Part of knowing your customers is anticipating what they will want tomorrow. These burgeoning trends won’t affect every market, but awareness will put your bakery ahead of the curve.
“May you live in interesting times,” as the Irish adage goes, is ostensibly a blessing. In fact, it’s anything but. The food industry is certainly laboring through interesting times. Consumers’ attitudes toward spending are always in flux, but the last three years have been even more erratic than usual, with economic pressures adding another variable to the complex equation that is consumer behavior. But changing consumer behavior can present opportunity. It can illuminate new ways to reach customers and provide different lenses through which to view their demands. Modern Baking compiled a list of 10 directions emerging in food that may have implications for your bakery.
The mini loaf gets big
Every year, the world seems to get a little smaller. Phones are shrinking into thin, palm-sized devices, compact cars are being hailed as the savior of the environment, and the cupcake is the snack of the moment. It was only a matter of time before the trend showed up in bread. Consumers have had an on-and-off relationship with the miniature loaf for several years now, but it looks like the current economic conditions and lingering green movement may finally cause the trend to stick.
Franklin Street Bakery in Minneapolis is an old hand at producing mini loaves. It sells the pint-sized product for $3.99, and customers don’t hesitate to snap them up. The bakery keeps customers interested by periodically varying its offerings.
“We offer a variety that changes seasonally,” explains pastry chef Lynne Hackman. “Currently, they include pumpkin spice, chocolate zucchini and banana blueberry to name a few.”
The bakery began producing the mini loaves as a way to use the leftover batter from its regular loaves, and since all the loaves are produced together, the process requires no additional work, making the bread a nobrainer addition.
Mini loaves appeal to a range of customers–cashstrapped shoppers like the lower price point, eco-conscious patrons find there’s less to waste, and those counting calories appreciate the smaller portions. And with the trend showing up at Dairy-Deli-Bake earlier this year, it seems the mini loaf is set to gain a very big following.
Behind the curtain: website videos
Thanks in part to the advent of the TV celebrity baker, consumers now are interested in what goes on behind the scenes in a retail bakery. Marketing-savvy retail bakers are taking a page out of celebrity bakers’ playbooks by introducing video to their websites.
“Our customers were always asking us how we make certain products, and they want to know if we have classes,” says Sandy Polletta, co-owner of Edgewood bakery, Jacksonville, Fla. “There aren’t enough hours in the day to run a business and do those kinds of things as well, so we turned to video.”
The idea began with an Orlando wedding planner, who was looking to create a primer for brides-to-be about what they should expect from a wedding cake and cake decorator. A production company showed up to shoot the video, which Edgewood now hosts on its website.
“This inspired us to do more. We do spots on local TV, where we had people asking about different techniques,” Polletta says. “Even if they don’t do it themselves, they find the nuts and bolts of baking so interesting.”
Being in the wedding industry, bakers are likely already acquainted with photographers or videographers. “We’ll hire or trade with them and have them come in to do the video for us. When you start to do something like this, you realize how little you know,” she says.
But that shouldn’t deter bakers from using a DIY approach to creating and posting short videos, if the content is of interest to customers. Most current digital cameras have a video option and enough memory to shoot a few minutes of footage–enough for a baker to demonstrate a new decorating trick or sculpting technique. And these videos are easy to host on a bakery’s website, where they can remain indefinitely.
Above all, a video is another means to connect to customers, position yourself as an expert and invite your clientele behind the curtain for an exclusive look at how you do what you do.
Giving products a second chance
Waste has always been a bad word in bakeries. But the recent sustainable and environmentally responsible movements, combined with the economic slump, have made waste a no-no with consumers, too. Bakers are finding ways to reduce their waste, all the while showing customers they care about waste reduction and sustainability.
Hello Pies, Washington, D.C., does not sell day-old product and wanted to reduce its product shrink. “We were tired of throwing out what we didn’t sell from that day. Truthfully, the cakes are fine for three to four days, but we market ourselves as baked fresh everyday,” says Todd Miller, executive pastry chef. “So, we invented the Hello Pies.”
The Hello Pie uses the crowned tops of undecorated cupcakes that otherwise would have been tossed. The bakery slices off the tops, then sandwiches two tops together with a generous layer of icing to create a wastesaving cousin of the whoopee pie.
Hello Pies are merchandised next to the register with a sign explaining their function and purpose. They seem to resonate with customers.
At $2 apiece, the Hello Pies usually sell out. “We could have 80 on a Friday and sell them all. It depends on how much we have left over, but on an average day, we do four to five dozen,” Miller says.
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Catherine Reinhart, owner of The Sweet Life Patisserie, Eugene, Ore., has a similar plan to combat waste and appeal to customers.
“For a while we talked about sustainability, being more efficient,” Reinhart says. “The beginning of the conversation was ‘where’s the waste?’ So we kept track of all the cake top leftovers in one week, and also brownies and bars, chips and toppings that fell off.”
At the end of the week, Reinhart found the bakery had 50 lbs. of wasted product and ingredients. So she and her staff brainstormed, and the Junk in the Trunk bar was born. Reinhart mixes the cake scraps and leftovers, adds a little more butter, a few more eggs (it’s different every time) and bakes sheets to be cut into bars. Angel food cake, lemon coconut and poppy seed go into one bar, and the richer chocolate varieties and go into another. Outside of general flavor groupings, Junk in the Trunk is tinker-free.
“We don’t throw it in the waste stream, we repurpose it. Because it’s scrap, we can cut pretty big bars and sell it for a great value. It makes our customers happy,” Reinhart says. “I hate waste, hate it with a passion.”
Defining the fifth flavor
Umami, a Japanese word for the elusive fifth flavor in the human palate after sweet, sour, salty and bitter, describes a pleasant flavor sometimes characterized as savory. More specifically, it is a flavor imparted by glutamates, which are amino acids. The increasingly refined palate of the American consumer is making umami a more commonly referenced and demanded flavor–odd, given umami’s checkered past.
If you don’t recognize glutamates on their own, you might remember their salt form, monosodium glutamate (MSG), the often-vilified ingredient used in Asian cooking. The FDA has concluded MSG is safe for most people, like most anything else, when “eaten at customary levels.” On their own, though, glutamates are pervasive and naturally occurring in ingredients ranging from mushrooms, shrimp, beef, vegetables and dairy. The salt carrier for glutamates may have a bad rap, but it’s in a lot of foods and is a major factor in imparting pleasant flavors.
Umami is subtle and difficult to identify on its own, instead serving to expand and complement other flavors. But how does it relate to baking? Bakers have been creating umami products for centuries without knowing the chemical reason for the fortuitous flavor. Products like ciabatta topped with tomatoes, pastries featuring green tea or pizzarolios with pesto and Parmesan are full of naturally occurring glutamates, and therefore umami. Parmesan cheese, for example, is a glutamate champion with 1.2 g of glutamates per 100 g of cheese.
Such products have always fallen under the relatively vague umbrella of the savory category, but with the idea of umami as a sought-after flavor gaining traction in the United States, savory products now have a more precise term to describe them.
This allows bakers to experiment with marketing and promotional efforts focused on the umami flavor in pastries and breads. What’s more, umami is considered a complementary flavor, so it doesn’t need to stand on its own. Instead, allow it to enhance other existing flavors and products.
Consumers, government set dietary priorities
Americans’ health and wellness has been under the microscope this year, both from the consumers themselves and from goverment agencies. Many local governments now require calorie counts to be posted on menu boards while the federal government has mandated lower amounts of sodium in processed foods. First Lady Michelle Obama spotlighted childhood obesity with her Let’s Move! campaign, and the President created the Task Force on Childhood Obesity to jumpstart the initiative. And then there are the pending 2010 Dietary Guidelines, which replace the 2005 guidelines and will be released at the end of the year.
As a result of this focus on health and nutrition, label claims, nutrition panels and ingredient lists are being scrutinized like never before. Bakers now must keep an eagle eye on sodium levels, fat content and sweeteners, not to mention that customers expect to see an abundance of grain offerings and healthful inclusions in the products they purchase.
This year marked the first time that wheat bread outsold white bread, indicating that consumers are actually walking the walk, and the preliminary report from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee made special note of consumers’ grain consumption, stating that intake of refined grains should be reduced. Some bakeries and industry groups worry this recommendation will have a negative health impact, but new research published in the Journal of Nutrition concludes that nearly the entire U.S. population fails to eat a diet that fits within the dietary guidelines. The more than 16,000 individuals studied consumed the recommended serving amount of only three food groups, of which total grains was one. Whole grains was one of the groups from which people consumed the least. So it seems the formula for customer and government approval is clear–decrease sodium and sugar, increase whole grains and shrink portion sizes.
There’s a bakery app for that
It’s hard to believe that in human years, the iPhone would still be considered a toddler. But three years in the tech world is enough time to spawn four generations of the device, and the applications that were so revolutionary at its release have now become an entrenched facet of everyday mobile life.
Although apps are available for every smartphone on the market, Apple is the de facto app leader, with more than 250,000 apps available from its App Store and more than 6.5 billion downloads. But when it comes to sheer exposure, BlackBerry apps have the biggest potential user base, as RIM, the maker of the phone, currently has a nearly 38 percent market share, compared to Apple’s 24 percent.
Apps for big brands are old news with even sedate institutions like the White House announcing its own. What’s relatively recent, however, is the growth of apps for small businesses, including bakeries. Cakelove, with locations in Virgina, Maryland and Washington, D.C., launched an app that features recipes, tips and techniques, as well as photos of the bakery’s products. The app for Mani’s Bakery Café in Los Angeles has location and contact info, an up-to-date menu and a list of current special offers and upcoming events. San Diego Desserts and Barry Bagels in Michigan and Ohio both offer apps that allow mobile ordering, ensuring customers can get their favorites on the go. All the apps are compatible with the iPhone, iPod Touch and the iPad.
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The fight for natural
Natural may be one of the most meaningless words in the food industry, not because it doesn’t resonate with consumers, but because without a explicit definition, consumers and food manufacturers are free to define it in their own terms, which are often at cross purposes.
New Pioneer Food Co-op, Coralville, Iowa, bills itself as a natural market. “We’re all natural, which I realize has no meaning, but for us it means no artificial ingredients, additives and preservatives. We try to avoid any GMO items and use organic flour in about 90 percent of our product,” says Craig Albright, food production coordinator. That is one market’s definition, but others may define natural differently.
In 2008, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) declined to establish a definition for natural and held to the policy established in 1993 that the “FDA has not established a formal definition for the term ‘natural,’ however the agency has not objected to the use of the term on food labels provided it is used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.” It goes on to somewhat define natural as “ingredients extracted directly from plants or animal products as opposed to being produced synthetically.”
One of the biggest moves in the natural debate is the Corn Refiners Association’s (CRA) petition to the FDA to change the name of high fructose corn syrup to corn sugar on food labels. CRA states the change is necessary to more accurately reflect the composition of the ingredient. The process can take up to two years, and corn sugar cannot be used as an alternative name until the name change has been approved.
However, even if the petition passes and the name is changed, positive consumer reaction is not guaranteed. Even the venerable and arguably one of the most “natural” companies, Ben & Jerry’s is removing the term “natural” from its product labeling. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) claims that 48 of the company’s 53 ice cream and frozen yogurt flavors contain alkalized cocoa, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil or other “unnatural” ingredients. While the company disagrees with CSPI’s claims, Ben & Jerry’s decided that using natural on its labels was not the best way to convey its company values.
In the end, manufacturers can define natural any way they choose, but all that will matter is whether consumers buy the definition.
Sustainability as a responsibility
Signs indicate the eco-conscious movement that took off in early 2008 remains active, albeit in a more subdued manner. With eco-friendliness being increasingly tied to healthfulness and high quality, products and companies with green claims may find themselves well rewarded by customers.
FullBloom Baking Co., Newark, Calif., and Claire’s on Cedros bakery and café, Solana Beach, Calif., are two recent examples of bakeries going all in on the green front, receiving the validation of platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) status.
But the message to bakers should not be all or nothing– LEED or bust. It’s about showing your customers you have a conscience when it comes to the environment. And that conscience could be a money saver for the bakery. But this has to be an honest effort, as an unfulfilled down payment of lip service could backfire. Along with this added consciousness of sustainability comes a healthy dose of consumer skepticism. A Mintel Oxygen study found that 25 percent of consumers are suspicious when a company claims to be green and 63 percent of them wonder if products really are green when a company claims they are.
What works? Bakery Nouveau, Seattle, and Costeaux French Bakery, Healdsburg, Calif., have turned to composting, a valuable and visible method of going green. Charles Feder, owner of Rossmoor Pastries in Signal Hill, Calif., set up a fleet of delivery trucks to run on natural gas. And on the in-store side, Market of Choice, Eugene, Ore., made a sincere commitment to buying local–from ingredients to packaging.
And the bigger retailers are following suit, so you know the trend has legs. Safeway Inc., Pleasanton, Calif., recently became the first U.S.-based grocery chain to join The Sustainability Consortium, a science-based group of companies working to develop a more sustainable global food supply chain. The consortium includes such supply giants as General Mills, PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble.
“We believe [the consortium’s] mission is a good fit with Safeway’s efforts to provide its customers with a larger selection of sustainable products and services,” explained Larree Renda, executive vice president, chief strategist and administrative officer for Safeway. “The company is committed to becoming the premier retailer in the grocery sector with an unrivaled reputation for pursuing growth through leadership in environmental, socially responsible and ethical business practices.”
From exotic to mainstream
While some bakers clamor to be the first to market with cutting-edge flavor concepts, clever bakers are keeping their eyes on cultural phenomena for cues on where to direct product development. Flavor assimilation, for instance, is a good place to look for “new” flavor concepts. Many products that were edgy and exotic only a few years ago are now considered ordinary.
“Mango has made the transition from ethnic to mainstream flavor. It is not exotic anymore; in fact, it is a household name,” says Lynn Dornblaser, director, CPG trend insight, Mintel Research, Chicago. “You occasionally see mango in baked products, especially in Danish pastry and other sweetgoods, but I wonder if bakers are missing the boat on the fact that mango is now part of the mainstream.”
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The slow assimilation of fruit often has to do with consumers’ fear of the unknown. For instance, 20 years ago, American consumers on the whole didn’t know what to do with a kiwi. Consumers need to be shown how fruits act or taste in a finished product before the fruits are assimilated. The fruit juice and fruit drink manufacturers are usually first, because juice-only forms of the fruit are free from unfamiliar appearance and textures.
Bakers are in a unique position to watch the fruit trends among juice manufacturers, sample them and begin to use successful exotic fruits in baked products. This is the next level of assimilation; it introduces consumers to the flavor and texture of the fruit itself without forcing a consumer to prepare it. Açai and pomegranate are far less intimidating to consumers in juice form, or in a Danish, than they are in the produce section, given their unfamiliar appearances.
Floral flavor profiles also are gaining momentum. Lavender was the first of the florals to have an impact in baking, and now rose and rosewater are doing the same. Bakers primarily pair rosewater with dark chocolate products, especially brownies.
Another floral that bakers should keep their eyes on is hibiscus. It is almost exclusively used in Asian or Caribbean food preparation, but as other florals are included in baking applications, the idea of flowers as a food flavor will become increasingly conventional. Hibiscus might be three to four years away from being regarded as mainstream, however.
Are free-from products more healthful?
One of the biggest trends in food has been the consumption of allergen-free foods by consumers who do not suffer from food allergies, many of whom are under the impression that foods free from allergens are more healthful.
In Modern Baking’s 2009 Full-line Retail Bakery Survey, 15 percent of respondents, the highest number, reported that sugar-free was the top health trend affecting their bakeries. Gluten-free and allergens followed at 12 percent. On the in-store bakery side, 38 percent of those surveyed for Modern Baking’s 2010 In-store Bakery Survey reported that their bakeries offer gluten-free products, up from 35 percent in 2008. This translates to 33 percent of the same operators reporting sales gains in the category, up from 20 percent in 2008. Sales of sugar-free or no-sugar-added items saw sales gains of 6 percent since 2008, according to the In-store Bakery Survey. Nielsen Co. reports that consumers spent $1.6 million on gluten-free foods in 2009 with projected sales of $2.6 billion by 2012.
Some of the increase in sales of these products can be from whole households eating the allergen-free products, even if only one member of the family suffers from a food allergy, but many also come from consumers who do not have any food allergies. Hype surrounding gluten-, casein- and dairy-free diets as a treatment for diseases, such as autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, also may be driving sales. Many of these claims remain scientifically unproven.
“To my knowledge, celiac disease is the only indication for a gluten-free diet,” said Peter Green, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University in the Newsweek.com report “A New Diet Villain.” According to researchers from the University of Michigan Health System, only about 1 percent of the U.S. population is estimated to suffer from celiac disease.
A gluten-free diet also may be trendy among younger consumers. According to a recent HealthFocus survey, almost one in five (23 percent) of 18 to 29 year olds say they always or usually avoid gluten as opposed to only 13 percent of the 40- to 49-year-old group.
In the Newsweek.com report, registered dietitian Dee Sandquist said gluten-free can be a healthy diet option as substitute grains often have more nutrients than refined white flour, but unlike wheat, many gluten-free products are not fortified with B vitamins. And, for non-celiac sufferers on a gluten-free diet, they may feel better due to a placebo effect, Sandquist added, because simply eating fewer cookies or pies will contribute to better overall health.