Bread sales have plummeted in recent months, according to bakeries, some of whom fear for their future as they struggle with the rising costs of producing the traditional Maltese bread.

Four small-to-medium-sized bakeries based across Malta spoke to Times of Malta and reported a decline in sales, with a serious drop since the war in Ukraine, often described as the world’s breadbasket.

One baker, based in the south of the island, said sales are half what they used to be while a Gozitan bakery said the drop was around a fifth.

“This has become the worst job you can have. People are simply choosing not to buy bread,” said a baker in Mqabba.

Large-scale bakers, who are more versatile and able to offer different types of bread, say they are less badly affected.

The bakers suggest various reasons for the gradual drop in sales, from people changing their lifestyle, to competition from imported bread but they believe the most recent sharp drop is down to people generally cutting down amid a rise in the cost of living.

In April, the annual rate of inflation was a high 5.6%, up from 4.43%, with the rise in the price of food mostly to blame. 

“If things go on like this, I will have to close shop. Sales are dropping from one week to the next”, said another bakery owner in Żebbuġ.

“The Maltese ħobża has seen the biggest decline. People are buying less meat and so they are buying less bread too. The Maltese love to mix bread with their meat,” he said.

He said he used to make two furnati, batches of bread, daily. “I am down to one now. I used to go through seven sacks of flour, now I use four, sometimes five. At times, I feel like I’m working for nothing,” he lamented.

The baker said people who used to buy a small loaf of bread are opting for panini instead and those who were used to buying a large loaf daily are buying a small one or getting bread less frequently.

If things go on like this, I will have to close shop. Sales are dropping from one week to the next

Bakeries are keeping the cost of bread low, despite increases in ingredients used in the production of bread that have had numerous price hikes. Yeast, salt, oil and butter, as well as sesame seeds, have risen in cost.

Aware of the current situation, the government promised to keep flour prices stable, saying it was allocating ‘millions’ to ensure there would be no price rises in the production of bread.

But the drop in sales is counteracting this help, according to the baker.

A medium-sized bakery in Qormi, which also supplies bread to small grocery stores elsewhere, said its orders have been dropping steadily in the last six months.

“Some shops would order 20 loaves a day. They are now down to 12,” she said.

“When the price of the Maltese ħobża went up to €1 or €1.10 for a sliced loaf, it was already a big deal. And now, with rising prices on so many things, people are cutting down,” said the owner.

She said that, on Sunday mornings, she would previously have had people waiting outside her shop to buy bread.

“I would have a long queue of about 70 people, right up to the corner, waiting to buy our bread but those days are gone. We now have about 20 or 30.”

As well as rising costs of production, staff need to be paid.

“Besides that, I pay my bakers €600 a week. And there are so few local bakers left.”

A bakery in Nadur said sales had dropped by around 20 per cent compared to two years ago but blamed the decline on the opening of a major bakery outlet and a new supermarket.

Things seem to be playing out differently for the larger producers in the industry.

One major bakery operator said the decline was a natural trend and a sign of the changing times.

“People are simply changing to other bakery products. This happened when wraps first came on the market. Some consumers replaced bread with the less fattening alternative. Others have made the change to gluten-free.”

The large-scale baker, who asked not to be identified, said there are now more alternatives to traditional bread.

“Our lifestyle has changed. I would be lying if I said there was no decline in sales but there is also competition from imported bread now,” he explained.

Another large bread producer said changing eating habits were to blame for the different shopping trends.

“Sales of sliced bread have dropped but burger buns are selling more,” she said.

“White bread sales are down but we are making up with increases in the sale of brown bread.”

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