Bread was a staple for the English settlers, who introduced wheat to New Zealand. Wheat was ground with a steel hand-mill, the dough was kneaded by hand and baked in a camp oven. Water- and windmills replaced hand-mills in the 1840s and 1850s, but dough was still hand prepared. Māori adopted bread and gained expertise in cereal growing in the 1850s.
As the population grew, bakeries proliferated, and every small town had a baker. Mechanical dough mixers, imported from England and Germany from 1890, sped up production. Automatic cutters, shapers and ovens followed. Better transport led to fewer but larger bakeries.
White or brown bread
In the early 1900s white bread was preferred. Brown bread was associated with poverty, as unprocessed wholemeal flour was cheaper. Breads varied only in shape. Free-standing loaves such as the oval Barracouta and the round Scone loaf gave way to loaves baked in tins, which were easier to cut for sandwiches. Not till the 1940s was wholemeal bread promoted as being healthier than white. The Chorleywood Bread Process, first developed in England in 1961, meant a loaf could be made in two hours, instead of 12 to 24 hours, and resulted in loaves which kept twice as long.
Bread is best eaten fresh, so it must get to the customer quickly and regularly. Many people bought it from the grocer. Around 1910 home delivery was common, but inefficient. Many small bakeries with overlapping runs delivered about 200 loaves each per day. Home delivery declined from the 1940s as a wartime measure, even though customers objected fiercely.
Since bread is a staple food and requires a regular supply, the government controlled the baking industry. The Wheat Committee (and from 1965 the New Zealand Wheat Board) subsidised wheat growing and set the price of a loaf of bread from 1936 until 1987. Delivery costs were pooled, so everyone paid the same. Bakeries had no choice of wheat supplier or type of flour, and had to make the best of what was available.
In the 1960s bakeries operated Monday to Friday, creating a massive demand for bread on Friday to see people through the weekend. Many bakeries struggled to make 40% of the week’s bread on Friday. Later, some began making bread on Sundays, and produced a standard white ‘Sunday loaf’, relieving the agony of Monday’s stale bread sandwiches.
In 1968 eight provincial bakeries formed a cooperative company called Quality Bakers of New Zealand. By consolidating they could afford television advertising, and saved costs by bulk purchasing ingredients, and standardising loaf size. In the 2000s the company was the country’s biggest bread manufacturer. Two of the founders, brothers Pat and Peter Goodman, went on to build Goodman Fielder, a large Australasian company marketing numerous food products.
Sliced bread and wrapping
Pre-sliced, wrapped bread was unheard of before 1950. It was first sold in a waxed paper wrapping. In 1963, 30% of bread was sold this way. Plastic wrappers, introduced in 1979, had to be looser than waxed paper to stop mould.
In a move away from standardised loaves in the 1980s, bakeries in supermarkets and hot bread shops sold their loaves straight from the oven. Small artisan bakers flourished in the 1990s and early 2000s. They have revived traditional breads, such as the sourdough loaf, which has a slower rising time and a stronger, more fermented flavour.