As the bakery industry evolves, some argue that retail bakeries are dying.
Modern Baking has been covering the baking industry for 25 years (in case you couldn’t tell from the cover). During those years, the industry has seen many changes, and one of the common refrains you often hear is that bakery is dying, especially the retail bakery.
With the advent of frozen dough, freezer-to-oven and good fully-finished products, I can see where the “real” bakery detractors are coming from. However, I think the baking industry, in general, is getting stronger. I guess it just depends on how you define a bakery. Does a real retail bakery have to have a full product line from breads to donuts to cakes? Or can the artisan bread shop that makes everything from scratch be defined as a real bakery even though it might not carry decorated cakes? Or how about the coffee shop with a display case of only a few bakery items made from mixes but baked on premise? I say yes to all.
Bakery is stronger than ever, but I think we get hung up on terminology and techniques. If a business can provide a really good and truly unique product, it deserves the distinction of a being called a bakery. Is scratch always better? I don’t have enough space for that debate, and I can see both sides of the argument. If you don’t have the resources to produce a really good croissant but can source one, don’t you still deserve to call your establishment a bakery? The true distinction should come from how you make it uniquely yours. You don’t want to offer the same products as the guy down the road, be it a gas station or a coffee shop, but even if you source your products or ingredients from the same supplier, you can make your product distinctive so it stands out from the competition.
I just returned from Europain where the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie was held. And if you ever needed proof that bakery is alive and well, all you need to do is witness that competition. While the Coupe is set up to demonstrate artisan techniques, what it ends up showcasing is the passion that taking a product and baking it–changing it from a dull, flat lump into something that is full of body and aroma and life–evokes in both the baker and the ultimate consumer. The passion wasn’t just in the competitors but in the supporters as well–many of whom had no connection to the baking teams other than they are bakers themselves. They had come to witness the finest that the worldwide baking industry had to offer. That’s what real baking is all about. Doing what you love and finding a reciprocal love for the product from your customer.