Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Panasonic Bread Machine - Bread Not Rising - Special Investigation

Panasonic SD256 Bread Maker Machine
The bread has suddenly stopped rising 

If you've found this page as a result of searching 'Panasonic Bread Machine bread not rising' keep reading to find out why 

We have 2 of these Panasonic Bread making machines, at 2 different properties. Since getting the first one at Christmas 2010 We've completely stopped buying bread from the shops.

The bread this machine bakes is excellent. That is, until about a month ago when the Granary bread suddenly stopped rising. 

We thought the bread machine must have broken, but we really hoped it hadn't. 

I looked online, and one bread making forum suggested the Panasonic machine may not be heating up during the proving cycle. Mmm. That would be a shame. This machine is 18 months old and outside the warranty.

So we decided to try all the troubleshooting tips from the Panasonic instruction manual - one by one, adding less water to the mix, different brand of yeast, and longer baking times, but still the bread came out flat, time after time.

We always use Hovis Granary flour, because that's our favourite loaf. We'd just bought 9 bags of it (usually £1.39 each) because it was on offer at Sainsbury's. 

The last tip in Panasonic's troublshooting guide suggested poor quality flour could be the culprit for a flat loaf. So we baked another loaf using some old Sainsbury's wholemeal flour.


So the Panasonic bread machine appeared to be working - but not the Hovis Granary flour.

So I decided to find out if the Hovis Granary flour we'd used week in, week out for almost 2 years could suddenly have changed in some way.

Hovis Granary flour is made by Premier Foods. They have a helpline number printed on the bag 0845 200 0040, so I called it (actually I used saynoto0870 to find a freephone number instead of the number on the bag - freephone 0800 0327111)

Premier Foods said they would send me a padded envelope so I could send them a sample of the flour for testing, and if it was proven to be at fault they would send me a refund for the 9 bags.

A week later - a few more flat loaves later - and still nothing had arrived from Hovis, so I phoned again. This time I was greeted with a recording - the helpline is open Monday to Friday - of course I was phoning on a Saturday. Meanwhile we've still got 9 bags of this Hovis Granary flour hanging around...

Sainsbury's more help than Hovis!

So on the off-chance they could help instead, I phoned Sainsbury's care line  (0800 636282) to see if I could return the flour to a Sainsbury's store without a receipt. Perhaps they could send it back to Premier Foods?  

Megan at Sainsbury's, who I spoke to, asked for the bar code of the product and some other details, and then said she was very sorry to hear about the problem and would send me a £15 gift card to cover the cost of the flour (yes I was very surprised too, but that's Sainsbury's service for you).

But that's not the end of this story, because I still don't know what's not working - the flour or the breadmaker?

At the weekend we were at the other property, where the other Panasonic bread machine lives. So we baked another loaf using some Hovis flour we had lying around, and this time the loaf rose beautifully - it worked! 

Which unfortunately was more than the Sainsbury's gift card did. It turned out to have zero credit when I tried to use it in store. When I phoned Sainsbury's with the reference on the letter and the gift card they saw the problem immediately - it hadn't been loaded with any credit - and they said they were very sorry and would send me a new gift card with £20! which arrived the very next day.

So then I began to wonder if perhaps the Panasonic bread machine was the real cause of the problem, not the Hovis flour.

On Tuesday I phoned Panasonic 0844 844 3899* (but not using that number but using www.saynoto0870 to find number which wouldn't cost 10p a minute - and again the website came up trumps with *01344 862444)

Panasonic have outsourced their customer queries to Romania, where I was met with a stony Eastern European unhelpfulness. 'Your machine is 18 months old and out of warranty. Panasonic may provide some assistance if you take it to our service agent in Hayes, West London for a report'. 'How much will that cost?' I ask. The Romanian operator cannot tell me, they do not have that information.
This is the West London service agent for the mighty Japanese global electronics giant Panasonic...

Kings Electronics (just next door to the closed Kebab shop) in Hayes. No I didn't go there, I phoned them, and actually they were surprisingly helpful.

It costs £24 for the service agent to take a look, and then Panasonic might pay for the spare parts if it can be fixed, and I would pay for the labour. 'How much is a new bread machine?' the man asks me - '£99 in John Lewis' I tell him. 'Well then...', he said, rather tellingly. 

Then a thought occurred to him. 'Did I speak to the cookery department at Panasonic?'. No, just the helpline in Romania. I must speak to the cookery line. 'They know all about the machine, and things to try'. Then he gave me the direct line for the cookery department - in the manner of a scorcerer handing down a precious spell to a young apprentice.

Panasonic's cookery department is in the UK - 01344 862108 ( but it closes at 12 noon, so I had to wait until today). But when I did phone, Helen knew all about the problems I was having with my bread machine. 'It's even been in the news!' she said. What major news story have I missed about the Panasonic SD256 I wondered?

Apparently there's virtually nothing that can go wrong with the Panasonic SD256 Bread machine - it either bakes or it breaks! They go on for years (yes that's what all the online forums say too). If the machine mixes and bakes that's all it does, nothing in-between.

Helen went on to explain the reason my Granary bread won't rise is the poor quality of the UK Wheat harvest. 

There's not enough gluten in the flour. 

Some bags will work, but most won't. The harvest has been terrible. I can try using a couple of spoons of lemon juice in the mix to strengthen the gluten strands, but otherwise I'll need industrial type bread improvers, which just aren't available to consumers. Hovis flour is the worst offender, they'd even heard on the grapevine Hovis had rejected some of their wheat crop. I said I'd also tried Allinson's country grains flour too, without any success. 'That's the second worst!' She exclaimed. She suggested I try Waitrose Organic, but she said it was just going to keep on getting worse, the harvest had been so bad - because of the weather.

Helen said the Panasonic cookery team have put some extra tips on their blog ( I suggested she tell the call centre in Romania about the problem with the flour. She said they all hoped the call centre wouldn't be in Romania much longer. I couldn't agree more, it must be costing Panasonic a lot of lost customers.

So finally after my long and frustrating investigation I decided Hovis should know it's probably their flour, not the Panasonic bread maker causing my flat loaves.

 Hovis Granary Flour - They even boast
 'Perfect for hand baking and Bread Machines'

I decide to give Hovis owner Premier Foods another try. The Same chap, David, answers the phone ('Are you the only person who works at Premier Foods?' I ask, 'It sometimes feels that way' he replies). He says he sent the sample bags out on 14th November. 'It must be the post'. I reassure him he probably isn't to blame, 'You probably don't post them yourself', 'no but I can see who does, he's just across the desk'. 'Have they had any other complaints about the Hovis Granary flour' I ask. 'All the calls are logged, but the testing is done upstairs'. I'm getting quite a sense of the internal layout of Hovis HQ by now...

Anyway while I wait for the chap sitting opposite David at Premier Foods to post the padded envelope (its coming Recorded Delivery this time) I thought I'd better get the ressult of my investigation up online in case your Granary bread has stopped rising too.

I'll let you know what Premier Foods say when they've tested my Hovis Granary flour.

Panasonic's tips:
1. Try organic flour
2. Try adding 2 spoons of lemon juice to the mix to strengthen the gluten. 
3. Use the 'Rapid Bake' setting (4 hours).

We have followed this advice with great results, the lemon juice especially seems to have a dramatic effect.

Bread making sure is sophisticated science. It took food technologists 6 years to perfect the Chorleywood process (named because it was invented at a research lab in Chorleywood) - the technique which made possible industrial scale bread production using cheaper, lower quality wheat.

It's taken me just 4 weeks to discover why my Granary bread won't rise. The answer seems to be the lower quality wheat.

Update: 31st January.
It took Premier Foods (the owners of Hovis) over 2 months to respond to my complaint about Hovis Granary flour. After I prompted them by phone earlier this week, a letter arrived today confirming that there was a problem with the 2 bags I sent them. 

"It has been analysed by our quality control dept and was found to be not up to our usual high standard. This is due to the poor weather we have unfortunately experienced in Britain especially in the spring, summer and autumn before the harvest which has unfortunately affected this batch. Details of your complaint have been brought to the attention of the Quality Assurance Manager so that any necessary steps may be taken to prevent a recurrence. Please accept our apologies for the trouble and inconvenience you may have experienced. We enclose vouchers as a refund and to assist you in a future purchase' 

 £20 worth of enclosed vouchers which can be redeemed against future purchases of Premier Foods brands - including Hovis.

Given I had to phone Premier Foods 3 times, package up 2 of the 9 bags of Hovis flour, take the package to the post office and then wait 2 months for a reply, £20 doesn't seem an overly generous recognition for the 'trouble and inconvenience'. But fortunately I didn't go out and buy a brand new Panasonic bread machine as some Hovis users have done. Needless to say I've completely stopped buying Hovis Granary flour and do not intend to buy any more. I'm surprised Premier Foods has sent vouchers, but I expect the supermarkets will accept them. I remain sceptical Hovis will do (or have done anything) to improve the quality of the flour, given how many people seem to be having exactly the same problem. I think Hovis should remove the 'perfect for bread machines' claim from the front of their packaging, and consider including the tip about adding lemon juice to the mix. The more customers who complain (0208 495 8392) I expect the more likely they are to take some action.

Finally, you may be wondering how they test the flour? Premier didn't tell me this, but there is a scientific test called the 'Hagberg Falling Number' test for gluten quality in wheat. So Premier can test the product before it leaves the factory if they wish.