Ocado shoppers are up in arms after a revised fancy sourdough white bread recipe included whole wheat flour, prompting the bakery behind it to deny cost-cutting brought on by the war in Ukraine.
Customers have bombarded the online supermarket with one-star reviews for Bertinet Bakery White Sourdough following sweeping changes last month, calling the new bread “ruined”, “disgusting” and “cardboard-like”. The brand has also been criticized on Twitter and on the Waitrose website.
Bertinet, part owner of Gail’s Bread Holdings cafes, last month added whole wheat, barley and spelt flours to a recipe that previously contained only white wheat flour, water and salt. The decision sparked an outcry from devotees, including complaints of mislabeling and speculation about cost cuts.
One Ocado buyer wrote: “I can’t believe Bertinet is allowed to sell this as white sourdough. It absolutely isn’t.”
Another said: “When we want white toast, we actually want white toast.”
However, there are no legal rules as to what exactly can be called white bread. Only the terms “whole” and “wheat germ” have specific rules for how manufacturers can use them.
Tom Molnar, CEO of Bread Holdings, said: “We have a very loyal consumer base which, as a small business, we greatly value. However, we recognize that not everyone likes changes to their favorite sourdough.”
The changes were made with “100% positive intent,” Molnar said, adding that they were “aligned with our overall mission to make better quality bread in one sliced loaf every day so more people enjoy sandwiches and toasties.” .
The costs of wheat and ovens have skyrocketed because of the war in the Ukraine. However, Bertinet Bakery emphasized that the recipe change was not a cost-cutting exercise and had actually introduced costs into the business in a bid to boost the products’ nutritional credentials.
The Bertinet brand was founded by acclaimed baker Richard Bertinet, but he went out of business when it was acquired by Bread Holdings, which also runs the upscale bakery chain Gail’s, in 2018. Bertinet has not been involved with the brand since 2020.
Bertinet said that his initial dream had been to create breads with just three ingredients: wheat, water and salt. “That’s what people loved about bread,” he said.
However, he said he was “neither happy nor sad” about the recipe change, but “it’s just not mine anymore.”
Molnar said the additions meant the products were “now more balanced, with greater depth of flavor and greater freshness.”
It comes a year after Bread Holdings was sold by former owner Risk Capital Partners, the investment company run by Pizza Express founder Luke Johnson, to private equity firm Bain Capital and EBITDA investments. Johnson retained a board seat and an equity stake with the sale.
Bertinet was previously sold at Sainsbury’s, as well as Ocado and Waitrose, but lost distribution to the supermarket in September when Sainsbury’s shook up its bread range. The broader Bread Holdings business still trades with the supermarket.
Bertinet Bakery’s current range also includes a selection of focaccia, white sourdough and seeded sourdough breads. His recipes have not changed.
Bertinets’ bread remains authentic sourdough, and is one of 100 bakeries enrolled in The Real Bread Loaf Mark program.
The scheme is designed to help consumers differentiate between breads made without additives and leavened using only a live starter culture, without baker’s yeast or other leavening agents.
Chris Young, coordinator of the Real Bread Campaign, said shoppers often bought bread that was marketed as sourdough but was in fact a “fundamentally different product”.
Young said: “We call this ‘sourfaux’ and in several cases we’ve found, retailers are charging a premium for it.”