Consumer trends change almost as quickly as the weather, but three current movements have the potential to alter the bakery aisle in radical ways.
Consumer buying behavior is giving rise to a plethora of trends, but three niches in particular — hyperniches, if you will — could affect the baking industry more than most. It all comes down to ingredients, or, in one case, the lack thereof.
The gluten-free train pulled into town a couple of years ago and has continued to pick up steam. The demand for gluten-free baked products ties into the overall push for increased healthfulness on supermarket shelves, but gluten-free stands out since the trend stems from a genuine medical need. People with celiac disease have an abnormal immune reaction to gluten and must cut out all products containing it from their diet. Although the number of people suffering from the genetic digestive disease is small — about one in 133 — many more have adopted a gluten-free diet in order to address gluten sensitivities or intolerances. Market research firm Packaged Facts predicts sales of gluten-free foods and beverages will hit $2.6 billion by 2012, and Datamonitor's Product Launch Analytics reports a doubling in the number of gluten-free products brought to market in the past five years.
While the beverage aisle is the most visible market grappling with the problem of sweeteners, the issue also is at the top of the baking industry's list. As government officials ramp up efforts to tackle obesity and consumers begin to question the healthfulness of high fructose corn syrup, food manufacturers are taking a second look at sweetening options. Food research company Leatherhead International reports natural sweeteners could account for up to 25 percent of the global intense sweeteners market by 2015. Stevia makes up the bulk of this category, accounting for 14 percent of the worldwide market and 21 percent of the U.S. market, but some challengers may emerge in the near future. PepsiCo recently developed a method for producing a natural sweetener using oats, and Cargill is working on the potential of monatin, a natural sweetener found in the South African plant Sclerochiton ilicifolius.
If the first six months are any indication, 2010 is set to become the year of the sodium wars. In April, the FDA announced an initiative to reduce Americans' salt consumption by analyzing current levels of sodium in foods and beverages and working with manufacturers to establish limits. The Institute of Food Technologists said it would support the FDA's efforts but called for more research into the possible health impact of such a move. Even before the announcement was made, a number of food manufacturers, including Sara Lee, General Mills, ConAgra and Kraft, had pledged to reduce the amount of sodium in their products. For manufacturers worried about how consumer taste buds will react to new formulas, some comfort may be found in the knowledge that a market for reduced- and no-sodium products already exists. Packaged Foods estimates sales of these foods and beverages reached $22 billion in 2009.