A number of trends emerged in foodservice baking this year
that will likely punctuate business in 2009. Find out why they are growing and how your business can capitalize
Trends in foodservice are as visible as a trip to a couple of the national chains. Armed with a full complement of market research tools, these chains have a good idea of what's coming down the pipeline. But comprehensive knowledge of specific markets, coupled with the agility to quickly address trends, gives foodservice bakeries an edge in deciding which to implement.
Never too cool for school
Classes and events can engage your customers with what you do and expose them to you and your product. Now, more than ever, people are curious about food. “Thank God for the Food Network effect,” says Slade Grove, owner of Wicked Witch Bakery, Phoenix.
“Classes are a great way to reach out to your customers and stay in constant contact with them,” Grove adds. “It also helps to reinforce your brand image and to put your skill in the kitchen on display.”
Grove taught classes in his original bakery before increased production demand precipitated new equipment that ate up the space for classes. He plans on resuming the classes in his new facility opening next month and built a show kitchen to ensure a reserved spot in which to hold them.
Bakers who want to offer classes have to ask themselves a few questions. “I asked myself, ‘Do I have the social skills? Do I have the ability to convey what I need-not to culinary students, but to the average customer?’” he says. Patience and an engaging personality are important.
For Sonia Newton, owner of online bakery Love My Cake Boutique, Morristown, N.J., it was important to establish a physical presence. She teamed with a local winery to host a wine and pastry event that offered new customers a chance to try her products.
“Learning new things about food can excite people and inspire them to buy,” Newton says.
Tiny is huge
Bigger isn't always better. Miniature versions of popular baked products are flying out of the showcases, and bakers are packaging several of the minis together to maximize profit on the minimally-sized treats.
Paul Conforti, cofounder and president of Finale Dessert Co., Boston, says sharability has a lot to do with the success of the trend. “Instead of each person having their own individual dessert, people interact over a sampler platter. People just like to have a sense of variety,” he says.
Finale now offers a new “Girls' Night Out” menu, available from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily, in an effort to bolster the evening daypart. That time of day is associated with social interactions, common for happy hours, and Conforti is capitalizing on sociability by headlining the special menu with three-piece miniature dessert trays for $7.95 Finale also offers trays of nine or more miniature desserts designed for sharing and sampling. The desserts can be purchased individually as well.
Conforti believes price point and customer awareness of portion size also have added to the miniature boom.
“In this economy, people appreciate the fact that they can share a crème brule and drink ice water, or buy miniature pastries for $1.25 a piece. A customer can customize what they want based on their mood and their budget for the evening,” Conforti says. “We were probably at the forefront of portion sizes shrinking when we started 10 years ago, comparing a big slab of cake to an individual plated dessert. With miniatures, customers customize their portion sizes, too.”
Home is where the heart is
Consumers are becoming more aware of where their food originates, and are increasingly willing to give the hometown team the nod. Panera Bread Co. and Einstein Bros. Bagels have advantages as large, national chains, but some consumers are clamoring for similar options from their own communities. Enough of these people exist to merit a term; a localvore eats only locally produced food.
“I think locality is first on the list of trends around here,” says Josh Allen, owner of Companion Bread Co., 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.”
Allen believes this trend is a natural outgrowth of the organic trend. He thinks organic is wonderful, but fears that larger companies are co-opting the term and it is losing its appeal as it gets watered down. In response, he has made it a goal to differentiate himself from large national chains. He joined the Collaborative, a group aimed at getting people to eat locally, hire locally, and get involved and support local charities and community-driven events. Bulletin boards can help too.
“One of my difficulties is that I'm also a chain; but I'm a three-unit chain,” Allen says. “That allows me to be sure that I have an ownership presence at my stores every day and that makes a big difference. Other than that, it's a lot of little things; buying packaging locally, hiring local artists to design logos. All of that's of interest to a growing portion of people.”
Sustainability as responsibility
Local and sustainable sometimes get lumped together, but some bakers are beginning to understand that the consumer motivation isn't the same. Locality has roots in civic or cultural pride and patronage, while sustainability is a tenet of the environmental movement. Buying sustainable is a social and environmental responsibility for some.
“Sustainability goes beyond what the localvore will want and for different reasons,” says Michelle Garcia, owner of Bleeding Heart Bakery, Chicago. “Local will ask if a product was made within a certain halo of miles, but sustainable will ask if it was organic and sustainable, and will support organic and sustainable farmers from across the country, even at the expense of locality.”
Garcia chose a distant, sustainable sugar producer over a non-sustainable, local producer because of what sheand many of her customers believe.
“People just know so much more about sustainability than they did 10 years ago. Here in Chicago, it has been a complete 180,” Garcia says. “I used to have to tell people what it was, but thanks, probably in large part to TV and the programs on the Food Network, sustainable is a trait people actively seek out within their communities.”
Perks of coffee and tea
The coffee and tea trend isn't really new, but it isn't going anywhere. Thanks to chains like Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts, people are willing to pay for premium coffee and beverages.
“This year we introduced flavored iced teas, such as pomegranate iced tea, and people were buying it,” Conforti says. “It has become more habitual and more commonplace for people to seek out these specialty beverages. They act as treats of sorts, but they are not perceived as the indulgences that desserts are.”
Julie Bashore, founder of the House of Clarendon in Lancaster, Pa., thinks while premium coffee is an expectation now, tea is really more of a fashion. “It has had a lot of media attention about how good it is for the immune system, and that got some people to swing away from coffee and toward tea. There are so many Anglophiles in the U.S. that tea has become fashionable.”
The addition of a gourmet coffee program or line of teas requires an investment in equipment and dedication to promotion, but foodservice bakers position hot beverages as a premium part of their product lines. “People's expectation levels for coffee and tea have risen exponentially in the past 10 years,” Conforti says. “Their expectations are especially high for a dessert or pastry shop where desserts and hot beverages seem to go hand and glove.”
Appeal to nostalgia
The red velvet cakes Mom made at Christmas and the cupcakes she made for your birthday are making a comeback. Whether you call it kitsch or comfort, the old favorites need a little sprucing up for today's consumer.
“I read something in the news lately that a lot of it might have to do with the downturn in the economy, but there is definitely a trend where people are looking for comfort food,” Grove says. “It's not confined to bakery either; restaurants across the board are tweaking their menus to include some comfort food.”
Grove believes his customers are in need of a momentary escape in reality that makes them feel good for the rest of the day. He went after this nostalgic market by revisiting the products he enjoyed as a child. He offers a rocky road candy bar, whoopie pies and a “Twinkie™ on steroids” made to closely resemble the original, banana-flavored Twinkies.
“The trend seems to be toward the things we ate as a kid tailored for the more sophisticated palate of the modern consumer,” Grove says.
More Cupcakes, a Chicago bakery, is a spot-on manifestation of Grove's read on the nostalgia trend. Owner Patricia Rothman and pastry chefs Todd Maturatai and Gale Gand designed a menu of more than 60 cupcake varieties, taking Mom's old standby to new places. Comfort flavors include red velvet, carrot cake and maple/brown sugar. A savory line includes more adventurous flavors like curry, B.L.T. and bleu cheese.
Rothman also developed a line of miniature cupcakes sold in flights of six or more, making More Cupcakes a good example of the miniature trend, as well.
Breakfast is back
With a variety of products and varying degree of success, Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's, Au Bon Pain and Starbucks tried to build new inroads into the morning daypart this year. “Breakfast really is the new lunch,” says Tom Gumpel, R&D analyst with Panera Bread Co., St. Louis. “People love breakfast, and increasingly, it's the meal to eat out.”
At Bleeding Heart Bakery, Garcia has seen breakfast pastry production steadily climbing during the past year. She used to sell about one dozen of each breakfast scone variety, but now sells about eight dozen of each per day.
“It's gotten to the point where it's eating up production time for my other products, and I always have to be re-evaluating what I want to be doing,” Garcia says. “But our store isn't open very late, and breakfast is designated as a very specific time of day when our doors are certainly open. That's what allows us to justify it and get behind it.”
Gumpel advises looking at breakfast at the component level, and making sure it's an extension of your brand. “Look at what you think is your company strength, apply that strength to breakfast, and people will come,” he says.
While expanding Bleeding Heart's breakfast pastry selection, Garcia looked to her desserts and put together more healthful versions of them. “A lot of the breakfast pastries are essentially healthier desserts, anyway,” she says. “We made the desserts more wholesome and hearty, and the next thing we knew, people wanted them for breakfast.”
Cater to their needs
Foodservice bakeries having trouble getting more transactions at the register have to be creative. Catering pumps up sales that are independent of waning foot traffic.
“Bakery cafes have four walls to work with. Off-premise catering can provide a five to 15 percent increase in transactions without adding anything to the four existing walls,” Gumpel says. “Year-over-year sales for foodservice bakeries nationally are flat at best. Catering can increase sales with the resources you already have.”
Bakery café business models presumably already have the prep teams for making sandwiches, salads, etc., already in place. A catering business can draw off of the existing production infrastructure. Gumpel says at least one dedicated person is needed to act as the point person. That person executes orders, acts as a sales person, manages rushes, and determines what's doable and what isn't based on time, proximity and other factors.
“You then have to look at the functionality of the products you have,” he says. “Chowder in a bread bowl might not be practical for catering, but sandwiches certainly are. You have to find out what customers want and what's practical for them.”
These trends overlap, and certainly aren't the only trends out there, but they represent some themes that every foodservice baker should be aware of as 2008 slips into the new year.