Recently appointed managing director of St Pierre Groupe, David Wagstaff has held high-profile commercial and management roles in some of the world’s biggest food brands. He had been running the company’s U.S. operation for two years before taking on the role of managing director in December 2022. 

The St Pierre Groupe portfolio includes St Pierre Bakery, the top-selling brioche brand in the States. According to Nielsen, the brand managed 10% growth in the U.S. in 2022, driving distribution nationwide, adding new retailers, investing in the supply chain, and maintaining its position as category leader. 

Wagstaff recently connected with Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery to discuss industry developments. Here, he shares his thoughts on emerging trends, new products on the horizon, and advice on how to stay one step ahead in a fast-moving category. 

Trends and challenges

David Wagstaff, St Pierre GroupeWhat happens when consumers ‘feel the pinch’, is not that they spend less money necessarily, but that they become more discerning with where and how they spend that money. That means that brands and suppliers offering quality goods have an opportunity. The financial difference for consumers between buying ‘good’ or ‘best’ is marginal; therefore, shoppers are more likely to opt for the better quality or premium offering. It’s different if you’re talking about cars or high-value purchases, but everyday grocery brands are subject to a different purchase journey, and knowledgeable brands—and retailers—should be ready to highlight quality goods to shoppers.

This also creates an opportunity for St Pierre specifically; partly because we win out in independent taste tests on taste, texture, and flavor along with the huge versatility of our core items with this we understand that driving trial is key. Whilst inflation might create a more risk-averse consumer, perceived quality and multi-usage are important.

Inflation is being felt across the board, in every sector. There will be two camps of shoppers, those who spend a little extra knowing they’re getting a better quality product and become brand loyal; and those who don’t spend the extra, but then don’t have an experience that keeps them coming back.

We are working with retailers to help protect basket spend in a climate where perceived value is so important to shoppers.

The past few years have been challenging for the industry across the board. Rising costs of ingredients, production, and freight, matched by labor shortages have meant bakery businesses have faced strong headwinds. However, St Pierre has continued to face challenges head on, grow, and assigned resources to prepare for future trials. Throughout the last 12 months, we have invested heavily in our U.S. and U.K. supply chain to ensure we continue to serve our customers at the impeccable level for which we are known.

The other challenge the industry will need to address is the cost of living crisis. We are seeing the impact of inflation in both the U.K. and the U.S., and whilst it means that for many, purse strings will be tightened as costs continue to rise, there is an opportunity for brands like ours. 

Now is a great time for retailers to lean into premium brandswith the understanding of what ‘premium’ means for shoppers—beyond price point. For consumers, the trend for premiumization is here to stay. Previously, shoppers were elevating their meals at home because they couldn’t travel or dine out in the pandemic. Now that the cost of living is on the up, consumers are still looking to treat themselves well at home. Preparing and consuming better-quality foods along with entertaining guests at home is once again becoming more convenient and cost-effective than dining out. Elevated meals and quality products that save shoppers time and provide an easy solution for quality entertaining at home are doing well throughout the store.

Retailers offering a trade-up in one area of the grocery store can drive increased sales in other areas. For example, a shopper who opts for a premium brioche burger bun from St Pierre is more likely to pair it with premium meats and cheeses. Our innovative merchandising and standout branding catch the attention of shoppers, and we know that St Pierre shoppers have a higher basket spend as a result of opting for our quality baked goods.  

We know what the impact of supermarket price-matching and increased cost of living has on the ‘middle shelf’. As a result, we’ve seen time and again that premium brands win out. European retailers combat that ‘squeeze’ of the middle ground by opting for branded offerings that deliver excitement and theatre in the fixture. St Pierre is well-placed to help retailers do just this and we are seeing this trend developing reinvigorating bakery, by delivering a quality shopping experience that starts in-store and continues at home.”

Innovation approach

For St Pierre, innovation is always rooted in analyzing the market in a bit to listen to and meet consumer demand. We invest heavily in research to understand how best we can deliver for shoppers with the right product of the right, fantastic quality. Our product quality is what we are most proud of and it is at the heart of all innovation. We won’t offer a product if it doesn’t offer a premium option in the category in which it will compete. St Pierre is all about making everyday magnifique: taking staple items and elevating them beyond the basic to engage shoppers and keep them coming back to the brand. 

Innovation is often defined in terms of the product when it comes to the bread and bakery space, but that’s a limited view of innovation. Innovation comes in many forms, particularly since the sector is highly competitive. It could be innovative packaging or branding, ensuring on-shelf standout. It could also be considered in merchandising.

St Pierre has long delivered innovation in the way we present the brand and products in-store. Our placement alone is innovative since our products are found predominantly in the ISB. Beyond that, we offer innovative merchandising solutions like our striking Eiffel Tower displays. They serve as a trip-trigger, driving footfall into the ISB, increasing basket spend for retailers, and adding to the overall experience for shoppers. 

From our Eiffel tower stands that communicate our heritage to our inclusion in rustic bakery baskets, we help deliver an unrivaled in-store experience in a way that private-label goods simply cannot.

By highlighting authenticity, cross-selling with the breakfast, brunch, and snacking occasion products, and clever merchandising we are able to provide the tools for retailers to maximize sales and basket-spend.

Our branding, with the flash of orange and where we sit in-store, has always been a point of difference for us. St Pierre is the ‘original’ and is truly America’s favorite brioche. Our packaging is designed to highlight our authenticity as a quality French product and our packaging currently does that, with nods to Paris. 

A key part for us is in communicating as a ‘lifestyle’. We like to say St Pierre is a ‘taste of Paris’ with every bite and St Pierre is more than just food on your plate; it’s the experience it brings. That is at the heart of our product development and is part of the reason we are launching a new bake-at-home range and a first-to-market Brioche Pretzel Roll in 2023.

Recent innovations

St Pierre Bakery is expanding its footprint in the US bakery sector, with a premium range of bake-at-home products. The brand will add its first non-brioche baguettes and rolls to its product selection. The range will include a twin-packed French baguette, a single French baguette, and a four-count of crusty French dinner rolls. 

The entire St Pierre range is designed to elevate everyday meals. This product range has been in development since 2019 and we’re excited to bring it to market. The bake-at-home range is non-GMO and vegan and really gives the consumer the premium quality, authentic French bread you would get from a Parisian bakery, but baked at home.

The take-and-bake sector, in particular, has experienced a ‘race to the bottom’. It’s highly commoditized, and now is a good time to highlight quality. There is room for an authentic, quality product and our brand is perfectly placed to fill the gap in the market. 

The strategy is two-pronged in that we can take our brand-loyal consumers and introduce them to another new category; but also that we can take the quality for which we are known and improve an area of bakery which is, quite frankly, a bit stale. 

It’s a step-change for us because it’s not brioche, but we’re taking the same approach to improve and premiumize a new area of the sector. The St Pierre brand helps to tell a story. We are communicating more than product; it’s a lifestyle and our quality, authentic positioning backs all that up.

RelatedFor more about St Pierre Groupe, see “2019 Bakery of the Year: St Pierre Groupe” on the SF&WB website.