Customers are demanding smaller, individual-sized portions, and bakers are making the leap to oblige.
Americans are paying more attention than ever to portion size, and when it comes to grabbing a quick snack, portion-controlled baked products have been successful since their introduction five years ago.
Nabisco, Entenmann’s, Hostess, Pepperidge Farm and Quaker Oats are among the bigger players in the 100-calorie-pack wars, while smaller bakers have introduced their own versions of portion-controlled products.
But those introductions don’t come without added packaging costs, line reconfi guration and other headaches for wholesale bakers.
While some bakers, such as Carousel Cakes, Ridgefi eld, N.J., can easily introduce cupcakes into their line of baked products, other bakers, like Stephen Lincoln of Protein Bakery, New York, remain unconvinced that the portion-control craze has staying power. In the privacy of their own homes, for instance, might not consumers eat two 100-calorie packs instead of one?
But, recognizing the trend, Lincoln has made sure to off er his cookies and brownies in individually packaged sizes all the same.
A 2010 health and wellness survey by the Grocery Manufacturers Association found that the number of single-serving products has grown by 7 percent over the past three years. Datamonitor, a firm that tracks new market offerings, found that in 2009, companies introduced 206 new 100-calorie product offerings, up from previous years.
And a 2009 survey from market research fi rm Mintel found that 14 percent of consumers say they’ve purchased 100-calorie packs of snack food. Consumers aged 25 to 44 appear more aware of portion control issues and more interested in individual-sized baked products and other snacks, says Bill Patterson, Mintel senior market analyst.
About 25 percent of respondents said they were curious about the products, even if they didn’t purchase them regularly.
“ e older and younger age groups don’t seem to be very interested in calorie-controlled packages,” he says. “But there’s some kind of latent demand there, even though a relatively small number of people are buying. “And around a quarter of the people we spoke to said the size of prepackaged food is always too small,” he adds. “You can already feel the battle between the 100-calorie pack and the ‘honestly, it’s just too small’ mentality.”
e portion-control trend started with salty snacks like crackers and has trickled down to include cookies, muffi ns and other sweegoods, says Kirk O’Donnell, vice president of education at AIB International. He’s also seen some introductions in the breads and rolls category, though those have been limited.
For the wholesale baker looking to introduce a product into the portioncontrol market, O’Donnell says added costs will come mostly as a result of packaging changes.
“For the most part, the production side doesn’t change a lot,” he says, “though it does depend on the product. The 100-calorie pack cookies are often smaller cookies than the producer’s other cookies. Also, with the mini muffins, that product didn’t even used to exist.”
Bakeries featuring products that require reconfiguration will see added expense on the production side, he says.
“For example, if you used to make layer cakes and have a production line for them, that market isn’t really growing across the board nationally,” O’Donnell says. “So you could use your existing equipment to make smaller cakes and mini muffins and cupcakes, but you have to get smaller cake pans and then reconfigure between ingredients and packaging.”
Carousel Cakes, which ships nationwide, had no packaging or equipment issues when stepping up the focus on the bakery’s cupcakes to keep up with the popularity of individual-portion sizes, says Nancy Finkelstein, co-owner. The bakery already was making cupcakes, so increasing production wasn’t much of an issue.
The bakery offers a few of its cakes in individual slices for portion control, although the 7- and 11-in. cakes continue to sell well.
“Most people split desserts anyway,” Finkelstein says.
But in keeping with the pervasive cupcake trend, her bakery recently launched Cupcakes by Carousel.
“The cupcake business wholesale is thriving,” Finkelstein says. “Not only standard cupcakes but also baby cakes or mini cupcakes. A lot of people tend to buy those in bulk for parties and entertaining.”
The cupcake business is on the rise because cupcakes are naturally a controlled-volume food and “just kind of fun,” O’Donnell says. “People enjoy them because they can indulge–it isn’t a huge portion–and companies are making them fun,” he says.
Indeed, Finkelstein’s bakery, like many others, offers cupcakes in a variety of unique flavors, such as red velvet and Key lime.
About 25 percent of respondents to the AIB International survey said they wanted their in-store bakery to offer baked products in individual portion sizes, according to O’Donnell. To him, that number indicates that the portion-control trend extends beyond the popular 100-calorie package and that instore bakers and other wholesale bakers have a place within the portion- control market.
AIB has considered how bakers might link the portion-control trend with another ongoing trend–that of ethnic foods and flavors. For instance, the International Dairy-Deli- Bakery Association (IDDBA) stated in its 2010 What’s In Store, an annual trends report, that cake balls (similar to donut holes) will join cupcakes as a portion-control trend.
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“Some Middle Eastern desserts are a doughy type ball type with heavy syrup on them,” O’Donnell says. “So that would be an interesting way to tie the two trends together.
“When it comes to ethnic and nonstandard American foods, you can easily appeal to the portion-control niche,” he says. “You can combine two trends and it will work.”
Stephen Lincoln, founder of the Protein Bakery of New York, says bakers who add portion-controlled products to offer their line shouldn’t forgo regular-sized products.
The smaller package sizes are a legitimate way to maintain weight, because, in Lincoln’s words, “a calorie is a calorie.” But, while he found that his cookie two-pack fit with his bakery’s focus on fitness and wellness, that didn’t mean customers weren’t seeking out larger products.
Lincoln, whose products are available wholesale and online, produces cookies in a two-pack; each cookie has 120 calories. An individually packaged brownie clocks in at 375 calories.
“I put those things out there, and people went after them like gangbusters,” Lincoln says. “They wanted a smaller brownie, too, but the regular size has always sold better than the cookies.
“The small cookies sell, and people say they want them, but then they buy the brownie or a couple of the two-pack cookies,” he adds. “We all say we want the smaller potion, and that’s the trend. But when you’re sitting in front of an entire box of 100-calorie packs, I challenge someone not to open two packs. I think it’s only human.”
With that in mind, he’s recently introduced a size option that the bakery calls a colossal cookie, which weighs in at 300 calories. They sell quite well, Lincoln says.
So when Lincoln launches a new product line soon (he won’t name the product, but says it won’t be cookies or cakes) he’ll package the goods in 2-oz. portions.
“But I’ll also do 6- and 12-oz. portions,” he says. “I won’t ignore the larger sizes.”
Protein Bakery currently sells its products in tins and boxes. The individually wrapped two-pack cookies can be purchased by the tin.
For wholesale bakers, packaging product in a variety of sizes, including the individual portion, makes for more maintenance and sometimes reduces marketing opportunities. Lincoln had to create new packaging and upgrade packaging equipment when he began selling his two-pack cookie.
“It’s easier to make 20 dozen large cookies, so making smaller cookies is a lot more production work,” he says. “And then all my front labeling and nutritional labeling has to be based on smaller portions.”
He prides himself on his ingredient list–every word is familiar to consumers–but the smaller packages don’t allow consumers to peruse ingredients easily.
Bakers sometimes will not need to reformulate their products when looking to repackage. The formula often keeps its integrity, regardless of the product’s size.
Like many other bakeries that have moved to smaller-sized portions, Protein Bakery would have to purchase new packaging equipment should it introduce other products in an even smaller serving. For a while, he did consider producing a smaller brownie.
“But if I was to do that, the packaging would totally change and I’d need another new machine,” he says.
Bakers in that situation can find a way to economize on packaging. For example, his brownie would have been packaged in clear cellophane, like his two-pack cookies, and the front of the brownie label would have been hand affixed.
While few bakers are jumping fully into individual-portion sizes, Lincoln says many feel the need to at least dip a toe in the water, despite added costs and obstacles.
After all, while consumers may not be able to eat just one, they at least seem to want the option.