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Middle-class outcry over wholemeal flour in ‘white’ sourdough

bertinet white sourdough
bertinet white sourdough

Ocado shoppers are up in arms after an upmarket sourdough white loaf overhauled its recipe to include wholemeal flour, prompting the bakery behind it to deny cost cutting prompted by the war in Ukraine.

Customers have bombarded the online supermarket with one-star reviews for Bertinet Bakery White Sourdough following the radical changes last month, variously branding the new loaf as “ruined”, “disgusting” and “resembling cardboard”. The brand has also come under fire on Twitter and on Waitrose’s website.

Bertinet Bakery, part of the Gail’s cafes owner Bread Holdings, last month added wholemeal, barley and spelt flours to a recipe that previously contained only white wheat flour, water and salt. The decision prompted an outcry from devotees, including complaints of mis-labelling and speculation about cost cuts.

One Ocado shopper wrote: “I cannot believe Bertinet is allowed to sell this as white sourdough. It is absolutely not.”

Another said:  “When we want white toast we actually want white toast.”

However, there are no legal rules on what exactly can be called a white loaf. Only the terms “wholemeal” and “wheat germ” have specific rules for manufacturers to be able to use them.

Tom Molnar, chief executive of Bread Holdings, said: “We have a very loyal consumer base which as a small business we value enormously. However, we do recognise that not everyone likes the changes to their favourite sourdough."

The changes had been made with “100pc positive intention”, Mr Molnar said, adding it was “aligned to our overall mission to make better quality bread in an everyday sliced loaf for more people to enjoy for sandwiches and toasting”.

The costs of wheat and firing up ovens have been driven up by the war in Ukraine. However, Bertinet Bakery stressed the recipe change was not a cost cutting exercise and had actually introduced cost to the business in a bid to increase the products’ nutrition credentials.

The Bertinet Bakery brand was founded by acclaimed baker Richard Bertinet, but he exited the business when it was acquired by Bread Holdings, which also runs upmarket high street bakery chain Gail’s, in 2018. Bertinet has not been involved with the brand at all since 2020.

Mr Bertinet said his initial dream had been to create loaves with only three ingredients - wheat, water and salt. “That’s what people loved about the bread,” he said.

However, he said he was “not happy or sad” about the recipe change but that “it’s just not mine anymore”.

Mr Molnar said the additions meant the products were “now more balanced, with better depth of flavour and increased freshness”.

It comes a year after Bread Holdings was sold by former owner Risk Capital Partners - the investment company run by Pizza Express chairman Luke Johnson - to fellow private equity firm Bain Capital and EBITDA investments. Mr Johnson retained a board seat and shareholding with the sale.

Bertinet Bakery was previously sold in Sainsbury’s as well as Ocado and Waitrose, but lost distribution with the supermarket in September when Sainsbury’s shook up its bread range. The wider Bread Holdings business still trades with the supermarket.

Bertinet Bakery's current range also includes a selection of focaccia, white sourdough and seeded sourdough loaves. Their recipes have not changed.

Bertinet Bakery’s bread is still an authentic sourdough, and is one of 100 bakeries signed up to The Real Bread Loaf Mark scheme.

The scheme is designed to help consumers differentiate between breads made without additives and leavened only using a live starter culture, with no baker’s yeast or other raising agents.

Chris Young, co-ordinator of the Real Bread Campaign, said shoppers were often buying bread that was marketed as sourdough but was in fact a “fundamentally different product”.

Mr Young said: “We call this ‘sourfaux’ and in a number of cases we’ve found, retailers are charging a premium for it.”