Boutique bread prices: how to get a rise out of bakers

The Food Sage Question of the Week: Is boutique bread worth the dough? certainly got a rise out of bakers. To be upfront, i buy ‘boutique’ bread — you know, that pricey, posh stuff. To me it’s worth buying a top-notch loaf (I usually pay between $7 and $8) because i don’t kid myself for a second that i’m capable of achieving the end result that true artisans are capable of. To me, the Sonoma soy and linseed loaf that i buy for about $7 is worth every cent.

Plus — and this is an important point — we’re a two-person household and one of us (me) doesn’t eat much bread. So forking out the extra dough for a well crafted, crusty, flour-dusted loaf isn’t going to break the bank. One loaf will get us through the best part of a week, easy — supplemented with a few exceptionally crusty bread rolls from our local Vietnamese baker, Nam Viet Hot Bread (read more about them here). So is boutique bread worth the dough? It was an unequivocal yes from The Food Sage readers — and here’s why.

A number of respondents agreed that a loaf of bread could be made at home for a fraction of the cost of the artisanal kind that is turning up with increasing regularity on grocery shop shelves — often with rustic brown paper packaging and well-crafted marketing messages in tow.

Celia from food blog Fig Jam and Lime Cordial blog, who has baked her own sourdough bread for the last six years, estimates that each loaf costs her about 65 cents — which makes them cheaper than many sliced white loaves sold by supermarkets.

Photography blogger Sophia, who also bakes her own sourdough, agrees: “it doesn’t cost the price they are asking,” she says.

But that’s just where the basic ingredients are concerned. Sophia points out that “it’s a big headache to find a good, unprocessed, unbleached flour and generally any natural ingredient without additives”.

A follower of The Food Sage on Twitter, and food business operator @spreadjampickle, points out that as well as raw ingredients, other costs must be taken into account, including organic flour —“which is double the price of plain white flour” — and business costs including gas, electricity, wages, rent, packaging, machinery costs, rates, fuel, and insurance.

Time is another important factor: “it can take up to nine hours for a starter to break down the natural sugars in the flour,” says @speadjampickle, who usually pays around $7 a loaf.

Ally, who goes by @_ally_ on Twitter, says “true artisan breads do take a lot more time”. They often use better quality products, including organic ingredients.

“These doughs need a lot more care and time than your basic, white, fluffy bread which is cheap and comparatively quick to produce,” she says.

Others factors should also be taken into consideration if you are weighing up whether or not to pay the extra money asked for artisanal bread.

If she wasn’t a die-hard home baker, Celia says she’d happily pay for a boutique loaf, for two reasons:

“Firstly, we need to support artisan producers, and the cost of the loaf extends beyond merely the cost of its ingredients – it also pays for informed staff, organic produce, years of training, and small scale production. The last point is very important – if we want to be able to buy from more than just supermarkets in the future, we need to support our small specialist producers, or they won’t stay in business.”

“Secondly, mass produced white bread is full of additives that I’m not happy to feed my sons … which is why I started baking in the first place. Oh, and supermarket bread tastes pretty ordinary too.”

On average, respondents are prepared to pay between $6 and $8 for a good loaf of hand-crafted bread. Jeanne-Vida Douglas is “more than happy” to pay $10 a loaf “so long as I have the time to savour it. In fact the challenge is more finding the time and peace to have a slow delicious breakfast – so if I can find the time, the extra on the bread is a no brainer.”

“If it makes you happy – buy the expensive bread …”

On that note, Ambra, from The Good, The Bad and The Italian, points out that it “comes down to priorities really and where you’re prepared to spend your money”.

Of course, a boutique loaf is a luxury that many can’t afford, and those same people may not have the time, desire, or aptitude to bake at home. Mass produced, highly processed supermarket loaves are then the only option. Perhaps by encouraging the boutique bread movement, those consumers who can afford it will help bring prices down to an affordable level for more consumers.

Tia Ingle provided more food for thought, pointing out that in France and Finland buying bread by weight is an everyday occurrence.

“That way you buy bread in the quantities you require. A $10 fixed price loaf could be of any size and not necessarily be value for money, whereas if it were priced by [the] kg, then the consumer can judge whether the cost of a loaf is reasonable or not.”

“In France I have often bought only half a loaf, particularly when those rustic ones can be ginormous! and paid for it by its weight.”

I love that concept. We often don’t finish a loaf in our house

Gareth Grierson sums up the debate quite nicely:

“as the saying goes, you get what you pay for — processed junk, or hand-made quality.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Postscript: The Question of the Week took an interesting — and unexpected turn — when Celia offered me some of her sourdough starter, Priscilla. Over an email exchange we realised we lived just a suburb away from one another and within a couple of hours we were sitting at a local coffee shop getting on like a house on fire. Celia sent me home with some starter, a loaf of her own bread and some baker’s flour. The next day i started making my first sourdough loaf, feeding the starter up during the day, making a dough that night, leaving it to prove overnight, than baking the next day. I live blogged the experience. The time, thought and preparation that went into that sourdough only served to reinforce for the money paid to artisanal producers is money well spent.

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12 Comments

Filed under Produce, Question of the week

12 responses to “Boutique bread prices: how to get a rise out of bakers

  1. Hi Rachel,
    I am so happy that there finally is good bread in Sydney, be it from Sonoma, Brasserie or Iggy’s (my favourite). Their bread is definitely pricey but I am happy to pay for better quality and more choice.

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    • Yes, i like the fact that it can be pretty easy to find, too. I rarely make it to Sonoma’s own shop, but often buy their bread at our local market, the supermarket near work, and the shopping centre in the suburb i used to live in. Makes life a lot easier if you don’t have to make a dedicated journey to find your loaf of choice!

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  2. Great post, Rachel! And all very sound points raised, thank you for the interesting question and subsequent discussion.
    (Your tipping question has again been batted across our dining table – it’s a very interesting topic!)

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    • Thanks for wading into the debate, Celia. You left well considered points for us to consider, which made the discussion all the more interesting. And, of course, it led to my sourdough baking diversion, which was an unexpected bonus!

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  3. I am happy to see you have been bitten by the sourdough bug 🙂 !!! That is wonderful and really great experience and makes the house a home when the smell of freshly baked bread spreads around…
    I get my children involved in our bread making and they are helping with the feeding of the mother. At the moment they appreciate and enjoy the mess of it, but it definitely develops some good qualities for caring and planning the bread-making. I just realised that we all were talking about how much time it takes to raise and bake a bread, but we all forget that it does not really consume our time. We only have to get into the rhythm of the waiting… The bread makes itself, it doesn’t need any kneading – it needs waiting and good planning. The rest happens on its own.
    Lastly, I often compare a honest bread-making with a building of ever-lasting love – it takes passion to commit to it and time and patience 🙂

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    • Lovely points Sophia. I hope to bake a loaf a week and keep practicing and eventually perfecting the art. It is beautiful to have a home smelling of fresh baked bread. And you’re right about getting into the rhythm of the waiting … i’m hoping it will help me become a little more patient (which is not a strength of mine). Lovely to hear that your children are involved in the process – home-made little bakers, love it!

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  4. Bring on retirement… I want to bake bread all the time! Thank you Celia and Rachel for the inspiration! xxo

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  5. A great summary to this interesting discussion Rachel. I loved following your sourdough experience and I hope you post about further baking adventures! I really enjoy the way your blog interacts and includes your readers too 🙂

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    • Thanks Jane – the Question of the Week has been a bit of a trial. Going well so far, and forces me to be a more active blogger! Thanks for joining in the discussion – great to have an informed debate.

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  6. Celia is an absolute gem and so generous with everything. I really must get into sourdough making. perhaps I’ll ask Celia for some Priscilla! 🙂

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