Ethical shopping guide to Bread, from Ethical Consumer.

Ethical shopping guide to Bread, from Ethical Consumer.

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

This guide includes:

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 18 brands of bread
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • company profiles
  • how much salt is in bread
  • what is real bread and where to find it


Part of a Sector Report on the Food Industry.


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Best Buys

as of March/April 2013

As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that company ratings on the score table may have changed since this report was written.

Local, independent, organic, Real Bread bakers would be the first choice.  See the Real Bread Finder for your local baker.

Best Buys on the score table are the three organic brands – Paul’s, Biona and Village Bakery.

Of the most widely available brands, Brace’s and Roberts come out best on the score table. However, they score worst in our salt survey so if that is important to you, we recommend Hovis, Nimble and Mothers Pride.


Gluten free - Paul’s and Biona bread and Amisa rolls are the Best Buys for gluten free.
Of the most widely available gluten-free brands, we recommend Genius.

to buy

Image: Organic Bread


Image: Bread


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  • Steamie Bakehouse    view ethical directory profile >

    The Steamie Bakehouse is an artisan bakery based in Dunfermline, Fife. We bake naturally leavened breads, concentr...



What's in your dough?


Bread is a staple of many peoples’ diets around the world. Made traditionally out of flour, water and yeast, it has become an easy source of calories and nutrition, and a cultural tradition within many societies.

image: bread in ethical shopping guide


In Britain, bread popularity increased during the Tudor times when it became a status symbol: the nobility ate small, fine, white loaves called manchets while merchants and tradesman ate wheaten cobs and the poor ate bran loaves.(1)

An increase in bread prices has often been linked to food riots. Reports of bread riots date back to 1725 in France when women stormed the marketplace in protest at the unjust price increases. Similarly, riots occurred in Egypt 1977 when economic restructuring of the economy led to food subsidies for bread being cut. In 2007, when global wheat prices reached record heights due to poor harvest and food speculation, the UK saw the price of a loaf of bread rise to over £1.

While the price of bread in the UK has remained stable for a few years now, forecasters warn that Britain could experience another rise over the next year due to a poor wheat harvest in 2012. Hovis recently announced that despite their efforts to source only British wheat, a poor harvest last year has led to them having to source from overseas.(2)




British market


Over 97 percent of the British public consume bread at least once a week, with the average western European consuming 50kg of bread per year.(3)

While many of our European counterparts enjoy bread produced by small traditional bakers, the British market is saturated with ‘wrapped and sliced’ brands with the most popular brands – Warburtons, Hovis and Kingsmill – dominating the market. The pre-packed bread manufacturers have seen an increase in popularity with the loaves accounting for 64 percent of the UK sales value in 2011 while own-brand bread accounted for just over a quarter of the market.(3)

See our Supermarkets product guide to see how the supermarket own-brand bread rates.

‘Wrapped and sliced’ bread is produced using the Chorleywood Process (CHP) – a process which has dominated bread making in the UK since the 1960s. It replaced the traditional slow fermentation period with a short burst in high speed mixers. Consumers wanted soft springy white bread that did not go stale quickly. Research bakers at Chorleywood discovered that by adding hard fats, extra yeast, ‘processing aids’, E numbers and a number of other chemicals, produced a dough that was ready to bake in a fraction of the time it normally took.




Gives us this day our daily salt


For many people, bread forms the basis of breakfast and lunch, but few realise that bread is the single biggest contributor of salt to our diet. Of the total, about 17% of salt in the average UK diet comes from bread.(4)

In our survey below, six of the top 10 best selling wholemeal packaged breads had as much salt in a single slice as a bag of crisps.

In-store or high-street chain bakeries’ breads often had higher levels of salt than packaged products, according to a 2011 survey by CASH (Consensus Action on Salt & Health). And because they do not have to have nutritional labelling, people often cannot tell how much salt they contain.

Bread from a local independent bakery, however, fared much better in the CASH survey, with one white loaf found to contain just 0.56g/100g. This is almost half of the Department of Health’s salt target, a voluntary target for bakers to reduce the levels of salt in their bread to 1g of salt per 100g by 2012.

As our survey below shows, most packaged bread now meets that target but that still means that a toddler (1-3 years) would have all of its 2g recommended daily salt intake with just 4 slices of bread (200g) a day, and that’s before any toppings or sandwich fillings are added.



“If all manufacturers cut the salt in their breads by a half, it would prevent over 3,000 deaths from strokes and heart attacks a year.”

Professor Graham MacGregor of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and Chairman of CASH.



Salt survey


The top 10 best selling wholemeal packaged breads (Salt (g)
per 100g)


1 Warburtons 1
2 Hovis wholemeal 0.9
3 Kingsmill 1
4 Roberts 1.1
5 Braces 1.2
6 WeightWatchers 1
7 Allinson 1
8 Burgen soya & linseed 0.75
9 Genius gluten free brown 0.975
10 Nimble 0.93

Note: packaged white bread had similar levels of salt but half the amount of fibre.
100g = approx 2 thick slices



What’s wrong with salt?


The overwhelming evidence is that a diet high in common salt (sodium chloride) contributes to high blood pressure (hypertension) which increases your risk of a number of health conditions, in particular heart disease and stroke.

Studies have also linked a high salt diet to cancer of the stomach, kidney disease, osteoporosis, kidney stones, obesity, and to exacerbating the symptoms of Meniere’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease and diabetes.

Current UK government advice is that adults should consume no more than 6g of salt per day while toddlers (1-3 years) should have no more than 2g.


Recommended maximum daily salt intakes

Age grammes
0-6 months <1g
6-12 months 1g
1-3 years 2g
4-6 years 3g
7-10 years 5g
11 years and above 6g

Source: Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition 2003.



What can you do about salt?


  • Check the label – choose breads with 1g salt or less per 100g or less than 0.4g per slice. If the producer has ignored good practice advice and is showing sodium instead of salt, then look for a level of 0.4g (or 400mg) of sodium per 100g or lower.
  • Make your own (below) with no salt or low salt – recipe from CASH website.
  • Write to your local supermarket or bakery requesting they reduce the salt in their bread and label their fresh bread so that we can make an informed choice.




No Salt Wholemeal Bread


Makes: 1 loaf (12 slices)
Prep time: 30–35 minutes plus rising time
Cooking time: 30–40 minutes




1 teaspoon sugar
250ml lukewarm water
2 teaspoons (10ml) dried yeast
450g wholemeal flour
2 tablespoons bran
12.5g/½oz salt-free margarine



  • Dissolve the sugar in 150ml of the lukewarm water, sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water. Leave in a warm place for 10 minutes until frothy.
  • Put the flour and bran into a large bowl and rub in the margarine. Pour in the frothy yeast liquid and approximately 100ml of the lukewarm water and mix to form a dough (add more flour if necessary).
  • Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 5–10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Cover and leave in a warm place until doubled in size.
  • Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead again for a few minutes. Grease a 450g loaf tin and shape the dough into the tin, leave covered in a warm place for about 30 minutes.
  • Heat oven to 220°C/425°F/gas 7.
  • Bake the bread for 30–40 minutes, until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Turn out and cool on a wire tray.




The Real Bread Campaign


The Real Bread Campaign is part of the UK charity ‘Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming’ and fights for better bread in Britain. A basic definition of Real Bread is that it is made without the use of any artificial additives or processing aids.

In particular the Real Bread Campaign has called for better labelling on bread so that people can make informed choices. There are three key points of law which hinder people in Britain from obtaining full information about the loaves they buy:

1. Bakers and retailers are not required to provide customers with full lists of ingredients and any additives used in making unwrapped loaves - e.g. those from supermarket in-store bakeries.

2. The use of so-called processing aids can go completely undeclared, even on the ingredient and additive lists of wrapped loaves.

3. There are no legal definitions for terms commonly used in loaf marketing, including ‘fresh’ (or ‘freshly baked’), ‘sourdough’, ‘wholegrain’, ‘artisan’ and ‘craft.’



Honest Crust Act


Following a successful ruling in France, where bread marketed or sold as traditional French bread must be made without artificial additives and from a mixture of only wheat bread flour, drinkable water, cooking salt and bakers’ yeast, the Real Bread Campaign is calling on the UK government to pass the ‘Honest Crust Act’ which would require:

  • all bakers and retailers to provide a full list of ingredients and declare all additives in flour
  • legally defining the terms ‘fresh’ and ‘freshly baked’ etc
  • tightening the Bread and Flour Regulation 1998 to ensure dried gluten and soya flour do not make their way into loaves sold as wholemeal
  • a ban on below-cost selling of loaves by multiple retailers, a practice Real Bread Campaign believe leads to an artificial misperception of the baseline price

The Act would allow consumers to make better informed choices about what bread to choose, and offer small, independent, local bakeries the chance to make a clear distinction of the difference between their real breads and other products on the market.

Look for The Loaf Mark. Support a local, independent Real Bread bakery. Find your nearest outlet on the Real Bread Finder map.

Find out more about Real Bread Campaigns.




Are supermarket bloomers pants?


In 2010, the Real Bread Campaign looked at supermarkets’ in-store bakeries, which food writer Joanna Blythman has dubbed “nothing but bogus ‘retail theatre’”. They investigated six supermarkets – Asda, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose. Supermarket in-store bakeries account for 17% of the bread that we buy.



No ingredients labelling

If you want to know what went into the making of a supermarket in-store bakery loaf, the onus is on you as the customer to ask for this information. According to the Food Labelling Regulations 1996, all that a supermarket has to indicate on the shelf labels or packaging of such loaves is the presence of certain allergens or the use of a flour treatment agent, the name and composition of which would not have to be given.



Energy-intensive ‘bake-off’

In many cases, what is called an in-store bakery is little more than a tanning salon for baguettes.

Loaves that were baked at a low temperature at some point in the past, are chilled or perhaps frozen, then baked again in-store to re-soften the crumb and give the crusts an attractive hue and crunch. Though they might look like, smell like and perhaps be marketed as freshly baked loaves, such ‘bake-off’ products are in a sense biscuits: they have been cooked twice.

The bake-off process also uses more energy than baking from scratch. According to an article in British Baker magazine, bake-off production:

…demands around twice the energy of conventional breadmaking if the partial baking and the final bake are done in a baking oven. Another problem lies with the freezing of par-baked bread, which demands a lot of energy, especially if it is likely to be stored frozen for longer than a month….After just one month of frozen storage, the energy use will be roughly double the energy spent on par-baking, freezing and final baking, without even factoring in the energy used in frozen distribution.’



Artisanal or artful?


Overall, the number of small, local craft bakeries plummeted from 18,000 in the early 1950s to around 3,500 in 2002. Today, we only buy 3% of our bread from craft bakers.
Supermarkets are partly to blame for this, says the report, because they call their bake-off loaves ‘fresh bread’ and use of the word ‘artisan’ as a synonym for ‘looks a bit rustic’.

The Real Bread Campaign’s research found that almost no supermarket bakery loaves are Real Bread, defined as flour, water, yeast, salt and no processing aids or artificial additives.

Read the report: ‘Are supermarkets bloomers pants?'


See our Supermarkets product guide to see how the supermarket own-brand bread rates.




Company profiles


All Windmill Organic products are organic, GMO free, suitable for vegetarians and many for vegans, with no artificial additives. Amisa is gluten free and organic and includes a range of spelt crispbreads, while Biona does a range of organic rye and gluten-free breads.

Soyfoods Ltd is based in Melton Mowbray. The wide range of breads from Paul’s Bakery includes sourdough types leavened by naturally occurring yeasts and types using flour mixes for special dietary requirements. All products are Soil Association and Vegan Society approved. Paul’s is not to be confused with PAUL French bakery shops.

Bells of Lazonby has bakeries around north Cumbria with a Village Bakery Cafe in Melmerby which sells non-free range or organic meat.

Brace’s Bakery, established in 1902, is a family-owned company that produces and sells bread which is available from supermarkets in Wales and the South West.

Frank Roberts and Sons is another family owned and run bakery based in Cheshire and has been running for well over a hundred years. The company does a range of sliced bread and also has its Yes range which is gluten-free.

Warburtons is the largest family baker in the UK with 13 bakeries across the country. Warburtons expanded outside the UK into four central European countries through launching seven of its branded lines in Tesco’s European stores. Warburtons sells a range of sliced bread, along with its Half & Half and gluten-free ranges.

Premier Foods is one of the largest food manufacturers in the UK. The company makes a wide range of branded and retailer-branded foods. The company’s Rank Hovis division operates in the bread and baked products market through its Hovis, Mothers Pride and Nimble brands which its owns 49% of. The other 51% was bought by US investment firm Gores Group in January 2014.
In January 2010 Premier Foods invested millions of pounds into converting its Hovis portfolio to British-sourced wheat. However, in 2013 Premier Foods announced that it could no longer make this claim due to poor wheat harvests in the UK and has since removed ‘British sourced’ and the union jack from its packaging.(5)

Greggs was founded in 1951 by John Gregg in Newcastle and is one of the leading producers and retailers of breads, sandwiches and baked goods in the UK. At the time of writing it had 1,540 shops and employed around 20,000 while selling products to over 6 million customers a week.
In 2008 Greggs plc was fined £50,000 by London Fire Brigade for blocking corridors with plastic crates and locking fire exits.

Allied Bakeries Ltd, founded in 1935 by Willard Garfield Weston, is owned by Associated British Foods Plc (ABF) which owns several well-known brands including Primark, Twinings, Silver Spoon, Ryvita, Ovaltine, Patak’s and Jordans cereals.
According to Allied Bakeries’ website, since January 2010 all of its palm oil usage (both palm oil and palm derivatives, around 1,000 tonnes per year) has been 100 percent covered by Green Palm Certificates. In 2011 the company started to use segregated sustainable palm oil which constitutes over 20 percent of its total palm usage.





2 ‘Bread prices set to rise after bad weather hits UK wheat crop’, Guardian, Dec 2012

3 Mintel, Bread and Baked Goods, 2012

4 Bakers Federation –




This product guide is part of a Special Report on the Food Industry.  See what's in the rest of the report.





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