There I was, standing behind the counter the other day, hoping that a customer might stray over the threshold, when the postman called and handed me an envelope. Being a business, our post is made up of a fair amount of marketing bumf, promotional guff and, occasionally, free samples.
On this occasion, it was promotional guff – only it wasn’t sent out by a thrusting new artisan food start-up, pushing some hipster-friendly beverage or gluten-free snack bar. No, this was for Artisan Bread 7% Concentrate, a new product from Bakels, the global baking ingredients corporation.
Sherlock Holmes had his own uses for a 7% solution, but you don’t need to be the great detective to see what this was all about. Further reading made the territory clear. “Bulk ferment for just 60 minutes”! “The easy way to make artisan style breads”! “Fast-growing market, with artisan bakeries springing up across the UK”! Yes, it’s sourdough-made-simple – just add flour, water and yeast, and hey presto, you’ve got yourself a genuine “artisan” loaf.
Forget the bread, though, the main thing is the dough. Some lucky bakers, we’re told, can flog a 400g sourdough loaf for £4.99 – but with this product, even a price tag of £1.99 will give you a healthy profit margin. Indeed, the Bakels website provides a handy calculator with which you can work out precisely how little it costs to make this bread, and how much profit you can expect to screw out of it.
There is, of course, a big difference, between hand-made bread and what supermarkets have been palming off as sourdough for years. The Guardian did a rather fun taste test a couple of years ago. And indeed, I’ve written about it myself here. The conclusion that we’re presumably meant to draw from the Bakels leaflet – though it’s not spelled out explicitly – is that it’s entirely proper for a bakery to overcharge for a product that isn’t really what it claims to be.
The clue is in those weasel words “artisan style”. According to my dictionary, there’s no such thing. An artisan is a person, particularly one who works in a skilled trade that involves making things by hand. As an adjective, the word refers to products “made in a traditional or non-mechanised way using high-quality ingredients” (OED). In other words, a loaf can be made artisanally, by hand, using traditional techniques and ingredients, or not. The question of “style” doesn’t arise.
This is important because true artisan bakers are by definition making a large investment of time, labour and expertise – all of which cost money and therefore justify the final price tag. Inadvertently, the Bakels leaflet actually acknowledges this: “The main barriers to entering the artisan market are cost and understanding … I would recommend Bakels Artisan 7% Concentrate as an easy way for bakers to enter this market. The two main barriers of cost and understanding are removed.”
Bish, bash and, as they say, utter bosh. If you’re making a fast-risen yeasted product and implying in your marketing and your pricing that it can bear comparision with a slow-fermented loaf, you’re not only misleading the public you’re also ripping them off. Last word to the OED: “wrongful … deception intended to result in financial or personal gain”. That, m’lud, is the dictionary definition of fraud.