Less than six months after the Bolton bakery revealed it was to roll out two all-British loaves for the first time in its 133-year history, it admitted this week that the proposed February launch had been scrapped following new consumer research that revealed more important category drivers.
"At the moment, there is a greater demand for other areas, such as convenience," said marketing director Richard Hayes.
"We don't have elastic shelves and we have to work hard to decide which horses to back. At this time, we concluded that there are bigger fish to fry than provenance, although it is not an area we rule out looking into again in the future."
The u-turn comes after rival Hovis recently switched its entire portfolio to British-sourced wheat. But Jon Goldstone, marketing director of the Premier Foods bakery, sympathised with his competitor. "What Warburtons set out to do was difficult," he said. "It was a huge effort and a five-year process to move all our products to 100% British-sourced wheat, so we understand how tough it is. It is a lot of trouble to go through to launch just two loaves.
"We do, however, believe that provenance is very important to British consumers. You only have to look at case studies such as Walkers and McCain, which have both benefited from switching to using 100% British potatoes."
But the National Farmers' Union said the failed Seed to Crumb launch, which was originally described by Warburtons chairman Jonathan Warburton as "a great opportunity to celebrate British farming at its best", was a major blow to the 320 British farmers who were supplying the wheat.
"Although good relationships have developed through Warburtons' work with Open Field the UK's biggest grain marketing and arable farming co-operative this does not negate the need to show commitment to UK farmers in the marketplace," said Lee Wodger, head of the NFU's food chain unit.
"Furthermore, this comes at a time when many producers seem to be recognising the value in developing and promoting quality British food products. But Warburtons seems to be going in the opposite direction, which is somewhat mystfying."
Hayes said Warburtons was still committed to working with and supporting its British farmers, as well as carrying on its involvement with Open Field.