Faced with widespread discounting, bread bakers in Ireland are just about holding their own, according to Bord Bía, the Dublin-based state agency that promotes Irish-produced food. “Wrapped breads have shown some decline in both value and volume in the Irish Republic, but overall the category continues to be resilient in the current marketplace,” says Bord Bía spokesperson Sheila Boylan.Brian Irwin, chairman of Irwin’s Bakery, Craigavon, says: “There seems to be some reduction in sales more in the Republic than in Northern Ireland.”Boylan adds that volume is currently being driven by strong and ongoing promotional activity, such as TV commercials and other promotions from Pat the Baker. “However, there’s some evidence that consumers are trading down, with an increase in private-label sales affecting the performance of brands,” she says. Supermarket groups are responding by slashing the selling prices of branded bread.Bord Bía statistics estimate that the ambient bakery market in Ireland will be worth around E490m (£416m) this year.Over the past two years, bread sales have declined slightly and now account for just over 60% of the bakery market, while morning goods have grown to around 20%. Cakes and pastries are also in decline, with a market share down to under 20%.Branded bread products are challenged by inexorable rise of the two German-owned discoun-ters, Aldi and Lidl, which now have close to 15% of the Irish grocery market. In the Republic, Lidl is selling branded products from Irwin’s, including soda bread, for 89 cents; it is also selling Nimble wholemeal loaves for 69 cents. However, the retailer is also concentrating on its own-brand bread, baked locally and sold very cheaply. Currently, an own-brand thick white sliced 800g pan loaf is selling in Lidl for 55 cents, the same price as in Aldi.Many of the supermarket chains are also discounting bread heavily. Superquinn, for instance, has been discounting an 800g white sliced pan from Pat the Baker from E1.78 to E1.19 (£1.51 to £1.01). Brennans 800g standard sliced white pan loaf has been sold for just E1 (about 85p)in some supermarkets.Further competition comes from Tesco, which is expanding its in-store bakery operations in Ireland. And smaller bakeries are under as much pressure as the large plant bakeries.Irwin adds that smaller pack sizes are becoming much more popular with consumers, to reduce wastage. “There’s a return to familiar tastes and comforts, in uncertain times. Premium products are past tense; consumers want quality at value prices.” His colleague Michael Murphy, commercial director at Irwin’s, agrees:” Price is a big factor and there is a lot of discounting going on, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic” .The four main plant bakeries Brennans, Irish Pride, Johnston, Mooney & O’Brien and Pat the Baker make up the Irish Bread Bakers Association. Declan Fitzgerald, general manager of Pat the Baker, chairs this grouping, but declined to comment on the current state of the Irish bread market.While modest price rises in recent years have driven value growth in the Irish market, households have been cutting back on the frequency of purchases, with a number switching to Aldi and Lidl. But the trade will soon be facing a major challenge: soaring flour prices mean that Irish bakers may have to increase their prices by at least 10% over the next six months.
New research conducted by Harvard scientists is laying out a road map to one of the holy grails of modern medicine: a cure for cancer.As described in a paper recently published in eLife, Martin Nowak, a professor of mathematics and of biology and director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, and co-author Ivana Bozic, a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics, show that, under certain conditions, using two drugs in a “targeted therapy” — a treatment approach designed to interrupt cancer’s ability to grow and spread — could effectively cure nearly all cancers.Though the research is not a cure for cancer, Nowak said it does offer hope to researchers and patients alike.“In some sense this is like the mathematics that allows us to calculate how to send a rocket to the moon, but it doesn’t tell you how to build a rocket that goes to the moon,” Nowak said. “What we found is that if you have a single point mutation in the genome that can give rise to resistance to both drugs at the same time, the game is over. We need to have combinations such that there is zero overlap between the drugs.”Importantly, Nowak said, for the two-drug combination to work, both drugs must be given together — an idea that runs counter to the way many clinicians treat cancer today.“We actually have to work against the status quo somewhat,” he said. “But we can show in our model that if you don’t give the drugs simultaneously, it guarantees treatment failure.”In earlier studies, Nowak and colleagues showed the importance of using multiple drugs. Though temporarily effective, single-drug targeted therapy will fail, the researchers revealed, because the disease eventually develops resistance to the treatment.To determine if a two-drug combination would work, Nowak and Bozic turned to an expansive data set supplied by clinicians at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center that showed how patients respond to single-drug therapy. With data in hand, they were able to create computer models of how multidrug treatments would work. Using that model, they then treated a series of “virtual patients” to determine how the disease would react to the multidrug therapy.“For a single-drug therapy, we know there are between 10 and 100 places in the genome that, if mutated, can give rise to resistance,” Nowak explained. “So the first parameter we use when we make our calculations is that the first drug can be defeated by those possible mutations. The second drug can also be defeated by 10 to 100 mutations.“If any of those mutations are the same, then it’s a disaster,” he continued. “If there’s even a single mutation that can defeat both drugs, that is usually good enough for the cancer — it will become resistant, and treatment will fail. What this means is we have to develop drugs such that the cancer needs to make two independent steps — if we can do that, we have a good chance to contain it.”How good a chance?“You would expect to cure most patients with a two-drug combination,” Bozic said. “In patients with a particularly large disease burden you might want to use a three-drug combination, but you would cure most with two drugs.”The trick now, Nowak and Bozic said, is to develop those drugs.To avoid developing drugs that are not vulnerable to the same mutation, Bozic said, pharmaceutical companies have explored a number of strategies, including using different drugs to target different pathways in cancer’s development.“There are pharmaceutical companies here in Cambridge that are working to develop these drugs,” Nowak said. “There may soon be as many as 100 therapies, which means there will be as many as 10,000 possible combinations, so we should have a good repertoire to choose from.“I think we can be confident that, within 50 years, many cancer deaths will be prevented,” Nowak added. “One hundred years ago, many people died from bacterial infections, and now they would be cured. Today, many people die from cancer, and we can’t help them, but I think once we have these targeted therapies, we will be able to help many people — maybe not everyone — but many people.”