Wheat Wave

By Jennifer Zegler

The onset of summer means higher temperatures and hotter sales for bun and roll producers who are unveiling new products and promotions.
Predictions for this grilling season are not just hot. As summer approaches, expert “wheatierologists” are forecasting record-setting wheat levels. Health trends and shifting consumption toward whole grain and multigrain products by consumers are leading many companies to prepare for an unprecedented wheat wave by launching new snacks and baked goods. Most affected will be the backyard areas where the heat will center on the grill and will be quelled with buns and rolls.
“Summer brings the grilling season — this is one of the biggest consumer trends that affects bread and rolls,” says Shelby Weeda, president of King’s Hawaiian Bakery West, Torrance, Calif. “While consumers may not immediately identify bread with grilling, sales numbers show that they run hand-in-hand.”
Don’t be overwhelmed with fear. The wheat wave will only affect the nation’s backyards for a time, “wheatierologists” expect.
“Traditionally, bun sales have a strong seasonality, which runs from the spring until after Labor Day,” says Stan Osman, vice president of marketing at Interstate Bakeries Corp., Kansas City, Mo. “This is especially true during holiday weekends, including Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. As you would expect, these trends are directly related to the increase in grilling that occurs during the warmer months of the year.”
In addition to the seasonal spike in sales, wholesale bakers last year were cranking out buns and rolls non-stop, partly because of stronger-than-expected consumer demand following the decline of the Atkins craze. Typically, the summer BBQ season drives families away from the drive thru and onto the patio. However, because of new products, such as McDonald’s highly successful chicken sandwich that was introduced last June, sales blossomed for the nation’s leading hamburger chains and increased bun demand even more.
Complicating the scenario in 2005 was a decrease in the industry’s overall bun capacity caused by the consolidation of plants by some of the nation’s leading wholesale baking companies. At the same time, some major players backed off of unprofitable accounts, resulting in a massive churning of business in the baking industry.
Once again, however, consumers are expected to flock to their grills, either gas or charcoal, for the traditional cook-out, picnic or just dinner.  A warmer-than-expected springtime may get the season off early, even before marketing campaigns promoting the fun of summertime entertaining kick into full gear.
“The trend is to tie it to people’s homes,” explains Todd Kluger, brand marketing director at Roman Meal, Tacoma, Wash. “More and more people have backyards more conducive to entertaining, and there is the trend of bringing the kitchen outside, which you’ll see with the Viking barbeques. Maybe it’s for variety or nostalgia.”
While some wholesale bakeries brace themselves for the wheat wave, others such as Roman Meal are already positioned to take any advantage of seasonal shifts.
“We’ve had whole grain buns and rolls on the market since the 1970’s,” Kluger says. “That is the Roman Meal brand. They are definitely a hot trend this summer. There are different varieties, such as multi-grain, ancient grains and savory. Different flavor profiles are big. There is also a trend towards bigger buns, as people are using them more than just for hamburgers.”
Expect the Extraordinary
Desires for a vacation from the ordinary are altering the prevailing traditions in the category. Although the classic white buns and rolls will remain popular, bakers are catering to the consumer’s desire to escape from the doldrums. Whether it’s inundating the market with sweeter breads or those fortified with nutritional benefits, this wave of healthier and premium-positioned baked goods has brought an onset of new products supported by a downpour of innovative promotions.
“Summer is a pivotal period for King’s Hawaiian,” Weeda explains. “Through the use of creative marketing and innovative recipe development, we use this period as an opportunity to educate consumers about our products and their uses as a recipe solution and not just a meal accompaniment.”
The company’s summer promotional materials feature King’s Hawaiian breads and rolls in distinctively tropical sandwiches and entrees rather than a boring ol’ carrier of beef, pork, chicken or fish. The branded dinner rolls are used as part of a recipe for Mini Maui Burgers. The bread also holds up to grilling for panini-style sandwiches. And, “sliced thickly, our bread can be grilled to make the perfect platform for barbequed chicken covered with teriyaki sauce and an island-style salsa,” Weeda adds.
Interstate Bakeries also is releasing four new buns, all with whole grain ingredients. The buns were launched in April and will join Wonder Classic hot dog and hamburger buns, which already are on the shelves. IBC’s new offerings include Wonder Made With Whole Grain Sandwich Buns, Wonder Wheat Hot Dog Buns, Wonder Wheat Hamburger Buns and Wonder Stone Ground Wheat Sandwich Buns.
“With more and more consumers looking to incorporate whole grain sources into their diets,” Osman notes, “Wonder, the brand committed to building strong bodies, is introducing a new line of hot dog and hamburger buns with whole grain nutrition for consumers looking for products that taste good and are good for them, including wheat hot dog and hamburger buns, and Wonder Made With Whole Grain White Sandwich Buns.”
Not to be left out of the wheat wave, Sara Lee Food & Beverage, Downers Grove, Ill., recently launched Made With Whole Grain White Hot Dog Buns and White Hamburger Buns. The Sara Lee buns are made with a special blend of white flour and “white” whole-wheat flour for a taste, look and texture similar to the classic white buns, but with added nutrition from whole grains.
Aunt Millie’s Bakeries, Fort Wayne, Ind., recently introduced Whole Grain White Hamburger and Hot Dog buns made with 60% whole grain flour. The Aunt Millie’s buns are an excellent source of whole grain and have two grams of fiber per serving. Made with more whole grain than other whole grain white buns on the market, Aunt Millie’s hamburger and hot dog buns are soft and tasty, just like white bread buns.
Wheat It Up
Consumers who have caught the summer grilling fever need look no further than the air-conditioned comfort of the supermarket. This summer, the Grain Foods Foundation (GFF) and its members will be running a caveman-themed barbeque promotion for the grilling season. With the slogan “Fire Good!” the foundation encourages grillers to celebrate 1.4 million years of barbeque seasons.
The promotional program is comprised of floor stanchion signs and decals for Kroger stores. The merchandising materials include the GFF’s signature logo with taglines such as “Without the bun a hamburger is just a flat meatball.” The materials also break down one’s BBQ IQ and personality type — Grilling Guru, Fairweather Griller or VegHead.
King’s Hawaiian also will be running a promotion to fuel summer sales. Past years have included bellybands with Viking grill sweepstakes to inspire consumers to “Grill Island Style.”
 “As we have in many years past with corporate partners, we will begin executing our summer promotion with a major sauce producer,” Weeda explains. “We’ve had tremendous consumer response to these promotions in years past and we’re looking forward to this year’s campaign.”
So grab your favorite grill-ables, and hunker down with the family this summer. “Wheatierologists” recommend taking shelter on the patio and stocking up on buns and rolls to beat the wheat wave. In case of emergency, make to sure to have condiments and sides ready and a refreshing beverage in hand. SF&WB
They’ve Got the Fever, Too
Other bakeries are also affected by the wheat wave. Pepperidge Farm, Norwalk, Conn., has begun to roll out whole grain breads and rolls one of which is the Soft 100% Whole Wheat Kaiser Rolls. Franz Family Bakery, Portland, Ore., launched 100% whole wheat flour hamburger and hot dog buns this spring. Fort Wayne, Ind.- based Perfection Bakeries’ Aunt Millie’s brand offers whole grain hamburger and hot dog buns in it My Healthy Goodness Fiber for Life Bun line, which claim that “buns this great make the burger optional.” Chicago’s Alpha Baking caters to the grillers of sausages and brats in that area with its distinctive S. Rosen’s Brat and Sausage Buns that are study enough to hold the meanest of meats with all of the toppings as well.
Brainy Bread Benefits
Talk about brain food! A company in Japan has launched a fortified bun line they call Brain Buns. Circle K Sunkus’ Kachial Hogaraka Time brand highlights the Vitamin B1 content in the bite-size bread pieces. The vitamin is said to be necessary for brain function, healthy heart and nerve cell function. Let’s just hope the Brain Buns are not brain-shaped, as well.
The ‘Bun’-ny Trail
Help prepare the children in the family for summer’s hotter-than-ever grilling season by investing in the “One Little Bun At Franz Bakery” storybook. Available by mail order, the book details the story of a sesame seed bun and his friends from the factory to the delivery truck. But One Little Bun goes missing before he can get to the store. Visit www.usbakery.com for more information
Turano Wins Key Italian Senate Seat
In an election that turned out to be pivotal to the Italian government’s future, Renato Turano, president of the Berwyn, Ill-based Turano Baking Co., was selected to that country’s senate. He will represent upward of 350,000 Italian citizens and dual citizens in North and Central America.
Turano, who’s also chairman of the American Bakers Association, is aligned with the center-left L’Unione party, led by Romono Prodi who ran for prime minister. He is one of six senators and 12 deputies to represent Italian citizens who live on foreign soil.