The centuries-old bagel stays fresh with new looks and flavors.
Legend has it the bagel originated as a tribute to Jan Sobieski, the Polish king who triumphed over the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Numerous sources claim the bread's famous appearance is the result of being shaped into the form of a stirrup to commemorate the king's victory.
It's a good tale, but it's not true. The real story is, of course, less romantic. Hailing from Krakow, this decidedly unroyal foodstuff was designed to compete with the obwarzanek, a lean bread made of wheat flour that was a favorite during Lent. Its exact date of invention is unknown, but by the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the bajgiel had become a Polish staple. Four hundred years later, the bagel's popularity has spread across the globe, and bakers are dreaming up ever-new forms of the distinctive bread.
Dunkin Donuts recently launched its bagel twists, possibly the most revolutionary take on the bagel yet. Eschewing the traditional circular, holed form, the product is exactly what it sounds like: two long strips of bagel dough twisted together, then boiled and baked. Flavors include cheddar cheese, cinnamon raisin, jalapeño cheddar, sour cream and onion, pretzel salt, blueberry and French toast.
Bimbo Bakeries put a healthful spin on things with its Thomas bagel thins, a slimmer, lower-calorie alternative to the robust bread, and Einstein Noah Restaurant Group followed suit, introducing three varieties of bagel thin sandwiches.
“Two of them, the tuna bagel thin sandwich and the turkey bagel thin sandwich, have only 250 calories each, and the turkey-bacon avocado BLT has 380,” points out James O'Reilly, chief concept officer, Einstein Noah Restaurant Group. “This kind of bagel innovation gives consumers the taste and convenience they want, but with good nutritionals.”
Anthony Pariti, vice president of Always Bagels, Bohemia, N.Y., says he's seen bagel sales steadily climbing, even while the country struggles to regain a solid economic foothold, and attributes it to the consumer desire for healthful options.
“We have seen increased sales in this troubled economy due to what we feel is the demand for low-cost, healthy items,” he says. “We are seeing a trend of more demand for whole grains, flax, oats, fruits, etc.” Pariti adds that he's also seen a growing demand for cheese bagels, in flavors like Asiago and cheddar.
Original Bagel Co., West Caldwell, N.J., is targeting the health-conscious market with a selection of better-for-you bagels, including 100 percent all-natural and whole grain varieties. As with Always Bagels, its newly introduced Asiago cheese bagel has been enthusiastically received. Terry Martin, national sales manager, says customer demand dictates the varieties offered.
“Original Bagel has many custom-blend flavors, which sometimes we convert to an everyday item,” he explains. “We are now selling a custom, low-sodium formula that we're watching closely to see if other customers request [it].”
If the past 400 years are any indication, people will be requesting bagels for a long time to come.
TOP10 Brands: Dollar and Unit Sales (millions)
|Refrigerated Brand Names||Dollar Sales||% Change Year Ago||Unit Sales||% Change Year Ago|
|Pepperidge Farm Mini||16.1||↓||5.1||4.5||↓||5.4|
|Thomas Bagel Thins||12.3||n/a||4.6||n/a|
|Bimbo Weight Watchers||8.3||↓||18.6||2.1||↓||17.7|
|Sara Lee Soft & Smooth||7.8||n/a||2.4||n/a|
|Fresh Bakery Products||52 weeks ended Apr. 18: $ Sales||% Change Prior Year||52 weeks ended Apr. 18: Unit Sales||% Change Prior Year|
|Cakes (excl snack/coffee)||$728,185,300||↑||3.5%||139,298,200||↑||4.2%|
|Pies (excl snack pies)||227,216,300||↑||7.8||48,857,240||↑||10.7|
|Refrigerated Bakery Products||52 weeks ended Apr. 18: $ Sales||% Change Prior Year||52 weeks ended Apr. 18: Unit Sales||% Change Prior Year|
|Cakes (excl snack/coffee)||89,079,710||↑||21.2||12,053,490||↑||26.4|
|Pies (excl snack pies)||21,903,570||↓||4.3||3,931,891||↓||3.1|
|Frozen Bakery Products||52 weeks ended Apr. 18: $ Sales||% Change Prior Year||52 weeks ended Apr. 18: Unit Sales||% Change Prior Year|
|Fresh Baked Bread/Rolls/Biscuits||537,393,700||↓||2.3||200,880,500||↓||4.2|
|Sweetgoods (excl cheesecakes)||335,517,900||↓||0.6||73,729,140||↓||3.1|
Source: Infoscan Reviews, SymphonyIRI Group, April 18, 2010