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Back in the 1990s, it was a bull market in more ways than one. In addition to stocks, the decade featured the great bagel run. However, during the low-carb craze in the early 2000s, sales of bagels came down to earth. Now, bagel producers are striving to reinvent their category’s image with bite-sized, portion-controlled and nutrient-filled products that are relevant to today’s fickle, calorie-conscious consumers. In the second part of our series on this category, Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery magazine interviewed Ray O’Brien, vice president for Lender’s Bagels, Mountain Lakes, N.J. Read what he had to say.
Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery: What are the consumer trends impacting the bagel category and how have you responded to these trends with new products?
Ray O’Brien: There is growing popularity for different flavor profiles such as sweet, savory and whole wheat based bagels. There is also a trend towards portion-control products and products just for kids. Lender’s has responded by having bagels in the sweet and savory profiles and by adding whole wheat and grain varieties that are high in fiber. Recently, Lender’s introduced a 100 Calorie Bagel and Little Lender’s Bagels that are targeted just for kids.
SF&WB: How are bagels performing against other baked goods in the breakfast eating occasion?
O’Brien: Many bagel producers are adding fruit and grain varieties to compete against other baked goods. Some manufacturers are creating seasonal varieties with fruit and grains centered on the seasons such as apple-cranberry for the fall.
SF&WB: What have been the challenges that bakers face in taking bagels into the sandwich-eating arena? What is the opportunity for bagel producers in the snacking occasion?
O’Brien: Bagels have traditionally been viewed as a breakfast item, spread with cream cheese, jelly or butter. But bagels are very versatile, and there has been a recent push by manufacturers is to show that bagels can be consumed throughout the day. Bagels are great for lunch topped with lettuce, onions, tomatoes and cold cuts for example, and for dinner topped with cheeses, tomato sauce and meats. The tricky part is getting consumers to change their behaviors and view bagels as the perfect food for consumption throughout different parts of the day. Consequently, new Lender’s 100 Calorie bagels are the perfect base for sandwiches, and new Little Lender’s are the perfect snack. At just 70 calories, the plain style is great with a little peanut butter and jelly spread on, and the cinnamon flavor is great right out of the bag.
SF&WB: As a long-time player in the bagel industry, how has the market changed over the years?
O’Brien: Fresh is the prominent player today because of its placement in the fresh bread aisle. The choices, varieties and innovation available in that aisle as helped Fresh bagels maintain strong sales. The frozen category has seen declines in recent years, and the refrigerated category is maintaining its presence in specific areas of the country.
SF&WB: Bagel sales soared throughout the 1990s and early 2000s until the low-carb diet craze hit the category hard. While sales of bagels have rebounded, what sort of challenges do bagels face from a nutrition perspective and how has the industry responded to these challenges?
O’Brien: Consumers are more concerned with eating healthy and staying in shape. There is a big focus on portion control and watching caloric and fat intake. There is more medical evidence then ever before that people that eat healthy live longer. Bagel manufacturers need to follow these trends by showing consumers they can still eat the foods they love, like bagels, and can do so by eating smaller portions or opting for healthy alternatives. By offering healthier alternatives like whole wheat, nut and grain options and portion-controlled options, manufacturers can stay on trend while maintaining sales.
Editor’s Note: Check out our December issue for the Market Trends feature on the bagel category.