The Last Word

December 20, 2012 4:32 pm

TV home baking helps new ventures rise

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There is only one winner for each series of The Great British Bake Off, one “amateur baker” who is crowned Britain’s best. This year it was 23-year-old law graduate John Whaite who clinched the final of the television show by hairdrying his chocolate- iced cake for a high shine. He promptly signed a book deal with Headline and John Whaite Bakes will appear early next year.

But Mr Whaite will not be the only one to enjoy a slice of success. The hit BBC2 TV programme is having a benevolent economic effect far beyond the onscreen participants.

The show’s experts, cookery doyenne Mary Berry and professional baker Paul Hollywood, have felt the baking bounce keenly. After GBBO finished in October, Mr Hollywood’s book How to Bake saw a threefold increase in sales on Amazon. Ms Berry saw a fivefold Amazon sales increase for her 2009 book Mary Berry’s Baking Bible from when the latest series started in August.

If baking is an inherently domestic art, and the recession a period when people stay at home to watch TV and/or make cakes, bread and pies, there is some logic to this trend. Trade show organiser Luke Collings certainly saw the broader potential of baking’s new popularity: “My wife was very much into the Bake Off and it made me wonder if there would be demand [for a show]”. He lined up sponsors and booked Ms Berry and Mr Hollywood to make appearances. The Cake & Bake Show at Earls Court Exhibition Centre drew 21,000 visitors, with a Manchester date set for next year and a second London show. Mr Collings says he covered costs this year but forecasts a profit for 2013, and has hopes for a supermarket tie-in.

The baking bounce sends people shopping in all sorts of ways: a Zara bomber jacket worn by Ms Berry in one episode sold out and baking equipment sales have increased. In one show of this series, contestants were asked to build “show-stopping” ginger­bread edifices (Mr Whaite recreated Rome’s coliseum). In the following days, Selfridges in London saw a jump in sales of ginger bread house kits and year on year sales rose 26 per cent. The store also estimates it will sell 20 KitchenAid (a brand featured in GBBO) food mixers every hour before Christmas.

At John Lewis, sales of food mixers are up 62 per cent and demand for bread-makers up 29 per cent. Silicone bakeware sales have increased 126 per cent year on year. Marks and Spencer, Debenhams and J Sainsbury have reported similar rises.

There has also been a flurry of classes in baking skills. Le Cordon Bleu, the classic cookery school brand, has opened a flagship site in London and French baker Richard Bertinet has expanded his bread-making school with a bakery shop in Bath.

But bakery business founders beware: this is an area where the facilities available dictate profit, as Holly Bell, a GBBO runner-up in 2011 learnt. Her former milieu was advertising, so Ms Bell recognised her own profile would not be enough to sell classes. “I knew I had to use the Bake Off brand to leverage the business,” she says. Demand was strong and immediate; her weekly cake-decorating classes were full. But, as she rented kitchen space to teach, it was hard to make money. “[If I wanted to make] a couple of hundred quid a month as spending money it would be fine,” she says. She has stopped the classes to pursue more lucrative roles with Sainsbury and QVC. She also produced an ebook, that went straight to the top of the Kindle downloads for baking.

And Edd Kimber, self-styled as “the boy who bakes” and the first winner of GBBO back in 2010, says he “definitely struggled” financially for the first year following his win. Like Mr Whaite he was offered a book deal and he published his second title this September. He has also launched the Eddibles Bakery stall on Maltby Street market in south London. “I made a living this year,” Mr Kimber says.

Nevertheless, it’s better than his old job as a bank clerk: “I like the fact that I do something I love, and I have a career from it.”

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