IT HAS become a weekend ritual. Bread lovers in suburbs across Sydney happily queue outside their favourite artisan bakery to snare a loaf of sourdough, organic or gluten-free bread. They may be $7 a loaf, but no one seems to mind.
But when they aren't buying fancy sourdough, it seems plenty of people are happy with a $1 loaf of private label bread.
Australians' love of bread has been waning over the past half a century and we now eat about 51.2 kilograms of bread a year compared to the 64 kilograms previous generations used to eat when it was a staple for breakfast, lunch and even dinner.
But while big brand sliced white bread may still account for 45 per cent of the total market, the industry analysts IBISWorld predict artisan breads will considerably outperform traditional white bread in the next five years.
Australia's largest baker, Goodman Fielder, which bakes the Helgas, Lawsons and Buttercup brands, this week warned that its full year earnings would be down as it battles the growing popularity of $1 private label bread and speciality breads.
It is a similar story for their major rivals George Weston Foods, which makes Tip Top and Burgen bread.
A senior analyst with IBISWorld, Naren Sivasailam, said the supermarket bread price wars were hitting the middle range brands, which were racing to release premium lines to compete with the healthy alternatives.
''We are eating less bread as a country and what we are eating is still dominated by industrial baked bread, but where the growth is coming from is artisan and speciality breads which have risen by about 15 per cent,'' Mr Sivasailam said.
He said Australians' palates were increasingly sophisticated and were influenced by cooking shows and celebrity chefs, and there was a growing awareness of healthy eating.
''Bread is now a relatively inexpensive indulgence and people will pay $8 for sourdough rather than go out to a restaurant.''
Sales of private label bread also soared over the past decade, according to IBISWorld, and now account for 55 per cent of all retail supermarket bread sales.
Michael Klausen, the director of Brasserie Bread, said long queues were a common sight at the Sydney and Melbourne outlets of the artisan bakery, which has been baking specialist breads for the past decade.
''We have seen enormous change in the last few years, and people are wanting to buy something that is real, that is healthy and they are understanding organic flour, and that artisan bread is made over a very long process,'' Mr Klausen said.
''Bread has become part of the local scene where you can walk down around the corner and stand in a queue on a Saturday morning and buy your sourdough bread and take it home and eat it. It's part of a ritual that people love.''