Is The Great British Bake Off cooking up trouble for UK bakeries?

Posted on Oct 5th, 2015 | News and opinion

Reality television lost its shine in the mid 00’s, around the time that Kinga pleasured herself with a wine bottle on Big Brother and Rebecca Loos was intimate with a pig on short-lived Channel 5 programme The Farm. Amidst Kerry Katona’s comeback, Jordan and Peter’s love story and Jade Goody’s racist meltdown, never would we have thought that in 2015 a tent full of people baking cakes would be a sure-fire reality television hit.

The Great British Bake Off has risen to become one of the BBC’s most-watched television programmes. The 2015 series pulls in over 12 million viewers per episode, and the 2015 final – eventually won by Nadiya Hussain – is the most-watched television programme of this year so far, with a storming 14.5 million viewers at its peak.

If you’re one of the three quarters of the UK who hasn’t been watching The Great British Bake Off, let us explain: twelve amateur bakers sweat it out inside a large marquee in the countryside for ten weeks. Challenges are judged by the queen of snazzy knitwear Mary Berry and bread loving beast Paul Hollywood. The amateur bakers are kept in line by the pun-tastic pair Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. Sounds a bit too quaint to be true, doesn’t it?

GBBO (as it’s known to its dedicated fan-base) has made baking cool again. Long gone are the connotations of dry fruit cake at a W.I meeting, and Nana force-feeding you questionable homemade spotted dick. Baking is trendy and baking is hip.

The 2010 launch of GBBO was perfect timing. Britain was coming out of a recession and returning to a more simplistic and domesticated way of living, reminiscent of the Second World War. ‘Keep calm and carry on baking’.

Bake Off is pure and simple escapism. A weeknight, fluffy and light distraction from the horror going on in the real world, and a chance to see real people doing something for themselves. GBBO has inspired thousands upon thousands of people to start their own business.

Fancy a slice of the action?

Baking is a popular business model. According to the Office of National Statistics in 2010 (the year that GBBO began) there were 21,000 registered bakers in the UK. By 2014 this figure had jumped up 90% to 40,000. The statistic doesn’t include those registered as a sole trader, which many bakers would trade as.

It’s not just sweet-toothed consumers who are pleased baking is back in business. Lakeland – a store that sells (nearly) every piece of baking equipment ever produced – saw sales of bakeware increase by 42% in 2013, and Simple Business Insurance had a 325% increase in quotes from budding bakers since Bake Off began.

Ed Hallifax was a standby contestant from series three of The Great British Bake Off. The programme inspired him to ditch his digital marketing job and start Mr. Bake, a business he successfully runs with his partner.

“I think Bake Off almost demystifies baking. Baking isn’t that difficult. It’s just a few basic ingredients, mixed together to make something delicious. The show has given people who were keen to bake, a reason to get out there and give it a go. I think, if anything, it’s raised cafes and customers expectations of what a ‘good bake’ is.“

Good bakes (and I’m sure a fair few soggy bottoms) aside, is baking the business model for the nation?

Trending on thin icing

The French are known for their love of patisserie. In 1900 an average French person consumed two pounds of bread a day – the equivalent to 22 slices of Hovis. Today, this has levelled out to a more tolerable three slices a day, and with over 6 billion baguettes produced each year in France, the population of 66 million is certainly having their fair share of pain

In France, GBBO is known as Le Meilleur Patissier and pulls in 3.5 million viewers an episode , roughly 5% of the population. Maybe the French think they’ve seen it all before? It’s clear that Bake Off hasn’t inspired the population to take up baking as a career. In fact, France has seen a decline in the baking profession. In 1990 there were 36,000 bakeries and in 2006 only 32,000.

France has also seen a loss in trade. Consumption of the icon of French cuisine, the baguette, has fallen. The average French person now only consumes (shock horror) half a baguette a day – down from a full one 40 years ago. Could this be to a decline in quality via industrialisation, or that low-carb fad dieting has been on the up?

The UK now has more professional bakers than France. In France there is one bakery for every 1,800 people and in the UK there is one bakery for every 1,600 people. If the French can’t make the baking dream work, what hope do us excited Brits have?

Bake Off has started a business revolution, enthusing and encouraging many to break out on their own. However, with 50% of new startups closing their doors within the first three years, and the French struggling to maintain a steady flow of bakers – have us Brits simply got carried away and mixed up in the fluffy, escapist world of baking? Will the trend for baking leave many with soggy-bottomed bank accounts and end up being detrimental to the UK economy?

Ed doesn’t seem bothered that baking could suddenly fall foul of popularity; “people will always want cakes for celebrations and people still like to treat themselves.”
Love it or loathe it, The Great British Bake Off has done wonders for inspiring people to follow their passions. And it’s always better to inspire people to beat eggs than beat off animals, hey?

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Written by Claire Beveridge

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