The art of baking bread has remained largely unchanged for millennia, but changes to the business of baking, especially in recent years, are staggering. Consumer trends are a reflection of the current national mood. Technology, scientific discovery, the economy and even fashion shape this mindset, exerting their weight on the consuming public, and behavioral patterns develop as people reach common conclusions on how best to navigate the business of getting on with their day. Some of these patterns are new, popping up only this year, while others have entrenched themselves in the American consciousness for a longer-than-expected haul (we’re looking at you, cupcake). Modern Baking believes the following 10 trends, both new and ongoing, stand to make a difference in your bakery.
Fresh to the bakery market
A return to everyday herbs
The past decade has seen a surge in Americans’ capacity for adventurous flavors–from the Middle East to southeast Asia to northern Africa. But as concerns grow over the country’s large carbon footprint and shaky global economic status, many are turning to locally procured ingredients and the comfort of familiar flavors.
“Our business is fortunate that the way the food world is going is there is far more emphasis on buying local,” says Scott Anderson, co-owner of Rosemont Market and Bakery, Portland, Maine. “People are trying to decrease the number of miles a product travels from source to plate. It’s encouraging that the public is getting behind that.”
Rosemont’s mantra has always been to incorporate local herbs and produce into its baked products. The bakery draws on local herbs coming to the market, including sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley, savory, chive and garlic chive.
“We have a broad selection to choose from as far as what we play with–it may be exotic or the basics,” Anderson says. “We often go by the old favorites–oregano gets produced in big quantities around here, and when the season’s right, we use basil.”
The use of everyday herbs at Bien Cuit bakery, Brooklyn, N.Y., reflects owner Zachary Golper’s bread philosophy: combining time-tested formulas with elevated technique.
“The herbs we use are pretty traditional. They are familiar to people because it’s something people have eaten throughout their lives,” he says. “When used well, it not only gives familiarity, it gives immediate pleasure and nostalgia. But you also want to tap into higher levels with the palate. So they feel good and warm but also exalted.”
Golper currently incorporates a variety of everyday herbs into Bien Cuit’s breads, breakfast pastries and quiches. Herb varietals include oregano, sage, chive, tarragon, rosemary and thyme–with some plucked from the bakery’s own garden. “As local as it gets,” Golper notes. The bakery also sources herbs and other produce from area organic farms.
“Where I source my food has to make sense and fit with our value system while fitting with our cuisine,” he says, adding that he will follow ingredients as the seasons change. “As the season gets colder, we have to purchase from further away. I’ll call my purveyor and ask what we can get and how long the season is. I’m still learning.”
Ultimately, Golper says using everyday herbs can still entice customers to come back week after week. “It’s all about combining ordinary things and making them exceptional–knowing how to work with what you have and which flavors will make your product stand out.”
Government hands on MyPlate
The embattled food pyramid has finally fallen, giving way to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new MyPlate icon. The pyramid ultimately perished due to its own thoroughness, with detractors saying the recommendations it provided were too complex for the average person to follow. The new MyPlate aims to strip away some of the confusion with a simplified design and what should be attainable goals.
First Lady Michelle Obama, the initiative’s public spearhead, said in a press release, “We realized that we needed something that made sense not just in laboratories and classrooms but at dinner tables. What’s more simple than a plate? We don’t have time to measure three ounces of chicken–that has confounded me as a parent for a long time.”
Grains, which occupied a comfortable spot at the base of the pyramid and commanded six to 11 servings per day, remain in the limelight in the new format this time as a quadrant of the recommended daily food intake. Bakers and those representing them have positive to mixed feelings. Most are glad to figure so prominently in the recommended diet, but some are uncomfortable with the suggestion that half of all grains consumed ought to be whole grains.
But the whole grain stipulation only codifies the obvious–cookies, cakes and donuts, while on the grain spectrum, are not and will not be considered a cornerstone of a healthful diet. More practically, the MyPlate recommendations are likely to push consumers towards more whole grains in their breakfast toast, sandwich breads and dinner rolls–items that are consumed daily and considered core to the diet.
And because of its lack of specificity about servings and serving sizes, MyPlate is less exclusive or restrictive (with the noticeable exception of a warning about trans fats) than its pyramid predecessor. Positioned as more of a guideline than a set of rules, the MyPlate common sense strategy of “all things in moderation” shines through.
Wedding desserts evolve
Whether it’s a five-tier wedding cake adorned with edible flowers, a passed tray of petits fours or cupcakes from a food truck, the concept of wedding desserts has certainly evolved in recent years. A move toward less traditional wedding styles and an increasingly informed consumer have broadened the definition of the wedding dessert.
The exponential rise of food-dedicated media over the past decade has exposed Americans’ closeted culinary obsession. Baking TV programs and competitions, as well as coverage of “recession wedding” dessert buffets (Minneapolis + St. Paul Magazine, 2011) and pies instead of cakes at Pennsylvania Amish wedding receptions (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 2011) reveal non-traditional dessert options.
For Cake Crumbs bakery owners Sean and Denon Moore, rolling out their Denver Cupcake Truck in 2010 presented an unexpected opportunity in the wedding market. They started getting requests to park the truck at wedding receptions and hand out cupcakes to guests.
“The bride and groom order an amount that we take to the reception to give out like we do on the streets,” Denon Moore says, noting that the truck typically will park at the reception for an hour at a minimum rate of $175. This fall, the truck has four weddings scheduled between mid-September through the end of October alone. “We do a lot of private events and are booked out so far in advance these days,” Moore adds.
However, wedding dessert innovation hasn’t been limited to non-traditional desserts, as Charles Feder, owner of Rossmoor’s Pastries, Signal Hill, Calif., points out.
“All the ‘Aces of Cakes’ and the ‘Cake Bosses’ came along in the past few years, and that’s been very influential on wedding cakes,” Feder says. “Brides bring in pictures of these spectacular cakes they saw on TV and see themselves having them at their own wedding. It doesn’t matter to them that a 100-person wedding doesn’t actually require a five-tier cake.”
He adds that traditional wedding cakes are alive and well in California despite the struggling economy, though that wasn’t always the case. “I’ve noticed that it has changed recently. In 2008-09, there were still a lot of big cakes. Then in most of 2010, the cakes were smaller–there weren’t many spectacular cakes. But weddings are getting bigger again.”
Checking into cash
For bakery owners who spend their days with flour-coated hands and do most–if not all–their own marketing, deciding the best way to use social media presents a challenge. But as four in 10 mobile phones in the United States are now smartphones, according to Nielsen, operators have an opportunity to capitalize on the potential of location-based services.
More than a quarter of American adults currently are using location-based services, like Foursquare or Gowalla, according to a recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. About 23 percent use them for getting directions or dining and entertainment recommendations based on their location. While 4 percent use their phones to share their location via check-ins, 7 percent have set up Facebook and Twitter to automatically include their location in status updates.
Foursquare, which launched in March 2009, now has more than 10 million users worldwide. This spring, the company integrated a “specials” tool into its merchant platform that allows retailers to create tailored deals for their customers who use Foursquare. A number of possible deals from Foursquare’s website showcase the potential for bakeries, especially given the low cost of smaller “reward” items like cookies, bars or cupcakes.
Wow Bao, a fast-casual Asian restaurant in Chicago, has spent the past few years cultivating a strong social media presence. The restaurant is active on both Twitter and Facebook (with 2,789 and 4,122 fans on each site), and even allows customers to place delivery and pickup orders on its Facebook fan page and through its iPhone app.
Moreover, the restaurant isn’t afraid to give away free product–offering up a free bao, or steamed bun, with purchase to every customer who checks in on Foursquare. It also instituted “Secret Word Wednesdays,” where Facebook fans can learn a secret word each week to tell the cashier in exchange for a free bao.
Whether it’s tweeting about a limited-time deal or rewarding the bakery’s “mayor” with a free cupcake, bakeries can create strong brand ambassadors by involving and rewarding loyal customers through location-based services.
Tried and true trends
Something to Yelp about
Love them or hate them, consumer-generated review websites are here to stay. In August 2011 alone, Yelp reported 53 million unique visitors reading or writing reviews. As the space grows increasingly crowded, bakery operators grapple with how to respond–if at all.
Lorraine Hooper, owner of Lola Cookies & Treats in Leesburg, Va., has mixed feelings about the site.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” she says. “Generally, I like anything that gets people talking about my business, as Yelp does. We encourage lots of dialogue with our customers through all kinds of outlets.” Indeed, the bakery doesn’t shy away from customer participation. A “share your thoughts” feed on its website allows Facebook, Yahoo, AOL and Hotmail account holders to leave comments and questions on the home page. Hooper also gets weekly emails from Yelp summarizing the number of visits and new reviews on the site, and she responds, “when appropriate,” she says.
“Obviously, when the feedback is good, it can help send more customers our way, which is a benefit,” she says. “The risk is that there are a lot of people who write reviews on Yelp who are not restaurant critics by any means. They make judgments–often negative ones–for reasons that are personal or possibly just uninformed. Or they may rant publicly for reasons that are completely unclear. A business owner can feel very persecuted when this happens. It can be hard to grin and bear it.”
Charles Feder, owner of Rossmoor’s Pastries, Signal Hill, Calif., no longer checks or responds to Yelp reviews; he has one of his employees check them periodically. “A constructive, legitimate comment is fine,” Feder says. “But having people hide behind anonymity making comments about your business without having the ability to really answer is unfair. Unfortunately, people are listening.”
Yelp recently contacted Feder about advertising on its site, but he declined, saying he thinks it is an unfair use of public media. “I don’t think public forum is any good unless it’s a two-way street. That’s the only way we have ever been able to effectively respond to a critique.”
Feder is not the only one to raise the issue with the review site. Last year, a group of business owners filed a class-action lawsuit against Yelp, claiming the company was manipulating reviews in an effort to get them to buy ads, but a federal judge threw out that lawsuit earlier this year. Yelp continues to deny the manipulation claims, saying it has instituted a review system run by proprietary algorithms in an effort to combat disingenuous reviews–which includes positive reviews posted by business promoters.
Hooper also declined advertising on Yelp because it was too expensive. She adds that when she was approached, she didn’t get the sense the reviews would be manipulated, though she notes that Yelp ultimately is responsible for its image among business owners.
“I think Yelp has a responsibility to make clearer–one–what their algorithms are for the posting, re-posting and removal of reviews and–two–exactly how advertising will affect the ordering of reviews on the site versus what reviews will appear.”
Check out the Business Sense article on page 50 to see how collective coupon programs like Groupon are contributing to lower average ratings on Yelp.
The never-say-die cupcake
Cupcakes have become something of a bakery phenomenon. While cupcakes have been a bakery staple for decades, they hit the big time several years ago becoming the hottest bakery product since, well, sliced bread.
Bakeries specializing in only cupcakes began popping up in major metropolitan areas and soon in even not-so-major metro areas, spreading the cupcake love nationwide. Many in the industry saw it as a fad, a trend that would come and go like so many before it–remember low- or no-carb bread? But cupcakes have shown surprising staying power, and though there have been many contenders, no other product has been able to knock the cupcake off its hot product throne.
While Magnolia Bakery, New York City, now with six U.S. locations, is often credited with starting the craze, it has been outpaced by other bakeries in terms of number of locations. Sprinkles, the first cupcake-only bakery chain has 10 locations throughout the United States, but Crumbs Bake Shop, headquartered in New York, is the front-runner with 34 locations and plans for more than 200 by 2014.
But can the cupcake maintain its momentum? That remains to be seen, and many full-line bakeries, both in-store and retail, are split on these handheld treats.
“Cupcakes have kind of peaked and are now going down for us,” says Doug Manderfield, co-owner, Manderfield’s Home Bakery, Menasha, Wis. “We’ve always had 3-oz. ones, and we tried the big giant cupcakes, but they really never took off for us.”
However, Pamela Fitzpatrick, bakery director for Fox & Obel, Chicago, sees cupcakes still going strong. “The trend within desserts is still cupcakes,” she says. “It’s tarts, layer cakes and cupcakes.”
And while jumbo cupcakes might not have worked in Wisconsin, they seem quite welcome in Queens. “What’s big right now are my jumbo cupcakes,” says Charles Tola, owner, Lulu’s Bakery, Fresh Meadows, N.Y. “They taste good and they are different. I was interviewed on TV with one of them, and I had to go buy more moulds we are selling so may of them.”
Perhaps cupcakes do best when they can be the star of the show. “We haven’t really seen the cupcake craze,” says Michael Manni, LaSalle Bakery, Providence, R.I. “But we haven’t given them much real estate. I think the cupcake bakeries will eventually turn into retail bakeries.”
A story we have seen before with bagel shops turning into bakery cafés.
Coming soon to a TV near you
It is almost a given that anytime you turn on the TV, you will find some baking-related show on a channel somewhere–either competition or reality (and the term is used loosely) based. When the bakery-related shows hit small screens several years ago, many predicted a life span of only a few years. However, they keep finding new life as the competitions get bigger and a new focus on the “reality” of baking and cake decorating has emerged.
“Whether someone hates or loves any of the programs–and you hear a lot of opinions–they have done nothing but positive things for the industry,” says Ashley Vicos, owner of Sweet Ashley’s, McDonough, Ga. and star of “Have Cake, Will Travel.” “Any time you bring attention to the industry it’s going to make more people think about baking. It makes them think ‘I need to have that,’ or ‘I can do it better.’ And whether it’s a competition show or reality-based, it makes everyone in the industry step up their game.”
While opinions vary about whether the shows have been good for the industry, it can’t be denied that they have changed the industry. Sculpted cakes, maybe not as large as those depicted on many of the shows, have become standard fare in decorating departments from the smallest retailer to large supermarket chains. Most decorators now have to know how to sculpt cake and use fondant, or at least be able to add new spins on old decorating techniques, Vicos adds.
“My customers are very educated and the TV shows are educating people,” says Charles Tola, owner, Lulu’s Bakery, Fresh Meadows, N.Y. “They know their cake decorating, and they know their baking. I actually applaud the decorating shows. All these shows make a big difference. A lot of people want to get into the business and a lot of people want to be decorators.”
And for the bakers and decorators featured on the shows, it helps market and brand their bakeries. However, not all attention is good brand-building. “The shows bring attention to the industry, but they might not always be doing us a favor when they don’t respect the skills required because baking and decorating is an art,” Vicos says. “But I wouldn’t change the attention, good or bad.”
Even if your bakery hasn’t competed or been showcased, your customers are still making comparisons. “I think the TV shows are unbelievable; they’re advertising for us,” says Marc Serrao, co-owner, Oakmont Bakery, Oakmont, Pa. “They come into our bakery and expect us to do the same thing–we try to live up to it. I have people come in and say they went to a famous bakery in New York and they think our bakery is just as nice as the ones on TV. I love that.”
Gluten-free for all
Celebrities are doing it and mainstream consumers are following suit with gluten-free diet plans. Oprah, Gwyneth Paltrow, Elizabeth Hasslebeck and Jenny Mc-
Carthy all tout the benefits of going gluten-free. Though the medical need to adhere to a strict, no-gluten diet is limited to people diagnosed with celiac disease and dermatis herpetiformis, a skin condition, many believe that removing gluten helps ease the symptoms of many diseases, such as autism and hyperactivity, as well as helps with weight loss.
“My customers aren’t looking for cheap, but rather for quality and healthfulness,” says Scott Schwartz, bakery director, Blue Goose Market, St. Charles, Ill. “A lot of people are asking for gluten-free items. It’s really taken off.”
Sales of gluten-free products in the United States are predicted to reach $1.31 billion this year, according to Euromonitor International, and are expected to hit $1.68 billion in 2015. Retail bakers named gluten-free as the largest health trend affecting their bakery in 2010, according to Modern Baking’s 2011 Full-line Retail Bakery Research. The number of in-store bakeries offering gluten-free products has held steady, with 38 percent selling them in 2010, up from 35 percent in 2008, according to Modern Baking’s 2010 Supermarket Bakery Research. Gluten-free shows little sign of fading away anytime soon.
“In Portland, we get a lot of requests for gluten-free, but we have to turn them down. We do try to have something for the gluten intolerant,” says Tim Healea, owner, little t american bakery, Portland, Ore. “We make a spelt bread–it’s all whole grain spelt, fermented with a spelt culture so there’s no commercial yeast in it–that appeals to some people. It’s just whole spelt flour, water, salt and some quinoa and flax. It also has dried cranberries and golden raisins. Some people who are gluten-intolerant can tolerate spelt.”
The danger, of course, for bakeries is that unless they are strictly gluten-free, they use flour that contains wheat, which poses a risk for cross-contamination. “We have some items that don’t have gluten in them, so I have to ask customers who buy them if they are celiac. If they are, I recommend that they don’t purchase them because we don’t have a gluten-free environment,” says Charles Tola, owner, Lulu’s Bakery, Fresh Meadows, N.Y.
“I see a lot of people coming in to buy things for their family that may have one member with dietary needs, but until we’re able to do it well, I shy away from it,” says Marc Serrao, co-owner, Oakmont Bakery, Oakmont, Pa. “I hope some day we are able to offer high quality gluten-free products.”
Baking for Fido
Even when money gets tight, never underestimate consumers’ willingness to splurge on their pets. Michael Manni, owner of LaSalle Bakery, Providence, R.I., had heard this for years from fellow bakers. Five years ago, he took the plunge and began tinkering with dog treat formulas. Now, he doesn’t know what took him so long.
“It’s a no brainer–the pet line sells. You just have to dedicate some time to making them; it’s certainly a profitable product,” Manni says. “We know how people love their dogs, but it is amazing to me what people will spend. We do six treats for $5.99, or sell them individually at $0.99 each.”
The first step is developing a formula. Eric Deising, owner of Deising’s Bakery and Restaurant, Kingston N.Y., says decent formulas are available from a quick Internet search. Most formulas call for ingredients readily available in the average bakery–such as whole wheat, white flour, corn meal and eggs. The flavor comes from barbeque sauce, which, apparently, dogs love.
Deising now sells more pet treats than he does cookies. He bought a cookie machine not long ago–the machine is dedicated to dog treats, and the business has since paid for the machine’s cost.
“Dogs don’t complain if the cookies get stale, so you can be flexible with when you make them,” Deising says. “You can make a big batch every two weeks, or whenever you need them.”
Both Manni and Deising warn that, depending on the state, there may be legislative or regulatory hurdles in selling food meant for pets. In New York, for instance, Deising had to have his treats feed-tested to get a permit, and has to pay an annual fee to maintain the permit. The inconvenience is minor, though, and doesn’t detract much from his thriving dog treat business.
“They sell themselves. We just put out a little basket with a sign, and offer six-packs or 12-packs as impulse buys,” he says. The dog treat business has been so successful that Deising is contemplating a foray into cat treats next, reasoning that there are a lot of cat owners with similar habits of splurging on nice things for their pets.
Time to get to pricing
Since the commodities crisis of 2008, ingredients costs have weighed heavily on bakers’ minds. But many operators used the aftermath of the shock as an opportunity to revisit and sharpen procurement strategies. And as the recession dragged on, bakery operators cut the fat where they could, streamlined where possible, and bakeries that survived the economic beating are leaner than they were a few years ago.
These changes, coupled with commodities prices that fell back to Earth in 2009 and 2010, have helped to mitigate ingredient price upticks and allow bakeries to absorb much of the cost without passing those increases along to the customer. But last year’s stable reality is gone, and commodities markets again look to be in turmoil.
“The wheat markets have been volatile in 2011 and we’ve certainly felt that versus 2010. There’s a list of influences that impact the price of bread flour outside of the basic supply and demand,” says Beth Cacciotti, marketing manager, Signature Breads Inc., Boston. “All of these influences have had their way with the market the past few months. I anticipate that this increased volatility will be something that we will continue to see in commodity markets going forward.”
In years past, price changes were smaller and less frequent. Today, significant fluctuations can happen day-to-day, even hour-to-hour. This sea change focuses bakers’ ire on input costs, but seen side by side, procurement successes in 2010’s comparatively stable market only amplify the difficulties they face in 2011. With ingredient supply prices in such flux, the answer is to begin to raise bakery product prices to keep up with flailing markets.
Watching the Consumer Pricing Index (CPI) on breads, Brian Stevenson, farm to plate consultant, B. Stevenson and Associates LLC, Kansas City, Mo., believes bakers’ reluctance to raise prices is holding them back. “It is time to get pricing,” he stresses. “You don’t have to get a lot extra per unit if all your doing is covering the commodity uptick.”