Food: The baker's craft - between the art of bread and price pressure

Schrippe or Weckle? A cultural dispute has often raged over baked goods, at least between Berliners and Swabians.

Food: The baker's craft - between the art of bread and price pressure

Schrippe or Weckle? A cultural dispute has often raged over baked goods, at least between Berliners and Swabians. Baker Tobias Exner offers “Ossis” - his cheapest wheat roll, which he offers for 39 cents.

But now rolls, which tend to be dark and contain grain, are also the norm for more than one euro. Artisan bakers in Germany, whose bread has been a UNESCO cultural heritage site for years, complain about high price pressure, which customers are also feeling in their wallets.

“We don’t raise prices just for fun,” says master baker and bread sommelier Exner from Beelitz, Brandenburg, who has around 280 employees and runs several branches. “We cannot cover our costs at the moment.”

Is the craft in danger?

“Unfortunately, one or two bakers go missing every day,” says Friedemann Berg, general manager of the Central Association of the German Bakery Trade, in Berlin. Last year around 600 businesses closed. The number of employees - around 238,000 - fell significantly.

Increased energy costs, staff shortages, minimum wages, staff shortages and a mountain of bureaucracy are described as reasons for the difficult situation. In addition, there is price pressure from discounters and large companies. According to the Food Pleasure Restaurants Union (NGG), large chain stores account for almost 30 percent of total sales.

“Sugar is three times as expensive as it was three years ago,” says baker Exner, who has reduced his range and sometimes closes earlier in the afternoon. "Whenever the German doesn't have enough money, he saves on food." And in 2024 it could become even more expensive, at least in bakery cafes, if the lower VAT on food in restaurants rises again to 19 percent next year.

In the bakery at night? A lack of staff is putting a strain on bakers

Above all, bakeries have to struggle with a lack of staff. The NGG union calls working conditions and wages unattractive. In the bakery, work starts at night when others are sleeping - so a lot of people wave them off. According to the central association, a large number of training positions remain unfilled.

Many trainees who earn 1,085 euros in their third year of training according to the nationwide tariff are also faced with the problem of not finding an apartment. Baker Exner has now rented 25 apartments for employees, and other bakeries also offer shared apartments to trainees.

"It's becoming increasingly difficult to find journeymen for standard wages. Many people pay extra so that they can keep their people," says the head of department at the NGG union, Rajko Pientka. According to a rough estimate, a journeyman, i.e. after three years of training, earns on average around 2,400 euros per month - pay varies greatly in different countries depending on the collective agreement.

Queues in front of bakeries

But new bakeries are also opening in many cities that aim to capture the spirit of the times with old crafts. In some places, customers stand in long queues for organic baked goods made with spelled, rye, nuts and herbs and pay prices of around 8 or 9 euros per kilo for handmade bread.

Consumers are willing to stand in line and pay higher prices if they get good quality in return - and not just in big cities, says managing director Berg of the Central Association of Bakers. “The bakery trade will not be able to pursue a cheap strategy; it is too labor-intensive,” says trade unionist Pientka.

Master bakers have long been active on social Internet platforms and also show their breadmaking skills in video clips. “Good bread is made through dedication, experience, time and with good raw materials,” writes a young master baker from Uckermark in Brandenburg, which has also become a magnet for Berlin hipsters, on Instagram. But in the same way, a modern bakery in the Allgäu presents its breads with “a compact crumb” and “hand beaten”.

“We are experiencing a renaissance in the bakery trade,” says association manager Berg. Last year, 422 new companies were founded. “We don’t have to worry about the future of the bakery trade.”