Plastic puts up price of bread tic 36pt heading two lines deep

Food/ the 79p loaf
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OUR DAILY bread is about to cost more. The price to retailers of Mother's Pride, Britain's most famous white sliced loaf, will rise tomorrow by more than 5 per cent, taking the recommended selling price of an 800g loaf from 75 to 79p.

Industry-wide increases will mean similar increases in the price of the leading commercial brands, brown and white, including Allinson, Sunblest, King's Mill, and Hovis.

The leading supermarkets, whose price-cutting tactics for bread have had a disastrous effect on the small bakeries, are cagey about how much of the increases will be passed on to the consumer.

Marks & Spencer said the company was "watching the situation". Tesco, which has started a price war with loss-leading "value" white sliced loaves selling as low as 19p, said: "Tesco aim to offer competitively priced bread to our customers. And that is a position we shall seek to maintain."

Sainsbury said : "Things still have to be finalised, but we will probably raise our prices in line with the baker's increases."

The increases, which were made by the country's three leading "plant" bread producers, Allied Bakeries, British Bakeries (Rank Hovis McDougall) and the northern firm Warburton's, were set off last month by an announcement from the largest, Allied.

The Allied managing director, David Garman, said: "The last list price increase was more than two years ago. Since then, we have absorbed increased cost on a number of materials."

The last time Allied's competitors raised their prices was also just over two years ago.

Between them, Allied, British Bakers and Warburton's comprise almost 70 per cent of the plant bread market, which in turn is most of the market.

Were the subject real bread, one might reasonably assume the price rises had to do with the cost of wheat.

Instead, the large plant producers cite the rising cost of diesel fuel to transport the loaves around a Britain no longer adequately served by local bakeries, and the cost of the plastic for wrapping plant bread, which is quick to go stale.

The National Association of Master Bakers, in a report lastmonth, said that there remained only 3,500 family bakeries in Britain, a fall of 1,500 in the last five years alone.

The Association pointed out that just after the war, small bakeries produced 83 per cent of British bread. They now produce 8 per cent.

However, mention plant bread and family bakeries in the same breath to a corporate baker and you will be roundly informed that you have your "sectors" in a twist.

The most vulnerable sector, small family-owned bakeries, generally make bread the old fashioned way: flour is mixed with salt, yeast and water, kneaded, allowed to ferment (rise) and then baked.

By contrast, plant bread is made in factories, usually with flour denatured by roller milling and bleaching, then mixed with "improvers".

Plant bread is not left to rise, during which fermentation improves the nutritive value and digestibility, but quickly battered into a state fit for immediate baking by something called the Chorleywood Process, or by the use of chemicals in a process called ADD.

Plant bakery employees will admit off the record that it is often the cheaper, plant-type dough that is par-baked for show in supermarket in- store bakeries.

This makes economic sense, for, in the words of Elizabeth David, "even bad bread can smell good in the oven."