Savoury baked goods enjoy something of a cult status in the UK. From the historical role of the Cornish pasty as nourishment for hardworking miners and farm labourers to the successful foray of the nationally beloved Greggs brand into fashion through its collaborations with Primark, it is clear that pies, sausage rolls, pasties and other oven-baked favourites are here to stay. This being said, The Grocer notes that from a commercial perspective there’s still plenty of scope for innovation in the savoury bakes category. With this in mind, below we consider some of the semiotic codes and cues that major players in savoury bakes have traditionally employed and why these have been effective as well as some of the more innovative steps being taken to drive growth and move with the times.

Down to Earth Relatability

The relatively simple formula behind savoury bakes (essentially, pastry plus savoury filling) makes them unpretentious and easy to enjoy. We see many brands capitalising on this sense of the straightforward and everyday by using colloquial language and a democratic, no nonsense TOV which conjure the values of honesty, accessibility and relatability that lie at the heart of these traditional foods. Bells, for instance, overtly positions itself as a fundamental part of Scottish life while Pukka frames itself as ‘Bakers of the People’s Pie’, coding the brand as a humble peer rather than a distant authority figure.

Curious Experimentation

While savoury bakes still lean heavily on cues of the traditional and familiar, there is also an interesting (and necessary) current of innovation emerging which seeks to open up the category to more adventurous, variety-craving consumers and reassess what ingredients are seen as legitimate in baked goods. We see this change manifested in more artisanal flourishes such as tarragon and SKUs such as Pieminister’s ‘Tikka to Ride’ or West Cornwall Pasty’s Spiced Apple and Salted Caramel Pasty. We also observe comms focusing on opportunities for exploration and creativity both among brands and consumers, coding savoury bakes as a platform for discovery, subversion of expectations and celebration of international influences rather than an inward looking, monolithic and monocultural tradition.

Indulgent Comfort

There is something fundamentally comforting about savoury bakes, particularly in markets such as the UK where cold and wet weather (not to mention the ongoing cost of living crisis) can often leave consumers craving both literal and figurative warmth. Brands have recognised this, dialling up visual cues of warmth, comfort and abundance to code baked goods as a soothing respite both in or outside of the home. Ginsters, for example, positions itself as ‘from a land where comfort matters’ while Island Delight similarly promises a ‘warm glow feeling’ from its Jamaican patties. Pieminister, for its part, injects some humour with an Instagram post showing copious portions and referencing so-called ‘beige food’, a term used for highly comforting but typically unhealthy items.

Healthful Pleasures

On the topic of health, HFSS legislation increasingly compels brands within savoury bakes and beyond to offer healthier options while not alienating consumers who still fundamentally crave the satisfying comfort discussed above. One solution explored by brands is to evoke a sense of healthful pleasure, enabling consumers to feel they are getting the best of both worlds. Higgidy, for example, transcends beigeness with its packaging featuring leafy imagery composed in a calming yet engaging colourful hand painted style that immediately signals both healthiness and enjoyability. The brand also offers smaller formats such as mini muffins, helping buyers to keep portions under control and employs comms demonstrating how its products can seamlessly integrate into a balanced diet. Similarly, Holland’s targets a health-conscious demographic with comms showing a runner, suggesting that pies are by no means incompatible with active lifestyles.

3 key takeouts for brands:

  1. Savoury bakes have strong cultural currency as traditional, easily accessible and inherently comforting food items. Brands can maintain this core appeal by positioning themselves as salt of the earth peers providing timelessly enjoyable and reliable products.
  2. As culturally beloved as savoury bakes might be, brands looking to drive longer term growth and future-proof themselves need to focus on creative NPD that reinvigorates the category by incorporating unexpected ingredients and a spirit of curiosity.
  3. Brands can also take inspiration from companies such as Higgidy or the phenomenally successful Greggs vegan sausage roll to strike a balance between retaining the traditionally indulgent draw of baked goods with the need to also cater to increasingly health-conscious consumer segments.

Eoghain Ellis, Semiotician

Comfort, Curiosity, and Cultural Insight: Savoury bakes innovation