Bread curries youthful favour

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The Independent Online
NAAN is the soft, fluffy bread that comes with a curry. Few foods have a shorter shelf life - real naan goes hard after half an hour. Bought at a supermarket it used to look like leather and taste like it, too.

It has taken an Indian restaurant owner to change all that. For six years Mazhar Butt toiled to create an authentic naan bread that lasted longer. Now, he has extended its shelf life from 30 minutes to 20 days.

Mr Butt has also opened his own naan factory. In the past two years its turnover has increased by 200 per cent. Butt Foods now supplies the leading supermarket chains and the country's biggest catering distributor. He plans to double his turnover again this year.

Naan is already bought every month by 14 per cent of 25- 34-year-olds, and Butt Foods confidently predicts the naan market will be worth more than pounds 20m by the end of next year.

Mr Butt still owns the Nottingham restaurant and Indian sweet shop that he set up with his father in the early 1970s. It was when his restaurant customers bought huge stacks of his naan to pack in their freezers that he realised his product's potential.

He was spurred on by his disgust at the naan then on sale in supermarkets, made by Greek and Lebanese pitta bread bakers as a sideline. Mr Butt has taken revenge by making his own pitta bread - the fastest growing brand in Britain.

He opened his Nottingham factory in 1990, and was determined from the start to meet the high technical standards needed to supply the top supermarket chains. 'When you are a chef, you are an artist. When you are producing in bulk you need the latest science and technology,' he explains.

His product is mainly hand made, but his quality control systems are among the most rigorous in British baking. The factory uses HACCP, the hazard control programme developed by Nasa to prevent food contamination in spacecraft.

Butt Foods can only benefit from the permanent change in British tastebuds, summed up by general manager, David Williams. 'In future people will have a big wok at home and they'll cook Indian, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, one after the other,' he says. The youthful Mr Williams has got his target market taped: 'They've been students and they used to go out and have curries washed down by umpteen pints of lager. Now they're married with a mortgage, and when they're being dragged round the supermarket by the scruff of the neck, they pick up products to recreate curries at home.'

Demographics are on his side. You usually grow out of the 10 pints of lager, but you're never too old for naan.