As much as things have changed in the baking industry in the past 25 years, much has stayed the same. Popular products come and go, but what remains unchanged is bakers’ passion for supplying the best product they can to their customers. Bakeries themselves continue to evolve as what consumers want from their bakeries changes, but the core of good product again remains the same. Take a look at what changes the last 25 years have wrought.
Do you remember a time before everyone walked around seemingly talking to themselves or texting furiously? Or before you could Google something? Before there were the ubiquitous earbuds and smartphones, before mobile phones had even lost their cords in the car, and before the internet had invaded modern culture and google became a word, Modern Baking came into existence. How times have changed.
Yet, how they have stayed the same. In researching the past 25 years for this anniversary issue, it struck a chord that for how different the world is today, the people in it remain amazingly the same. While we can look back at the photos with people sporting the 80s hair (big everywhere for women, mullets for men) and laugh, reading through the back issues reveals that many of the challenges facing bakers then are the same ones facing them now: How do you create a product that customers want and are willing to pay for? No magic formula existed then, nor does it now, but bakers remain passionate about supplying what the customers want.
“It’s a passion industry. If bakers don’t love it, they’re not going to be successful at it,” says Susan Lozier Robert, owner of Frederick’s Pastries, Amherst, N.H.
It’s this passion that has sustained the industry for the last several millennia, but luckily, only the last quarter century will be examined here.
Croissants, muffins and bagels–oh my
Cupcakes are all the rage currently, and while many products have been bandied about as the next cupcake, such as macarons, donuts, whoopie pies and pie, the cupcake is still holding strong. The trend began about 10 years ago when the ladies of Sex and the City were shown eating one from Magnolia Bakery on an episode of the TV show. But before the mighty cupcakes’ reign, many products came before them.
In the late 80s, croissants, cinnamon rolls and muffins were the queens (or kings) of their day. In 1988, The National Restaurant Association tradeshow highlighted the cinnamon roll trend by conducting an educational seminar called “Cinnamon Abuse,” which looked at cinnamon roll applications in restaurants. According to a Modern Baking survey conducted in 1989, 64 percent of households had purchased cinnamon rolls while 23 percent purchased them once a month or more. A cinnamon roll at T.J. Cinnamon’s set you back $1.25 in 1987.
But if you were tired of cinnamon rolls, muffins were riding their coattails. Cinnamon Sam’s, based in Kansas City, Mo., the unofficial home of the cinnamon roll (according to a news story in the Feb. 1988 issue of Modern Baking), diversified its product line to include muffins.
By 1992, muffins accounted for 7 percent of in-store bakeries sales, according to Modern Baking’s Instore Bakery Survey and 5 percent of sales in retail bakeries, according to Modern Baking’s Full-Line Retail Bakery Survey. Contrast that with the latest data for this decade. Muffins were down to less than 5 percent in in-store bakeries, but were still holding their own with retail bakeries, accounting for 4 percent of sales.
In the 90s, bagels also had their time in the limelight, following a similar trend of the cinnamon roll with singleproduct shops opening featuring only bagels. (Is this starting to sound familiar?) Modern Baking conducted a bagel survey in 1990, and more than 50 percent of households or 48 million people purchased bagels, with 8 percent buying them once a week. The location consumers most frequently purchased bagels was from the in-store bakery, with 17 percent buying there, 15 percent from grocers’ commercial aisles, 12 percent from specialty retail bakeries (i.e., bagel shops) and 10 percent from retail bakeries.
By 2000, five out of the 60 largest multi-unit retailers were bagel chains, and that was after several chains merged operations in the middle of the previous decade. In the latest top 50 foodservice report from Dec. 2011, bagel chains still took four spots. However, a change had occurred as the bagel shops discovered that man could not live on bagel alone. In order to survive, many became more closely aligned with bakery cafés, which had begun emerging in full force in the late 90s. No longer were bagels just for breakfast; now they had become the host for deli meats and a variety of other fillings to make them another sandwich bread option.
Changing face of wedding cakes
Cakes have always accounted for a large percentage of retail and in-store bakeries sales, maintaining a fairly even percentage of sales over the years. But an interesting phenomena is happening with wedding cakes. In-store bakeries began adding them to the product line several years ago, wedding cake-only shops began gaining traction and some retail bakeries started to get out of the business.
While wedding cakes still make up a steady percentage of sales, some retail bakeries are no longer putting the emphasis on them that they used to, either because of exploding delivery costs, increased competition or increasingly labor intensive designs.
Aside from the changes in wedding cake design with the move from tiers separated by pillars or fountains to stacked cakes and the popularity of rolled fondant, which gained traction early in the last decade, wedding cakes have become more personalized. “Some of our traditional old wedding cakes, with hanging stringwork and sugar bells, were intricate and detailed, but the cakes we’re doing today have a lot more to do with people’s personality,” Robert says. “The cakes are packed with a theme and a personality rather than just some design the bride had seen along the way.”
This may be part of the reason some bakers are leaving the wedding cakes to others, or it may be that brides themselves are eschewing the traditional cake. “I saw something recently that wedding cakes aren’t as popular, a lot of people are eliminating them,” says Michael Manni, owner of LaSalle’s Bakery, Providence, R.I. “We don’t do a lot of wedding cakes and we don’t wholesale them [to catering venues]. We used to do about 20 a weekend, now a big weekend means five or six.”
For the Twin Cities’ Wuollet Bakery, the emergence of contracts with catering halls severely limited the wedding cake business. “The wedding cake business tends to be fickle, and the market has changed for us. It has become prohibitively expensive with the catering halls’ add-on fees for couples to buy a cake from us,” says Mike Jurmu, co-owner of the 6-unit bakery.
Other bakers are loving the changes that bakery TV shows and the internet have wrought. Customers have become more educated and are not willing to have the same cake that another bride might have ordered last week. “I remember years ago telling customers what they wanted, and it would be based on what I liked doing or what I was good at doing,” Robert says. “Now, our appointment questions have changed. We ask what the couple likes to do, what kind of feeling are they trying to portray. The cake is becoming more artistic.”
The education of the consumer, either through the internet or TV, also affected custom decorated cakes as well as wedding cakes. “People are more specific about what they want on cakes. We used to be able to line up 40 cakes and decorate with rosebuds a simply piped ‘Happy Birthday.’ Now, every cake is custom,” says Doug Manderfield, coowner of Manderfield’s Home Bakery, Menasha, Wis.
Trans fat what?
One of the biggest “trends” that affected bakers in the last 25 years was legislation surrounding trans fat in food. Clear back in 1991, a Dutch study found that trans fatty acids, components in partially hydrogenated oils, raise LDL (bad cholesterol) while lowering HDL (good cholesterol). This nugget of information flew under the radar for the next several years, until municipalities began legislating for removing trans fat from all products and the FDA mandated it be listed on nutrition labels in 2003. By 2005, trans fat free was a bonified frenzy.
It had all come about because tropical oils had gotten a bad rap in late 80s, and in response, ingredient manufacturers eliminated them from their products, but the result was partially hydrogenated oils. While some dieticians called the tropical oil ban bupkis, it stuck, resulting in an equally badfor- you solution. Who knows what we will be saying about trans fats in the next 25 years.
If bakeries were in non-legislated areas, they could choose not to participate, much like Frederick’s Pastries declined to make products trans fatfree. “One trend that is nice to be gone is that trans fat-free,” Robert says. She didn’t like how trans fat-free ingredients affected her end product. “If you don’t want it (trans fat), then cut these products out of your diet,” she adds. Other bakers didn’t have the option, such as those in New York City, which instituted the first trans fat ban in 2006.
Still others did it voluntarily either due to customer demand or to avoid any potential problems down the road. “We are trans fat-free,” Wuollet’s Jurmu says. “It wasn’t that difficult of a transition for us, but some products like white cake and devil’s food cake were tougher to reformulate. But it has been a good change for us.”
The evolution of coffee
Coffee and bakery products seem to go hand in hand, but it was surprising how many bakers only offered a simple coffee service if one at all back in the day. Of course, in 1987, the Starbucks craze had yet to hit full force and most consumers were happy with their 25-cent bottomless cups or drinking what they brewed at home before leaving for the day.
But by the end of 90s, it seemed every other person walking down the street had a to-go coffee cup in their hand and they were no longer settling for a simple cup of joe. They wanted espressos and lattés and flavored syrups. Entrepreneurial bakeries were quick to jump on the bandwagon. “The drink part of the business is huge,” LaSalle’s Manni says. “We started it about 20 years ago with just hot coffee. It was really an afterthought.
Then, it grew and as Starbucks beverages started evolving, ours evolved with them. Now it’s a significant part of our business and without it, we wouldn’t be where we are today.” Other bakeries, such as Manderfield’s, were slower to add beverage services, but soon caught up. “We started coffee service about three or four years ago, and we put in a real espresso bar,” Manderfield says.
In 1987, none of the Wuollet locations offered coffee, and now all but one has a full-service coffee bar with espresso. “Our coffee beans are custom roasted,” Jurmu says. “We do a high-quality cup of coffee and espresso drinks.”
Sandwiches to full-service menus
Much like single-product bakeries have to evolve to stay in business, so do retail and supermarket bakeries and many turned to the savory side. In-store bakeries are more limited with what they can do since the supermarkets often have an on-site deli, but many chains are coordinating the two to offer complete meal packages.
Retail bakeries often begin with sandwiches, soups and salads to boost lunchtime sales. “The sandwich business has grown, which was something we never anticipated,” Manni says. LaSalle introduced them about five years ago and the segment continues to grow. “It’s incredible how popular they are. We’re not really set up for it, so we can’t make the sandwiches to order–we don’t have the infrastructure– but we’re managing and people like them so much.”
LaSalle offers the premade sandwiches in the showcase as well as several calzones that staffers can heat on one of two panini grills. Wuollet also offers a simple lunch menu with roasted chicken, roasted beef and chicken and egg salad sandwiches. Each location also offers two types of soup as well as lasagna and chicken pot pie.
For other bakeries, the lunch menu started out small and has grown exponentially. Edgewood Bakery, Jacksonville, Fla., began offering a few breakfast sandwiches in its showcase, which grew into lunch offerings that expanded into a lunch menu with hot items in 2009. This required the bakery to hire a chef to run the foodservice kitchen. In the last year, the bakery expanded its sit-down lunch service to include dinners during the weekends.
Pasticceria Bruno, Staten Island, N.Y., also offers full table service for lunch and dinner. Owner Biagio Settepani listened to his customers when he opened his bakery in a former restaurant. They still wanted a restaurant in that location and he was able to blend a full-service bakery with a fullservice restaurant.
The ability to give customers what they want is just as important today as it was 25 years ago; that hasn’t changed. What customers want has changed, and bakers who listen stay in business.