Wide-pan loaves, increased slice thickness and an open-crumb texture were three key attributes identified by Sara Lee in creating the Hearty & Delicious bread line.
Sara Lee’s six Hearty & Delicious bread varieties largely are the result of vigorous market research, which clearly indicated consumer demand for sandwich breads that combine density with good flavor and texture.
New products are the lifeblood of the bread category, and few companies in the last five years have introduced more successful new bread products than Sara Lee Food & Beverage, Downers Grove, Ill. Since the company introduced the Sara Lee brand into the fresh bread category more than four years ago, Sara Lee Food & Beverage has built a formidable roster of Sara Lee branded bread products, each carefully designed to give consumers what they want.
Giving consumers what they want does not seem like a novel idea, but many companies fail to fully examine this important aspect of product development, instead focusing on being the first to market, not the best to market.
"Being the first to the market is great," says Peter Reiner, Sara Lee’s vice president of marketing, Category & Brand, Sara Lee Brands. "But it’s more important to do what is right for the consumer and taking the business and brand to a new level."
This logic is reflected in the company’s participation in the low-carbohydrate craze, which caused many high-volume bakeries to rush products to store shelves, regardless of tastes, attributes and consumer preferences. Instead of rushing a "low-carb" bread to the marketplace, Sara Lee Food & Beverage listened to what consumers wanted. And it wasn’t just low-carbohydrates. Consumers wanted low calories too, as well as high fiber and whole grains. The company’s consumer research efforts led to the introduction of the wildly successful Delightful brand of breads.
By being the best to market, if not necessarily the first, Sara Lee Food & Beverage was able to launch a product amid the low-carbohydrate craze that had attributes beyond what most bakers thought consumers wanted. Today, this product remains on store shelves while most other "low-carb" products have fizzled.
Executing a successful product launch requires seamless cooperation between three very distinct groups: research and development, manufacturing and marketing. Sara Lee Food & Beverage has succeeded with recent product launches because the company’s main product development forces are "joined at the hip," Reiner says.
The company also attributes recent successful product launches to simply listening to what consumers want. "Consumer research is the reason why we have been successful," Reiner says. "Because we not only conduct consumer research, but we actually listen to it."
One of the company’s latest line introductions, Sara Lee Hearty & Delicious breads, was born out of consumer research that pointed toward increased demand for a hearty sandwich bread that could hold even the most robust ingredients.
"We work with the marketing group to define the attributes consumers are looking for, and then translate that into product attributes," says Andre Biane, Sara Lee’s vice president, Bakery Product Development, Research and Development. "Then we translate that into a product that we can make on a daily basis."
By examining this developmental process through defining attributes of Sara Lee Hearty & Delicious breads, it is easy to see why Sara Lee Food & Beverage has been an industry leader in innovation.
Defining attribute – appearance
Sara Lee Hearty & Delicious breads come in six varieties: All-Natural Whole Wheat, All-Natural 100% Whole Wheat with Honey, All-Natural 100% Multi=Grain, Home-Style Buttermilk Bakery Bread Made with Whole Grain, Old-Fashioned Potato Bakery Bread Made with Whole Grain and Country Bakery Bread Made with Whole Grain.
First and foremost, the breads are formulated to satiate the demands of sandwich lovers. "Consumers are looking for a heartier, denser type of bread that really holds up to the ultimate sandwich, but at the same time, contributes good flavor and texture," Biane says.
To create the ultimate sandwich bread, the company identified three key attributes: wide-pan loaves, increased slice thickness and a more open crumb.
Attaining the desired loaf size and slice thickness was relatively easy for Sara Lee Food & Beverage’s bakeries, according to Shay Braun, regional vice president of the company’s Grand Rapids bakery. Bakeries that manufacture the product had to make minor slicer adjustments and oven modifications to accommodate a longer bake at lower temperatures.
These minor adjustments paled in comparison to the difficulties of making a more open, course crumb. "The majority of our breads have tight crumbs, which has always been a desirable characteristic," says Joe Handle, the Grand Rapids bakery’s production manager. "With these wide-pan loaves, market tests have shown that consumers want a grain that is more open and coarser. If we had an open cell structure in our normal bread products they would not be considered quality products"
For the Grand Rapids bakery, attaining the desired crumb was one of the biggest challenges of manufacturing the new products. Fortunately, the plant employs three certified bakers, which Braun says makes a complicated process a little easier.
Defining attribute – whole grains
Sara Lee Food & Beverage is a major player in the whole grain bread category, helping push the whole grain category to new heights through innovations such as using white whole wheat on a national scale through its innovative "Made with Whole Grain" products.
For its Hearty and Delicious line, the company covered the entire whole grain category by offering both 100% whole grain and Made with Whole Grain varieties. the made with whole grains varieties consist of a blend of refined white bread flour and ultra finely milled whole grain flour. These products are designed to satisfy consumers who love the taste of white bread, but want whole grain nutrition in their bread offerings.
Using white whole wheat flour has posed minor challenges for the company’s bakeries. To date, the flour is still delivered in bags, not trucks. As a result, the Grand Rapids bakery had to install a bag dump station. The flour performs similar to other whole grain flours, but requires a little more water, Handle says. "The flour is a little more difficult to work with, but it creates a superior product and gives us an edge over the competition," Handle adds.
Defining attribute - natural
Three varieties of Sara Lee’s Hearty & Delicious line carry the "100% Natural" claim. Because Food & Drug Administration has not officially defined "natural," the company first challenge was defining guidelines for its "All-Natural" products. To make the "100% Natural" claim, Sara Lee Food & Beverage says its products must contain no artificial colors, flavors or chemical preservatives.
"We strive for what we call minimally processed ingredients—things consumers really understand," Biane says.
Eliminating chemical preservatives from a bread with nationwide distribution and expecting a 2 week shelf life was a quite a challenge for our developers. "Part of our challenge was coming up with a natural preservative system that is derived from ingredients like vinegar and whey," Biane says.
The finished product
After working through initial formulation and manufacturing challenges, each Sara Lee Food & Beverage plant goes through a rigorous qualification process to ensure that the products being produced match the specifications developed in the research and development lab.
For the Grand Rapids plant, the qualification process began in April, when the plant received the Hearty & Delicious specifications and formulations. After working through initial processing modifications, the plant started sending samples to research and development. "They assess the quality, and until we achieve two ‘superior’ ratings, we have to continue to test the bread," Braun.
These measures ensure finished products meet consumer expectations, something Sara Lee Food & Beverage has excelled at since launching the Sara Lee brand.
Label Claims: 100% Natural; Heart Healthy; No Trans Fats; No Artificial Colors, Flavors or Preservatives; Good Source of Fiber
Slice Size: 43 grams
Ingredients: Stone ground whole wheat flour, water, bulgur wheat, brown sugar, wheat gluten, yeast, raisin juice concentrate. Contains 2% of less of each