Bakery rivals agree trading remains tough for sector
Independent bakeries in Northern Ireland have agreed with Irwin's' assessment of competitive trading in the sector.
Irwin's makes plain loaves as well as more premium wheaten breads and buns, and has faced a loss of just over £128,500 as a result of tough trading conditions with the supermarket trade.
In contrast, McErlain's in Magherafelt, which trades as Genesis Crafty, has said its value-added product lines do have more leeway on price.
Irwin's, however, is operating in basic breads, where a plain white loaf costs as little as 40p from a supermarket value brand.
David Walmsley, general manager at Genesis Crafty, said there was major competition for bakeries selling plain loaves to supermarkets, which are cutting their prices in response to discounters like Lidl and Aldi.
"Our products have slightly more value added, with wheaten breads, sodas and cakes, so we can secure better prices for our products.
"It's also the value of the Genesis Crafty brand. Customers keep coming back again and again, and we do produce one of the best wheaten breads.
"But there are cost pressures - our bills will be going up when the living wage is introduced, for example."
Marks & Spencer is one of its biggest customers, with Genesis making the grocer's jam bakes, snowballs and ultimate mince pies, among other products.
With value-added products of that kind, it was easier to find "an equitable balance between consumer, manufacturer and producer," Mr Walmsley said.
Meanwhile, home bakery Grahams in Dromore, Co Down, which specialises in cakes and pastries, has been supplying Tesco stores in Northern Ireland for around 19 months.
A spokesman said it had found the supermarket giant to be supportive, but acknowledged there were pressures.
"There is competition because they can source such a strong range of products from England, so it can be tough for a Northern Ireland company.
"But on the other hand, Tesco has helped us to grow our sales and give us exposure across Northern Ireland.
"There are a lot of costs involved, but they do want to try and help and form a collaboration. It's tough, but it's not unreasonable."