How many bakers are needed to change a food system?

or...What would it take to get Real Bread sold on every street corner in the country? Andrew Whitley does some sums.

Q: How many artisan bakers does it take to change a food system?
A: 75,000 (approximately!)


The Middle Eastern ‘bread riots’ of recent times have, once again, confirmed the humble daily loaf as the embodiment of a nation’s food security. Whether as a response to soaring grain prices, or to panic buying incidents caused by delays to ‘just-in-time’ supermarket deliveries getting through (as witnessed in such as the flooded Gloucester town of Tewkesbury in 2007), the case for building more resilience into our bread supply is undeniable.

More locally-dispersed wheat stocks, mills and bakers could far better withstand such political and environmental shocks; but what would we actually need to do to ensure everyone was within walking distance of a loaf of real bread?

Well, for starters, of the 12 million or so loaves baked (though not necessarily all eaten) every day in the UK, three quarters are sold by supermarkets.  An individual artisan Real Bread baker can produce at most 200 loaves per day, so it would take 60,000 artisan bakers to make the number of loaves required.  And if we add in an extra 25 per cent to our artisan baking army to cover days off for holidays and sickness, the number goes up to 75,000.  

Based on my own experience at the Village Bakery, the minimum number of bakers you need to sustain a small bakery is three; which means 25,000 bakeries making 480 loaves a day, or 3,360 per seven-day week.  By way of comparison, France, which obviously covers a considerably larger area geographically, currently has about 30,000 bakeries. Is this level of productivity realistic? Well, after only four months, in a tiny space, with basic equipment and just one full-time baker and some part-time help, Breadshare Community-Supported Bakery is making around 1,000 loaves of long-fermented bread a week. So, with three full-time bakers and some overlapping of shifts it's by no means an impossible task.

As well as improving our food security these neighbourhood bakeries would also create many more jobs ‘per loaf’ than the current system. If only one in 35 of the 2.6 million people unemployed and claiming benefit were to re-train, we would have 75,000 artisan bakers spread across the UK.

The other important impact of a local bakery system would almost certainly be in reducing waste.  With most bread made fresh and on the doorstep, there is a good chance that less far would be wasted, reducing the overall number of loaves needing to be made.   According to WRAP, the government-linked Waste & Resource Action Programme, 75,000 tonnes of bread loaves are thrown away each year, worth around £50m, and many of these are unopened.  What’s more, fresh bread within walking distance means no need for any of the shelf-life-extending enzyme adulterants that are currently used in most British bread (though not, of course, declared on the label).

Based on these calculations the Real Bread takeover wouldn’t be cheap.  Kitting out a small bakery with new ovens and equipment can cost up to £50k, and allowing for an average of £50k for refurbishment of premises and some working capital, it could mean £100k to set up each of our 25,000 bakeries: £2.5 bn.

But to put that figure in perspective, it’s only £33,000 per baker job created; it’s less than half of the £6.2 bn allegedly paid to staff of Barclays Capital each year; it could drastically save on benefit payments; and it would be an important investment in the nutritional, social and political wellbeing of the nation.


And, of course, statistics aside, not everyone on a mission to create a saner food system sets off with a fully working three-person bakery.  There are those with big ideas but a smaller budget, who have already begun baking Real Bread for a local community from the kitchen table, with an initial investment of under a hundred pounds to start a small bread club.   

Revised from text originally created for a True Loaf article in June 2011
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