Let Them Eat Pie
By Deborah Cassell
Whether fruit-filled, creamy or sugar-free, pie is the perfect dessert for all occasions and every consumer with a sweet tooth.
Had Marie Antoinette been an American president and not queen of France, she might have suggested that her people eat pie, not cake. Although it now is considered an all-American dish, this oft fruit-filled dessert has been tempting taste buds since ancient Greek times. In fact, the word “pie” first was introduced in 1303 A.D. After English settlers brought the pastry dish to America, we embraced it, too.
Despite the proliferation of fashionably fancy and outrageously decadent desserts, homestyle pies have stood the test of time. Even fast-food leader McDonald’s continues to offer a handheld version of the all-American apple pie.
|Frozen Pie Vendors|
(Current 52 weeks ending March 19, 2006)
|Rank||Brand||Dollar Sales (in millions)||Dollar Sales Change||Dollar Share||Dollar Share Change|
|2.||Edwards Baking Co.||$78.4||+16.5||23.4||+3.4|
|3.||Sara Lee Bakery Group||$61.0||-3.5||18.2||-0.6|
|5.||Weight Watchers Co.||$4.9||+12.3||1.5||+0.2|
|9.||Wick’s Pies, Inc.||$0.9||+16.8||0.3||+0.0|
|10.||Fruit & Vegetable Warehouse||$0.7||+22.1||0.2||+0.0|
|*Including brands not shown|
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc., Total U.S. — F/D/MX (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Merchandisers excluding Wal-Mart)
“Pie is one of the ultimate comfort foods,” says Susan Mahoney, vice president of sales for Bonert’s Slice of Pie, Santa Ana, Calif. “It brings back and evokes great memories. It’s like going home for mom and apple pie.”
And, of course, “it’s not Thanksgiving without a pumpkin pie,” asserts Michael Barry, category merchant for Raley’s, a West Sacramento, Calif.-based fine food store chain.
Certainly, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and even Mother’s Day are prime selling seasons for the category, but “pie is not just for holidays anymore,” says Bryan Ehrenholm, proprietor of Pure Joy Bakery in Modesto, Calif. “People are discovering that it’s good for any time of year.”
Americans now are bringing pies to nearly every occasion. There’s no reason not to. They’re readily available in both foodservice and retail channels. Restaurants such as Bakers Square have become synonymous with pie, while in-store bakeries and retail freezer cases provide an array of ready-to-serve, thaw-and-serve and bake-and-serve options.
Additionally, innovation is alive and well in the category. In fact, the American Pie Council helps keep the tradition alive with its annual Crisco-sponsored National Pie Championships. (See “Pie Envy,” page 42.) The 2006 entries included such flavors as Bakers Square’s Chocolate Caramel Peanut Crunch, Bonert’s Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie w/Pecan Streusel and Mrs. Smith’s Soda Shoppe Chocolate Cream Pie.
However, almost every baker offers pie in the most classic flavor of all: apple.
“There’s a million ways to make an apple pie … but it’s still very subjective to flavor profiles and what you remember from grandma,” Barry says.
Good thing there are so many choices out there. Commercial bakers J. Horner’s, Sara Lee, George Weston Bakeries, Bonert’s, Harlan Bakeries, Hill & Valley, and Schwan Food Co.’s Edwards and Mrs. Smith’s brands all offer their own versions of the great American staple.
Among the newer introductions is Mrs. Smith’s Special Recipes Cinnabon Apple Crumb Pie, a bake-and-serve offering that comes with a cream cheese frosting packet for topping after baking.
Pure Joy also sells a 5-lb. Dutch Apple pie to local restaurants, mom-and-pop stores and fruit stands, as well as at its local bakery and Lunch Pail café.
Likewise, berry pies — especially those that combine different types of berries — are making a major comeback in stores and restaurants alike, says Mary Pint, director of HR and training for VICOM, the pie production facility for Denver-based VICORP Restaurants, Inc.’s Village Inn, Bakers Square and J. Horner’s.
Berry pies are a top pick at Bakers Square, which has been producing “The Best Pies in America” since 1983. About 30% of the restaurant’s sales are takeout pies, which include everything from its annual springtime favorite, Hawaiian Strawberry, to its new Fruitabulous line.
Allowing consumers to enjoy fruit pies year-round, Barry says, is the availability of individually quick-frozen fruits, which help pie producers maintain the integrity of the fruit in their mixes.
There may be nothing more American than apple pie, but every part of the nation has its regional favorites. True Southerners, for instance, opt for sweet potato or key lime pie.
“In South Florida and in coastal areas … key lime evokes seaside memories,” says Tamlyn Willard, founder of Charleston, Fla.’s Sublime Pies & Cakes.
Best known for its key lime pie, Kenny’s of Smyrna, Ga., now offers lemon and mango flavors, too. Kenny’s imports its key limes and mangos and gets its Sunkist lemons from Los Angeles, says Richard Greaves, vice president of sales and marketing. All fruits are juiced and processed on-site.
Meanwhile, similarly light but rich cream pies, such as chocolate, banana and coconut, are making a comeback, Ehrenholm adds. Bakers Square’s Bananas Foster, J. Horner’s French Silk, Pure Joy’s Dark Chocolate Cream, Wick’s Old Fashioned Sugar Cream and Sara Lee’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Silk are among the newest varieties on the market.
Variety might lead to impulse sales, but supermarkets always want a consistent “wow” factor.
“Retailers are looking for something different,” Mahoney says. “They want to step outside of the box and be distinguished. They want their bakeries to have some notoriety.”
Developing signature items can create that point of differentiation. For example, Bonert’s offers in-store bakeries all categories of pie, as well as all sizes, from 3 in. to 12 in. Retailers can choose from ready-to-serve, ready-to-bake or thaw-and-serve pies.
“I think people are looking for higher quality,” Mahoney says. “I think they’re looking for a flakier crust … more fruit content … more than just belly fillers.”
Although a 5-in. pie typically is considered indulgent, 8-in. desserts currently are en vogue, Barry notes. Some manufacturers even offer gourmet or super-gourmet 9- and 10-in. pies. On the flip side, two-person pies also are gaining popularity — no surprise given consumers’ growing interest in portion control. Single-serve or individually wrapped slices address the needs of smaller households, Barry says. People would rather pay $2.99 for two slices than $10 for a whole pie that they’ll never finish, he suggests.
“Portion control is growing fast, whether thaw-and-serve or bake-and-serve,” says Mike D’Addieco, brand manager for Mrs. Smith’s Bake and Serve, a division of Schwan’s Bakery Inc. For instance, Mrs. Smith’s Traditional Recipe Slices come in packs of two slices each and are ready in two minutes, from freezer to microwave.
Meanwhile, Sublime sells hundreds of its 4-in. pies — which serve one to two people and retail for $5 each — every month, Willard says.
“People love the fact that they’re not obligated to eat a whole pie, that they can maintain the sweetness but not overindulge,” she adds. “You don’t feel guilty for eating the little one.”
But calories aren’t consumers’ only concerns. Whether driven by diabetes or other health concerns, demand for sugar substitutes and trans fat-free products is making an impact on the category. Take, for example, the growth of no-sugar-added varieties, which led to the APC adding a Splenda Sweetie Pie category to its pie championships.
Pure Joy currently offers eight no-sugar-added varieties, including an apple pie sweetened with fresh apple cider. For products that normally require sugar, the bakery uses Splenda, which Ehrenholm — himself a diabetic — calls “the Godsend of our industry.”
Hill & Valley, formerly Nancy’s Pies, is a specialist in the no-sugar-added and trans fat-free areas. The Rock Island, Ill.-based manufacturer offers such flavors as Dutch Apple, Pecan, Pumpkin, Pumpkin Crème and Sweet Potato, all of which are new for 2006.
No-sugar-added pies also are popular orders at Bakers Square, which uses fruit concentrates instead of sugar in the apple, peach, blueberry and cherry versions of its traditional pies. Meanwhile, Schwan’s Bakery has sold a no-sugar-added apple pie for years. Its new Mrs. Smith’s Traditional Pie Slices are sweetened with Splenda. The brand also is addressing demand for trans fat-free desserts.
“In fall of 2005, Mrs. Smith’s converted all retail frozen pies, cobblers and crisps to a flakier, 0-TFA [trans fatty acid] crust,” D’Addieco says. “We feel this was the right thing to do for health reasons, and consumers will learn to appreciate that. We also feel we have improved the taste of the product.”
Others, such as Bakers Square, are treading lightly on the issue.
“We have really looked into taking the trans fat, which is mainly in the crust, out,” says Susan Bond, director of R&D for VICORP. However, she adds, changing its formula “is going to be a huge step that we want to take very slowly and cautiously.” In the meantime, Bakers Square offers its patrons smaller slices, “so they can still have dessert, but not go overboard,” Bond says.
After all, the key to enjoying all desserts is moderation, Ehrenholdm notes.
“You don’t have to eat a whole pie one sitting,” he says.
Of course, for some consumers, such an accomplishment would be a piece of cake. SF&WB
Overtaking the Cake
No children’s birthday party or wedding reception would be complete without a cake … or should we say pie?
Birthday and wedding pies are the latest thing, according to Pure Joy Bakery proprietor Bryan Ehrenholm, who has witnessed firsthand this new trend at his Modesto, Calif., facility. In fact, Ehrenholm recently delivered two custom-made bake sheet pan pies — decorated just like cakes — to a joint 7- and 8-year-old’s birthday party.
“They each had their own pie, because one wanted Berry Cream, and one wanted Dutch Apple,” Ehrenholm says.
Pure Joy also has filled orders for wedding receptions for which the happy couples reserved cakes for the traditional cutting, but served the guests pie.