Many consumers find healthful, whole grain breads are more to their taste than the enriched white varieties of yesteryear.
Before the economy turned sour in 2008, the retail outlook was bright. Consumers were embracing the new green-living movement, eagerly snapping up heart- and environmentally friendly products and rediscovering better-for-you options. And despite a drastic change in circumstances, shoppers can’t forget how good the new options tasted–and they want more.
“Our consumers are committed to an organic lifestyle,” says Doug Radi, vice president of marketing for Rudi’s Organic Bakery, Boulder, Colo., “so we see them making sacrifices in other ways by spending less on more discretionary products other than the staples of their family’s diet, like bread.”
And if consumers can’t afford the original food experience, then they’re determined to find an acceptable alternative, rather than give it up altogether.
“Consumers are increasingly looking to recreate the restaurant experience at home,” says Jon Davis, vice president of concept development for La Brea Bakery, Van Nuys, Calif. “They are shopping for ingredients and products that offer them the most quality and value, and they are paying more attention to what is in the food that they eat.”
Bakeries are responding to the demand for high-quality, nutrient-dense choices by both launching new products and highlighting the health offerings of the rest of their items. Earlier this year, Nature’s Pride, Irving, Texas, introduced its hearty wheat with flax variety, a bread baked using olive oil that is a good source of omega 3-ALA. In addition, the company introduced a tag system for its specialty products aimed at better promotion of health benefits.
“The tags call out notable and differentiating product attributes,” explains Laura Pitlik, director of marketing, “such as lower sodium content, the amount of whole grains and fiber, among other attributes, to make it easier for consumers to identify a product that will provide the nutrition they are looking for.”
Also this year, La Brea Bakery launched a line of take-and-bake artisan breads, which offers consumers the convenience of high-quality, freshly baked bread without the fuss of making their own. Davis says the company hasn’t failed to notice the growing demand for better-for-you breads and has seen an emphasis on whole grains in particular.
“The push for healthful eating has certainly prompted us to increase our whole grain offerings and make sure that our breads that qualify are certified by the Whole Grains Council,” he says. “Over several years, we have seen our whole grain loaf and other breads that contain whole grains rise in sales.”
The demand for breads that do it all also has spread into niche categories.
“Gluten-free products are very on-trend right now, and the category is continuing to grow at a fast pace,” Radi notes. “The number of product SKUs seems to escalate every month. The good news for the gluten-free community is that finally, living without gluten doesn’t mean living without great-tasting food.”
To increase the appeal and acceptance of gluten-free options, Rudi’s is focusing on giving wheat-free items a more mainstream appearance.
“In the case of gluten-free breads, we have created a loaf of bread that is sized more like traditional sandwich bread than other gluten-free breads on the market,” Radi explains. “Consumers have really appreciated the ability to have a ‘normal’ sandwich and have embraced this product attribute.”
Although it’s only a matter of time before the economy gets fully back on track, bakeries think consumers’ desires are unlikely to alter soon.
“An increasing number of consumers are adopting a ‘natural lifestyle,’ with a focus on health and wellbeing that includes green living, sustainability and natural products,” Pitlik explains. “As a result, consumer interest in natural food products continues to increase as more consumers look for delicious, healthy foods that they can feel good about consuming themselves and feeding their families.”