The practice of creating a brand name to conjure up in shoppers’ minds an idyllic, but entirely fictional, farm is the favoured sleight of hand of many supermarket retailers. It encourages customers to think, for example, of pigs snuffling around leafy fields instead of the far more harrowing steel and concrete reality of a crowded meat factory. While these activities have been roundly condemned and criticised, with the NFU even filing a formal complaint against one chain, they still persist.
In January this year, a British supermarket withdrew its own-brand, ‘everyday value’, wrapped, sliced loaf. In its place, at a similar price point of around 40p, is a near-identical loaf, marketed under the brand name ‘H W Nevill’. It made me wonder if the supermarket in question is now attempting to use a fake bakery name to convince shoppers to part with their dough? After all, its so-called ‘value’ loaf received no stars in a 2013 Guardian taste test, with the reviewer commenting that “the dough is awful, sour and claggy”, so perhaps it needed an image makeover.
On its website, the retailer boasts that, “back in 1872, Henry William Nevill founded his first bakery and started a proud baking tradition. Almost 150 years later, our hero bakers take their craft just as seriously as Henry did. Using only quality ingredients, they work through the night to create delicious bakery favourites for the whole family to enjoy.”
I decided to do a bit of digging around and found that Nevill did indeed begin as an independent company, with bakeries in Herne Hill, Acton and Leytonstone. But that was a long time ago. In the middle of the last century, it was gobbled up by industrial milling and baking giant Allied Bakeries, later to become Associated British Foods (ABF), now an even bigger behemoth that also owns Primark.
H W Nevill was first subsumed into Allied Bakeries’ Sunblest brand and Nevill was later dissolved altogether. This bakery is no more.
Mono- and diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids
A few more clicks and my internet search uncovered that the name – but only the name, not the company – H W Nevill was resurrected in March 2017, when ABF’s Grain Products division applied to use it as a trademark.
Going back to the supermarket’s marketing blurb, note the naming of an actual baker and the use of phrase “…a proud baking tradition”. Could this be a desperate attempt to claim a heritage for the new, additive-laden industrial loaves? The product bag goes as far as stating “first baked in 1872”. Is the retailer really trying to suggest to shoppers that their forty-or-so pence now buys them, not a mere “sour and claggy” own-brand ‘value’ loaf, but a branded product with an unbroken, noble history, produced by the same regional bakery that was founded by an upstanding, Victorian gent called Henry? I’m surprised we don’t see his bewhiskered face on the packaging…
The supermarket also claims “our hero bakers” use “only quality ingredients”. Only? In common with many industrial loaves, these loaves are actually made using a number of artificial additives as well. They include mono- and diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids (also known as DATEM or E472e), and the preservative calcium propionate. Do these sound like ‘quality ingredients’ to you?
As for ‘craft’, how – by any definition – can the machine operators on a loaf production line be considered craft bakers? In my job as Real Bread Campaign coordinator, I have been leading the fight for an Honest Crust Act that would provide a legal definition for ‘craft’, ‘artisan’, ‘sourdough’ and many other terms related to baking. Such an Act would help to protect shoppers, and small bakeries, from the effects of misleading marketing.
Make no mistake about this new supermarket product. It is definitely not the bread “first baked in 1872”, if indeed it should be called bread at all. It is a cheap industrial loaf, manufactured using a variant of the high-speed, additive-reliant, ‘no-time’ Chorleywood Process, unleashed nearly 90 years later in 1961, and consequently unknown to Mr. Nevill. Some of the artificial additives (I’m looking at you, DATEM) that ABF uses were introduced even more recently. This product is not crafted by bakers of the independent company that Henry Nevill founded. In fact, it is not crafted at all. It is churned out, untouched by human hands, on the computer-controlled factory production lines of one of the country’s largest industrial loaf fabricators.
While sales of the industrial, wrapped, sliced loaf have been in general decline for decades, interest in ‘Real Bread’ is growing. As a spokesperson for a food trends company predicting a decline in the low/no-carbs diet fad told the Daily Telegraph on 18 December 2017, “it’s all about [foods] that are crafted, have heritage and time put in to them. It’s ancient grains and sourdoughs and artisan pastas.” Hmm, ‘craft’ and ‘heritage’? Now who have I seen using that sort of language recently?
As we at the Real Bread Campaign always say, not all loaves are created equal. We believe that there are ways to make bread better for us, better for our communities and better for the planet.
Shoppers looking for a loaf with integrity – one that truly has been crafted, without the use of artificial additives, by a genuine artisan baker, working for a small business that helps to create more jobs locally and keep your high street alive – should turn to the Real Bread Finder.
Another way to be sure of what you are eating and feeding to you family is to BIY – bake it yourself – at home, by machine or by hand. You can find discounts on baking classes, ingredients, equipment and more, on the Real Bread Campaign website.
I do hope that you will join the floury fun!
The 10th annual, international #RealBreadWeek runs from 24 February to 4 March 2017.