products are finding their way into the market to make this route even more easier. Westmill's Just for Bread is a compact box containing all the ingredients to make bread and a choice of flavourings such as sun-dried tomato and basil; date, raisin and apricot; and seeds. Westmill Foods says 25% of its Allinson Baking Club, launched at the end of 1999, are men, and 57% own a breadmaker. Much of the promotional activity surrounding home baking kicks off in the autumn. An Italian cookery video is being offered free in return for five tokens on promoted Allinson bread flour, while its Easybake yeast has a buy five, get one free offer Organic specialist Doves Farm Food has just completed a £700,000 investment at its production facility so the company can take in a wider range of flour grains. It has a 14 strong range of organic and speciality flours ranging in price from 79p to £1.59. Gluten free flour is the most expensive and, says marketing director Clare Marriage, one that tends not to be very noticeable unless specifically needed. A radical packaging makeover in a few weeks time is designed to change this. "Even though it's been designed as a natural gluten free product, you could use it at home and no one would know the difference," says Marriage. Family owned business Saxby's claims a 70% share of the chilled pastry market and hopes to boost this with the launch in October of the first chilled organic shortcrust pastry. Available in 350g packs, it will retail for £1.49, is exclusive to Waitrose until Christmas and will then be rolled out nationally. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}