Bakeries are operating in an unprecedented business climate with increasingly food-savvy customers. Look at 10 trends that may affect your bakery in the coming year.
That people need to eat is a constant, but how they eat is always evolving. Forces are at work, both invisible and in plain sight, that stand to change how consumers approach food. Of course, the economy has altered the food landscape in recent months, but other macro-trends are doing their part in constantly reshaping the consumer perception of what constitutes good food. The Internet has been a revolutionary force in allowing people access to information on food, health and wellness, the environment and everything else under the sun. It has provided a previously unheard of platform for communication between businesses and consumers, as well as given consumers expanded means to communicate amongst themselves. The Internet has fundamentally changed how people approach purchasing decisions. But some forces haven't been so immediate, more of a drift than a sudden change. Migration patterns, for instance, have their own gradual role in altering the food universe. As ethnicities expand their reach, so expands their influence in regional cuisine. The expansion of global trade has had a similar effect, and the world is getting smaller. Modern Baking compiled this list of 10 directions in food that may have implications for your bakery.
- Flavors go south (and east)
Retail bakeries in the United States have long worn their ethnic heritages on their sleeves. Italian bakeries have been around long enough for cannoli and ciabatta to become mainstream in many U.S. bakeries. Jewish bakeries have done the same with challah, French with croissants and baguettes, and so on down the cultural line.
Two growth markets are currently emerging that stand to further diversify the rich selection of ethnic options in the American bakery, and it has bakery operators looking both south and east.
With the Asian market opening up and heightened trade between China and the United States, cultures are in closer proximity than ever before. As a result, Asian baking styles are becoming increasingly popular. A few years ago, Modern Baking reported on an increase in the use of tea as a baking ingredient. This trend continues, buoyed partially by tea's use in Asian baking. Other Asian ingredients, specifically lemon grass, are likely to become more common in bakeries in the coming year. Also, in foodservice circles, the success and growth of Lee's Sandwiches on the West Coast is a hallmark of a growing public awareness and demand for the inexpensive Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, which features crusty bread and sparse toppings.
Meanwhile, the ongoing interest in Latin American desserts is noteworthy. The notoriously sweet dulces are enjoying greater recognition thanks to an increasing Hispanic population. The Mexican and Latin cultures are more focused on desserts than most other ethnicities, and the preferences of this growing consumer block are reflected in bakery offerings. Authenticity is key for retail and in-store bakeries to tap into these growing markets.
- Packaging no longer an afterthought
Packaging has gone from afterthought to important consideration for today's consumers. The green movement and demand for smaller sizes are major factors affecting how bakers package their products.
Jennie Scheinbach, owner, Pattycake Bakery, Columbus, Ohio, recently converted the packaging on her cookies and whoopie pies to 100 percent biodegradeable materials. “It was a founding principle of Pattycake's from our inception to do things as sustainably and ethically as possible,” Scheinbach says.
At Little Dom's restaurant and deli, Los Angeles, Pastry Chef Ann Kirk appeals to consumers' green sensibilities by packaging panna cotta and puddings in small, reusable mason jars. Customers who return the mason jars to the deli to be cleaned and reused are rewarded with a dollar off their next purchase.
The mason jars also make the panna cotta and puddings portable, mirroring another movement in packaging. Consumers' ever-increasing appetite for convenience to support on-the-go lifestyles has precipitated a trend towards smaller portions in easy-to-transport, single-serving packages. But convenience isn't the only factor driving the single-serving demand.
Health concerns regarding portion size also are forcing some bakery products, especially sweetgoods, into single-serving territory. Calorie counters are more likely to indulge themselves in a small treat than larger, more conspicuous baked products.
Simultaneously, the economic downturn has made consumers hypersensitive to waste. Rather than buy a larger baked product that may stale, people are buying smaller products that are certain to be consumed. Finally, single-serve packaging acts as a frame for baked products, playing an active role in attracting potential buyers.
“Packaging and branding is really essential to separate us from everyone else so that we succeed,” says Jill Segal, owner of Jilly's Cupcakes and Café, St. Louis. “Our real success is our product, and our individual clamshell domes help us display our product. All of our wholesale customers order cupcakes individually packaged now.”
- Local goes nationwide
If they haven't already, bakers ought to familiarize themselves with Oxford University Press's 2007 Word of the Year. The word “locavore” was coined in 2005 by a group of four women in San Francisco who proposed that local residents should try to eat only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius. Just as carnivores eat meat and herbivores eat plants, a locavore is a person dedicated to eating local food. And when the National Restaurant Association surveyed 1,600 American Culinary Federation chefs to determine the latest menu trends, locally grown produce and grain appeared as a top priority. Locavore has taken off across the country.
“I think locality is first on the list of trends around here,” says Josh Allen, owner of Companion, St. Louis. “We are certainly seeing an interest piqued in who is baking people's bread and where it is produced, who is roasting their coffee beans and where they are roasting it. Really, it's a well-educated clientele trying to understand where their food is coming from.”
Independent retail and foodservice bakeries are well positioned to capitalize on the locavore movement, as it provides a degree of differentiation from national chains. The locavore philosophy addresses wide-ranging global environmental concerns by thinking and acting for the betterment of the immediate, nearby area.
A locavore will argue that fewer resources, especially fossil fuels, are expended when packaging and transporting food locally. Buying locally supports the immediate economy, keeping more money in the community. Health also comes into play in the locavore ethic, as processing and preservatives are less important since the food doesn't have to travel so far.
“The local movement is a culmination of a lot of little things; buying packaging locally, hiring local artists to design logos,” Allen says. “All of that's of interest to a growing portion of people.”
- Bakery TV
Television is hardly a new medium, but in the last few years, it has had a large impact on the baking industry and its influence will continue. With cable networks, such as the Food Network and TLC, getting into the food game, bakeries are beginning to see both the benefits and pitfalls of the additional exposure television can offer.
Baking, with its inherent drama (so much can go wrong) and artistry (think an intricately decorated cake or finely turned pastry), is a natural fit with television. And, as the nation grows more conscious of and educated about the food they eat, consumers are tuning in. For example, the Food Network is available in more than 99 million homes in the United States.
An appearance on television, especially on the cable networks that tend to play the programs repeatedly, can have a lasting effect. Levain Bakery, New York City, has been featured on several Food Network programs and continues to gain customers from the multiple airings of their episodes. “We've had such an amazing experience with all the things we've done on the Food Network,” says Pam Weekes, co-owner of Levain. “We can't be any more grateful for it. TV is amazing.” She says she can tell which program aired recently due to the number of the calls the bakery gets and the nature of the questions.
Programs focusing on one element of baking, such as cake decorating competitions, or on specific bakers, such as Buddy Valastro, owner of Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken, N.J. and star of TLC's Cake Boss or Duff Goldman, owner of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore and star of the Food Network's Ace of Cakes, help make instant celebrities out of bakers and cake decorators who often toil away in the back of the shop without much recognition. However, the shows, with their compacted timelines, can give viewers an unrealistic idea of the time needed to create show-stopping cake designs.
While the downside may be that customers may begin to expect more elaborate products without realizing the cost associated with producing them, the up side is that baking is more visible than ever before. And due to the popularity of reality TV with both viewers and network executives, expect to see even more shows promoting food or bakery in some way.
- Low-sodium moves to forefront
Public health organizations' amplified warnings and continued efforts from consumer advocacy groups are impacting consumer awareness of the importance of sodium intake. According to Mintel, a consumer research firm, food producers are introducing more products with a low-, no- or reduced-sodium claim. Between 2005 and 2008, the number increased by more than 100 percent.
This trend is largely driven by recent scientific evidence linking high sodium diets with a variety of health conditions, including stomach cancer and osteoporosis.
While baked products aren't major contributors to sodium in the American diet, marketable sodium? reductions can be made. Even a small change can improve a ?product's healthful profile and perception in a sodium-aware consumer base. But for the baker, even a small change is not an easy task.
Since salt (sodium chloride) is an obvious source of sodium, it is often considered a potential place for sodium reduction. But, it can be difficult to reduce salt in a formulation because of the significant role it plays. Salt impacts the development of gluten protein in fermented products, such as bread; helps control yeast activity; enhances flavor; and helps control water activity, which is important in minimizing microbial growth, according to Janice Johnston, Ph.D., salt applications leader, Cargill Salt, Minneapolis.
Still, bakers need to be aware that sodium intake is a growing concern, and they may want to consider ways to reduce sodium in their products. Producing finished baked products that have significantly reduced levels of sodium is a definite competitive advantage for today's bakers, particularly those in the healthful baking niche.
- Social networking sites go mainstream
Facebook and Twitter have been heralded of late as having the potential to unearth new customers, but do they? Cone, a Boston-based marketing company, commissioned a study—the 2008 Business in Social Media Study—showing more than 30 percent of Americans used social media websites more than twice per week last year, a percentage that can only have increased in 2009. It also found that more than half of social media users prefer and feel better served by brands and companies that they can interact with online.
Sprinkles, The Original Cupcake Bakery, Los Angeles, uses Twitter to broadcast a “secret” word every week. Customers who follow the company on Twitter are privy to the secret word and able to cash in their secret word for free cupcakes. “Twitter is very efficient because it provides immediate results. Within a minute of posting, we get people in our store redeeming our promotions,” the company said in a statement.
Lev Ekster, owner of CupcakeStop, a bakery business on wheels, relies heavily on Twitter and Facebook. “If I have an exciting new flavor that I want people to try, I'll tweet about it and get people excited,” he says. “Twittering lets us manage inventory for the day, and show people what we're offering.”
Bakers are taking advantage of consumers' use of social media. But as more bakeries and their employees are using these tools, operators have to be mindful of how the bakery presents itself online. The social media sites may feel private, between a person and his or her computer, but they are in fact public manifestations of the brand. Operators are establishing guidelines with employees that aim to leverage employees' online personalities while protecting the integrity of the brand. Employees are on Facebook and Twitter already, and once a few ground rules are established, they can be a valuable resource in developing online communities.
- Going to extremes
In the cake and dessert category, consumers seem to be suffering from a split personality. On the one hand, big, elaborate celebration cakes are all the rage while on the other hand, small and individual size desserts are gaining sales. Cake shops specializing in celebration cakes are opening up across the country while at the same time cupcake-only bakeries are experiencing a boom. And, elaborate single-serve desserts are co-existing with more demand for comfort foods.
Even during these tough economic times, consumers are still willing to spend big bucks to celebrate that special day, such as a 16th birthday or a wedding. It is isn't always that the size of the cake is overwhelming, but the fact that many more parties now feature tiered cakes or 3D designs when a simple sheet cake was the norm 10 years ago. It is not unusual to see tiered cakes for baby showers, bridal showers and birthdays.
However, when it comes to everyday treats, customers want something that can be consumed in one sitting. This may be due to smaller households, or simply consumers wanting to control their sweet intake.
“We're seeing a lot of individual desserts, whether it's a parfait or a cupcake,” says Lynn Schurman, co-owner of Cold Spring Bakery, Cold Spring, Minn. Although smaller desserts may be the trend, it doesn't mean they are simple. Their presentation can be quite elaborate with fresh fruit, interesting packaging or chocolate accents. Packaging companies have taken note of the small size trend and are offering a variety of ways to make these smaller items showstoppers.
While customers are wanting intricate, small desserts, they also are looking for more products that are simple. “We're looking to add more heritage-type recipes, more of the comfort food type products,” says Mike Vernon, bakery buyer for Straub's, Clayton, Mo. “While French pastries sell, people would rather have cheesecake.”
The smaller sizes are not limited to desserts. Bakers are seeing the trend of consumers wanting to eat smaller servings manifest in other bakery categories. Whole Foods Market is selling more of its in-store bakeries' smaller 2 1/2-oz. muffins than the 5 1/2-oz. size, reports Steve Schulte, bakery coordinator for the South region, Atlanta.
“Customers are still going to buy something, but maybe they just want a little less of it,” says Bill Mihu, vice president, bakery operations, Schnucks Markets Inc., St. Louis. “Bakery is not perhaps the healthiest product around, and they'll feel a little better about having 4 ozs. of something instead of 6 or 8 ozs.”
- Safe practice for safe food
Food safety is not a new concern, but the peanut recall in February brought its importance to the forefront of consumers' minds. While the recall did not devastate the baking industry, it reminded all of the need to have proper food handling measures in place. And, food safety is not limited to the ingredients that come in, something bakers have little control over, but includes what happens to those ingredients once in the bakery.
“Traditionally, industry regulators depend on spot checks and random samples of products to ensure food is safe,” said Norm Rich, retired president and C.E.O. of Weis Markets, Sunbury, Pa., during the recent American Bakers Association convention. “Food manufacturers have to be more proactive rather than reactive by taking samples as required on a real-time basis throughout the manufacturing process, not just testing the finished product.”
Currently, no uniform standard for food safety is in place. Some are calling for a global standard based on the Safe Quality Food (SQF) system, which is managed by the Food Marketing Institute. SQF is a HACCP-based food safety and quality risk management system. Most bakeries already have a HACCP program, but SQF goes a step further to manage both safety and quality.
The other element of food safety growing in importance is cross-contamination in the manufacture of free-from products. Bakeries making allergen-free products, such as gluten-free or nut-free, have another set of problems aside from just ensuring ingredient safety. This area also lacks regulation, so bakers must rely on their own systems to ensure the ingredients coming in and the finished products going out meet the free-from requirements of their customers.
Food safety programs are not only important in large wholesale bakeries. Smaller facilities also must have some regulations in place. It only takes one incident of food-borne illness to devastate a bakery. Food safety can never be 100 percent guaranteed, however, safe practices can greatly improve the odds.
- Food on the go
Food trucks or carts serving hotdogs, kebabs and other on-the-go foods have long been a staple of large, metropolitan downtowns or industrial areas. But the food-on-the-go concept is expanding to smaller urban centers and includes a variety of food offerings, including bakery.
Dessert trucks can be an extension of an existing bricks and mortar bakery, such as Hey, Cupcake in Austin and Sprinkles in Los Angeles, or they can be a way for entrepreneurs to get a foothold in the industry without making a huge investment in a store, such as the CupcakeStop in New York City, where products are baked land-side and then sold only through the truck. The sagging economy seems to be spurring the growth of these trucks across the nation. With a relatively small investment, bakers can begin trolling for customers in a short amount of time.
The success is dependent on the inexpensive treats the trucks often offer. For example, the CupcakeStop sells mini cupcakes for $1 and full size cupcakes for $2.25. Not a bad price for New York City, where some cupcakes sell for upwards of $5. The products these trucks offer vary widely from cupcakes (a very popular product line) to a full offering of cookies, bars, brownies, croissants and even crème brulee.
The downside to mobile bakeries is they are hard to restock. The time spent driving back to the production facility, then back onto streets, can mean hours of lost sales. The owners have to have a good grasp on demand or be willing to pull up shop once the supply runs out. Finding customers also can be a hurdle. The trucks either drive planned routes, park in the same spot or appear unexpectedly. Most rely heavily on their websites or Twitter to get the word out about where they will be located at any particular time.
- Of booze and bakery
Beverages, such as coffee and tea, have long been associated with bakery products, but how about wine or even beer to go with a brownie or cheesecake? Several bakeries are obtaining liquor licenses to help attract customers throughout the day.
For some, a liquor license seems almost obvious, like for Costeaux French Bakery located in the heart of the California wine country. For others, such as Wagner's European Bakery Cafe, in Olympia, Wash., which is looking to expand into wine sales, it might not seem so obvious. (Though Washington does have a burgeoning wine industry.) Booze and bakery is not limited to the West Coast.
Finale Desserterie, with three locations in the Boston area, is a concept based almost entirely on dessert and wine pairings. For example, it pairs its strawberry shortcake (a buttery sugar cookie with fresh strawberries tossed in rhubarb sauce and served with Bavarian cream and fresh whipped cream) with a savignon blanc from Chile. The suggested wine pairing with apple a la mode (a warm and lightly spiced Macintosh apple and cranberry tart served with Tahitian vanilla gelato, lavender-soaked hazelnut financier and honey caramel sauce) is a Spanish sherry.
To see if the liquor option might work for your bakery, you can go the special event route and work with a local vintner or brewery. Online bakery, Love My Cake Boutique, Morristown, N.J., held a tasting event with a local New Jersey winery. Bakery owner Sonya Newton worked with the winery's sommelier to set up a cake and wine pairing event to teach potential customers about flavor combinations and to promote both businesses. A placard described the dessert and wine and why they complemented each other. For example, Newton's Coy Carrot Cake was paired with a sherry with hints of chocolate, coffee, figs and some spice and floral notes. “A lot of the winery's customers became mine, and vice versa,” Newton says.
Bakery products also can be easily paired with beer, as demonstrated by 99 Bottles', Federal Way, Wash., partnership with several local bakeries. The liquor store owners worked with Something Delicious Bakery, Kent, Wash., and Outrageous Shortbread Bakery, Kirkland, Wash., to set up several dessert and beer combinations. Banana and nut breads go with mild, malty English brown ales while brownies require a Russian or American Imperial stout.
Local liquor laws will determine how much and when bakeries can sell liquor, but it could be a way to draw more customers and add sales.